I just stopped by to update my progress on the novel, and I thought that perhaps this would be a good time for a post. In fact, I’m going to try and make this my Friday habit: Friday will be blog day. I would really like to be more prolific with the blog, however, no one reads it… and I have a very narrow time where I get to write — very narrow. I work full-time, I’m married, and I have two small kids (8 and soon to be 5), and what ever time is left over after work, husband-hood, and fatherhood is where I get to work on my book. I often have to snatch time out of thin air, so composing on my smart phone on the bus going to or coming from work is no uncommon thing for me.
My wife just instituted a nightly walk; we go to the nearby park and make three laps around the walking trail which sums up to a little over one mile’s worth of walking. I like this really because I get to spend time with the family, we get some exercise (I’m rather thick in the middle… a hazard of a primarily sedentary lifestyle), and I get a good chunk of relatively quiet time to contemplate the novel. I’ve had to make some room in my writing schedule for the nightly walk (it’s only two days old at this point), and I got to thinking that writing schedules might make a good topic for a blog post… and I’m here now, so what the hell… away we go.
I’ve never been a very organized writer, and that speaks volumes to my level of success (which, by the way, is none at all… but then I haven’t ever made a true effort either, so that speaks the other volumes in the set), in fact over the time I’ve been writing I’ve mostly ever written for my own amusement, and still do. I fancied myself a “seat of the pants” type writer; in fact, back when I wrote poetry (knock it off, we all did at sometime or another, and dollars to doughnuts, I bet it was because of girl), I went from composing structured and metered poems like sonnets, to free verse scrawled in a composition book. Why? Because I fancied myself a “seat of the pants-er.” Joke’s on me: I’m not.
Since this is starting to take on the tone of a confession, I should also mention that I made a number of previous attempts to write novels and they all failed; let me find a soapbox, so I can testify. This was my novel writing approach: I wrote a first sentence, read it back to myself, and then started writing thinking in my supreme foolishness that I would be able to keep it going for 300 or so pages. Hahahahahahahahaha!!! What a dumb-ass! Believe it or not, the furthest I ever got was six chapters… six measly chapters, if we’re being completely honest (and I am, you’ll just have to take my word for it), of about six or seven pages each. Laughable! but I seriously thought, “dude, I’m the next Raymond Chandler.” And therein is another thing…
I love genre fiction. I have a degree in English Literature, and I was miserable the whole time I was in school because they had me reading all this literary fiction bullshit while filling my head with garbage about the literary canon and literary criticism theory: I wanted to fucking blow chunks all over the place. (An aside: Whoa, don’t get all panties-twisted now; there’s a lot of literature I love and respect, but I just don’t see the value of studying literature like it’s meant to be kept on some marble pedestal. I value my education, but the guidance counselor was right: I should have studied Chemistry. End aside…) I read for entertainment, and because I want to close the book at the end and say, “Wow, that was absurdly fucking cool!” Only a very scant few literary fiction books have made me do that, but the majority of genre fiction books I’ve read illicit a response at least approaching this. Back on topic: even in the genre fiction court I had to learn that, though I love Mysteries, I can’t write them; though I love Science Fiction, I can’t write it… thus the next big step was figuring out what I could write.
So to recap the post so far: we’ve learned that my lack of organization and my incorrect perception of myself as a writer were preventing me from making any progress. This has likely happened to you, or is happening to you now; so this isn’t all about me — I’m just an anecdotal element in this post because I don’t mind making a fool of myself in public.
So what the hell does any of this have to do with writing schedules?
I’m glad you asked, I was just getting to that… When I started writing my novel last September/October (I honestly can’t remember when I started. I have notes dated in September, but I can’t recall if I started writing then or in October…), I decided that, unlike previous attempts at long fiction, this time I was going to do some planning and that I might even do (eek!) an outline. Holy shit, yeah; now we’re getting fancy… Now, I didn’t know thing one about creating an outline for a novel (and to be perfectly honest, I never made outlines for my papers in school… I wrote the paper, and then bullshitted an outline afterwards…) but I work in a library, so getting material with which I could inform myself was pretty easy. Oh yeah, and then there’s that whole inter-web thing… that wilderness of information and pornography. Suffice it to say, I figured it out… but the outline thing… well… I just didn’t take a shine to it, so instead I just created a broad plot, and broke the plot down into acts, like in a play. I also read a bunch of books on magic, because I was writing a fantasy novel (Urban Fantasy, to be exact) so I wanted to have a good idea of what people have written about magic (I can’t say anything more without giving stuff away, and I’m not giving anything away — I hate spoilers, and I’m very superstitious about talking too much about what I’m working on). I did my homework and then I felt ready to write.
I wrote five chapters and the vehicle broke down; I was starting to meander again… and when I meander, I lose interest; but, dammit, this time I was going to fix this before this story that I invested a good amount of time preparing to write went into the heap of unfinished stuff I have collected over the years. What was the fix? A writing schedule. Believe me, it’s not rocket science… you just have to be prepared to be completely honest with yourself. Writing is as much discipline as it is creativity because you can have the best ideas in the world, but if you don’t have the discipline and the will to do something with them they are completely fucking worthless. I took a look at my day and I broke it down, factoring out times when I obviously would not be able to write. Then I took a look at what was left over, and I felt like crying… because a good portion of the time left over was time for things like sleeping, eating, and going potty… Who needs sleep, right? I could take my laptop with me into the bathroom, but do I really want to? There’s no damn way I’m giving up food. I reshuffled the deck and looked at the hand again, then decided I could squeeze out and hour or two everyday if I’d quit being a weenie about it.
The fact is: human beings are creatures of habit; I’m a creature of habit, as much as I like to think of myself as a free-spirit… as much as I like to think of myself as a “seat of the pants-er”… I’m not… and you might not be either. There is a certain part of me that enjoys creating with abandon, but there’s another part of me that needs to stay within the lines… and right, that’s not very romantic… that’s not very Hemingway*… that’s not very Hunter S. Thompson or gonzo… that’s reality. So I made a schedule, and committed to a target word count, and told myself, “self, we’re going to stick to this schedule and this goal and we are going to stick it out and see this thing through; are you with me?!” I immediately blew the schedule… No shit… I was off the schedule the very first week I instituted it.
It took me a while, and I remembered to make the schedule flexible enough for me to write a little more when the opportunity presented itself, or a little less when it did not. I’ve now been on my schedule for a little over a month and I’m now more than 50% done with the draft of my novel. (Another aside: there was an intersession where I was not able to write… extenuating circumstances… I covered this in a recent post. End aside…) Better still, I’m cranking along at a pace that will virtually guarantee that I finish when I’ve projected. It’s the habit thing: my writing schedule became a part of my habit, but in order for it to get there I had to disrupt another habit (namely, sitting on my ass and doing nothing…), and that’s okay because this relatively new habit is producing results.
If you’re stuck on your project and you can’t seem to get un-stuck, or if you start but can never seem to finish anything I say swallow your pride and try a writing schedule… it most certainly cannot hurt. That’s why I post these things up for all *zero* of you, so that you’ll avoid the pitfalls I’ve fallen into over the years… find your own damn pitfalls, man… stay off of my cloud.
(* Contrary to popular belief, Hemingway was actually a very deliberate writer. His word choice, his pacing, in fact everything about his writing was carefully selected, and he was an avid reviser. So there…)