Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Writing for the long haul

January is half over. Did you set goals for yourself? Are you meeting them? Or is it time to regroup before the month is behind us? Today, welcome author Eilis Flynn as she shares her approach for 2009 Although she's talking about her writing goals, her advice translates to anything else you've set out to achieve.

There are advantages and disadvantages to making New Year’s resolutions. The disadvantages you’re probably already familiar with — the (strong) possibility that the resolutions will go unfulfilled, feeling as though you’ve failed, failed! But the advantages also have more going for them than you might realize: You might feel yourself inspired, deciding to forge ahead, determined to make good on your promises. You can do it! Of course you can! And you also might realize that to do it, to make good on your resolutions, no matter how big, no matter how small (thank you, Horton), you have to pace yourself, you can’t make a slapdash to the finish line.

So here’s the deal. I promised myself I would write certain things by the end of the year, giving myself enough time to do it. In 2008 I wrote one novel (painfully. Don’t ask) and a few other small things, but I knew I could do more. So for 2009 I decided I would do more — I would write two novels and two novellas or short stories, in addition to other things I need to work on in between. I should be able to do it, with proper pacing and painful plotting (that’s the true pain — some of us are not the most plot-oriented). And if I don’t get distracted.

And you know distractions abound. Everywhere I look there’s a distraction waiting to tap me on the shoulder, including (and this one I should actually deal with sooner or later) cleaning my office. It’s messy, it’s distracting, I should … oh, right, that’s the problem. Anyway, you know how this goes. You tell yourself that you have the entire year. That’s plenty of time! Two novels and two short stories? No problem! You can write the short story first, that’s easy, then novel number one, then its sequel, and then finish off with that second short story to finish off the year. You can schedule each work, compartmentalize, each week, each month, even each day of the week, if you’re really feeling inspired. After all, you have a lot of work to do!

And that overscheduling, as far as I’m concerned, is the problem. It doesn’t give you leeway. It doesn’t take into account all the little surprises that life presents. It doesn’t take into account the cat throwing up, the weather turning unpleasant, slipping on a banana peel, that sudden twist of fate — all those things you can’t foresee but you know could occur. Once you blow the first deadline you’ve set up for yourself, you’re already behind — and it only gets worse from there. And the more you try to catch up, the farther behind you get, until …

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Before you know it, half the year’s gone by. Your best intentions, your resolutions, go down the drain. Embarrassment. Loss of face. Chagrin. And worse, knowing that you let it all get away from you. My sympathies. But you can do better. And this year, you will.

How? By keeping in mind that yes, a year can be a really long time. And keeping in mind there’s no need to overdo it. No need to compartmentalize, to overschedule every day, every minute. Accept that there will be writing jags, when you turn out pages upon pages, the scenes burning hot in your mind. And you must accept in the same way that there will be dry spells, when the scenes are hidden behind closed doors that don’t seem to have a lock (currently, at least). All that is natural. (This is where knowing how to plot is very useful. If you’re weak on the plotting thing, you might want to learn!) Work through the dry spell. Sooner or later, you’ll be back on again, turning out pages. And before you know it, you’ll have made good on your resolution. And who knows? Maybe two novels and two short stories aren’t too much.

All you have to do is remember that you’re writing for the long haul. A year’s a long time. Just make sure you make good use of the time.

Eilis Flynn
INTRODUCING SONIKA, on sale now at CerridwenPress.com

Eilis Flynn has worked at a comic book company, a couple of Wall Street brokerage firms, a wire service, and a magazine for futurists. She’s written a variety of things that don’t seem to belong together, but they do: comic book stories both online and in print, scholarly works in a previous life as a scholar, book reviews and interviews, and articles about finance (at odds with her anthropology background), before settling down to write romantic fantasies about the reality beyond what we can see. The plotting thing is still a problem, though.

Check out her website at www.eilisflynn.com. She may be reached at eilisflynn@aol.com.


Dara Edmondson said...

January and February are tough writing months for me since I have my snowbird parents in town then. I do better to set reachable weekly goals, rather than daily. Come March, I go back to my daily word count goals.

EilisFlynn said...

January is always a tough month for me too! I think that's why I decided to jump-start on stuff in December, so I would have a running start. Also, this past December, with the unexpected snow my area had, I had more spare time than I expected!

EilisFlynn said...

My big problem is summer. My office gets icy during the winter, but I can put on a sweater. During the summer, no size fan seems to keep it cool enough! I find myself working on the AlphaSmart elsewhere a lot.

Viola Estrella said...

Hi Terry and Eilis,
Great blog! If I stay "in the zone" and write a little everyday, I'm good. But things like edits and kids home from school tend to break my rhythm. And having the attention span of a three year old doesn't help me either. lol! Now what was I supposed to be doing? :-)

EilisFlynn said...

Distraction is the enemy, Viola. One of these days I'll figure out how to make distraction work for me, and I'll be set! (Actually, using distraction for creativity is useful, but there comes a time when we must be less creative and more focused!)

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Great blog. I too am easily distracted but that's only because there are always so many things to do. Otherwise I am much more productive a writer when the internet is down :)

Carol A. Strickland said...

Just a few days ago I finally got around to writing out my year's goals. I put down dates that I wanted things finished, as well as a lofty "get an agent" goal requiring me to send off queries every so often. (Yeah, like that's worked so far.)

This year I'm going to try something new. In theory, one is supposed to check one's goals periodically. Now I'll only write in goal dates on my calendar one month in advance of where I am, to allow for Life's Uncertainties (and my Basic Laziness) to creep in. I'll adjust when necessary. And I'll check my goal status once a week.

This may just work!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jenyfer. I'm sure you're used to where you live, but I think if I lived in Egypt, I'd be distracted all the time.

Congrats on finding something that will work for you, Carol. Bottom line, that's what it's about.