I’m setting writing goals for myself. There are all sorts of writing goals, I’m realizing. Finish novel. (Big one.) Write a blog post (not so big one). There are goals of routine (Write everyday. Blog twice a week.) There are efforts to output a specific quantity (word count.) I could go by an outline and tell myself to complete a certain number of scenes, or chapters, in a week. I could just tell myself to dedicate a certain amount of time to writing (sit for 5 or 6 hours over the course of a week.) I am not sure which is the right goal for me.
Word count: This had always been my default metric. It worked pretty well, and when I was on a roll I could write 1,000 words in an hour. I am not sure if that’s a lot or not (writing is solitary, there’s no one really to tell you you’re doing a good job), but it would feel like a lot, especially if I wasn’t watching the ticker at the bottom of the page. I would look down when I came up for air and, damn, I’d be 1,000 words richer. There were other times, though, when I’d find myself writing sentences or adding words to the end of a sentence (once I even wrote “blah, blah, blah!”) because I was this close to a word count threshold. This has me thinking: if my goal is to produce quality work this go-round, word count might not be the right measurement by which I should be setting goals. I might end up injecting needless filler.
Time: I had a trial session with a life coach before the holidays. She had me promising to sit down and write for five hours during the week following the session. This worked really well. It took a lot of pressure off me to create mass quantities of sometimes so-so work. And sometimes when I told myself I’d sit down for an hour, I ended up sitting down for an hour and a half, or maybe even an hour and forty-five minutes. It also opened the door for me to do other things that didn’t include adding words to my manuscript. I did some brainstorming, writing in a journal dedicated to hashing out plotlines and character sketches for my novel. It was useful work, or at least I’ve convinced myself that it was, and I credited myself for the time spent doing it. And an interesting thing happened the week I used “time.” When I didn’t really know where I was going in the novel (I was nearing the end of a draft that previously did not really have an ending), whenever I sat down to write for an hour or so, the road magically appeared. It really felt like magic. The plot just revealed itself. I felt really productive during the week I spent using time as a measurement for my goal. And because I stated my goal in writing in a message to the coach, I felt empowered when I reached it.
Scenes: This is the tactic I might try next. I have an outline right now of how I want to restructure the beginning of my novel (after spending the holidays writing down in my notebook everything I think I know about each of my characters). I want to finish the scenes that I’ve planned by the end of the week. With regard to the “magic” that happened when I used “time” as my goal and the novel seemed to take turns I had not foreseen, there’s a potential danger in telling myself that I am going to write the aforementioned scenes. The path may change and I won’t have my outline to guide me toward my goal anymore. So, okay, I’ll say here and now that if the path changes, I’ll continue down it, even though the scenes I’ve assigned myself may no longer exist. I also want to challenge myself to really see into the emotional life of my main character. I want to try to inject a little more exposition (something which I think I can tend to overdo…at least I did in early drafts of my first novel, the editor said at one point, “yeah, we get it, she hates her body…” but I think that might have had something to do with the fact that I knew that character so well. I could go on and on with her inner monologue. I need to get to know this character as well, too.)
One last thought: Writing is funny. I was trying to figure out why I want to write…why I even like to write. And, I honestly can’t explain it. I just know I feel relieved after I’ve done it, like I can finally exhale. And who knows, maybe that’s from years of conditioning myself into the belief that writing is something that I should be doing. But I have to believe that if I didn’t really love it, for whatever reason, I would have conditioned myself right out of the habit. But, lately, it feels like it’s getting a little harder. I wonder if I am barking up the wrong tree. I don’t even know if what I am laboring over is any good. I haven’t shown this manuscript to anyone (likely because it’s never been finished). All I know is I have to finish it. I have to get it to the point where I can show it to my agent. Then maybe I’ll truly exhale. And shortly thereafter, start on the next one.