Thursday, July 5, 2012

Push it real good

Raise your hand if you're a child of the '80s and the title of this post has the Salt-N-Pepa tune humming through your brain right now.
OK, I'm putting my hand down now because that makes it kinda hard to type. And typing is what I wanted to talk about today.

Well, not just typing, though sometimes writing a novel does feel like an exercise in typing random, disconnected words with only a dim hope you're forming coherent sentences.

One of the most common questions I field when I run out of things to discuss at cocktail parties and confess I'm a published author is, "how long does it take you to write a book?"

It's a question I hate for several reasons.

My cocky answer is "about three months," which is technically true. I wrote Making Waves in that amount of time, and Believe it or Not took just a week or two more than that. Factor in another couple weeks for revisions from critique partners and beta readers, and a few more for back-and-forth edits with my publisher once both novels sold as part of my three-book deal. Still, it's true I completed pretty solid drafts of two novels in 12-14 weeks apiece.

But the reason I say that's cocky is the same reason I hate the question – who the hell can live up to that?

Not most writers, and I'm sorry to say, not me.

Because while I can claim I did it in the past, I'm not so sure I can do it now. The last novel I completed took over a year, and it still has some issues. Admittedly, that year was filled with a lot of life drama like divorce and the chaotic publicity of an impending book release, but it's still clear to me I'm slower than I used to be.

That's hard to swallow (snicker).

A headline caught my eye the other day when I was trolling the internet to procrastinate doing real work conducting important online research.  The headline was 4 myths about your ideal weight, and I clicked on it for the same reason I'd click on a headline about lesbian Eskimo porn (morbid curiosity, general perversion, boredom...take your pick).

One part of the article jumped out at me:

That seems like sound advice whether you're discussing weight or writing. People change, lifestyles change, brain/body chemistry changes. You'll go nuts if you spend your life trying to live up to some impossible standard set by your younger self or by someone else.

And yet...part of me still wants to try.

Not the weight thing, since I was living in Venezuela with an intestinal parasite after college graduation, and my freakishly low weight and equally freakish boobs made me look like a toothpick spearing a pair of olives. I'm quite fine looking the way I look now with fifteen years and 20 extra pounds on my frame, thankyouverymuch.

But part of me wants to push it (and push it real good) on the writing front. Part of me wants to see if I still have it in me to write at my old pace.

I sat down a few weeks ago to map out my word count goals for a new novel. It's something I used to do back in my speedy heyday as a newer writer, so I thought I should revisit the habit. I determined the date I needed to complete the novel, and marked 85,000 words on that day to remind myself what my final goal will be.

Then I worked backward from there, marking each Monday (the day I consider the end of my writing week) with the word count I want to achieve by the time I switch off my computer that day.

At the end of the exercise, the pace I'd set for myself was 7,000 words a week. I stared at the numbers for awhile, trying to figure out if it was a realistic goal or an are-you-out-of-your-mind-idiot?! goal.

Then I decided to stop thinking about it and just give it a shot. That was two weeks ago. So far, I've managed to meet my goal both weeks. I may have done it by the skin of my teeth, and I can assure you many of the words I've written would make you cover your eyes in horror and rock back and forth humming Warrant's "She's My Cherry Pie" until the memory of those words disappears from your brain.

But I can't tell you how good it feels to switch off the computer at the end of the day and realize I've met my goal.

Can I keep it up? (snicker). Time will tell. I have my doubts, since the next few months of my life will include a fairly aggressive book tour schedule, some speaking engagements, my 20-year high school reunion, and a complete household move for myself, my gentleman friend, and our assorted pets and kids. Oh, and did I mention we still have no idea when or where we're moving?

But still, I want to try. There's a satisfying balance in learning to celebrate when you meet a seemingly unachievable goal, and learning to cut yourself some slack when you don't. I'm still figuring out that balance.

And there's something rewarding in making a conscious decision to replace, "I can't possibly," with "what the hell, I'll give it a shot."

For what it's worth though, pushing it real good feels damn nice sometimes. Just like the song says.

What's your take on this? Do you tend to set stretch goals and forgive yourself if you don't quite meet them, or do you prefer to keep goals more achievable to ensure the satisfaction of meeting them? Please share!

Oh, and I can promise you'll have that song stuck in your head all day. You're welcome.


Anonymous said...

I might try setting writing goals. I always have goals in my head, but never write them down. I'm going to aim for 10,000 words per day. Just because I've always wanted to at least try.

Noelle Pierce said...

I'm probably going to go back and forth between Push It and Cherry Pie today, so thank you. Twice.

I'm the same way--and I set a goal for myself to write 2k a day--but I haven't been as on task as I needed to be. I'm hoping the last two days of my vacation will be enough pressure to make up for some of the other days. I like the idea of setting a weekly, rather than a daily, goal, because that gives me a little more leeway when I have to miss a day of writing. :)

Mary said...

Thank you. Now, I'm going to have "Push it" on loop in my brain today. Earworm!

Every time I sit down to write, I aim for 1k and a lot of the time I do get it. But I'm not a daily writer--my day job just doesn't always leave me time or energy for it. I do wonder, if I'd started writing like this ten years ago, would I be able to write more? Interesting thought (and kind of discouraging, because I hate that fear kept me from writing for so long!).

Unknown said...

Only time I've put goals on myself is NaNo (1667 words a day to reach 50k during November) but I've managed it all three years I've tried. I beat myself up if I don't exceed my goals so it's probably better for my sanity not to have goals. On the other hand, it's easier to remove the inner editor when I "have to" reach a certain number of words.

I must say, I've failed so spectacular at all my attempts to edit that I'm terrified at writing drafts nowaday. I feel like I keep ruining good stories because I'm not good enough. I wish I could give them to someone who would make them justice.

Jessica Lemmon said...

P-p-push it real good! :-D

Yeah, I have just recently had this terrifying realization. I thought I cranked out books in 4-6 weeks. Which I DID, but now that I know how solid the plot needs to be and b/c I don't want to edit for 6 mos., that's no longer realistic. Le sigh. Do I still go for it? You bet your marshmallow salad I do!

I love the analogy of the weight goal, Tawna. Fantastic!

Skye said...

I haven't exactly set a goal with this novel, but every day i wrote I wanted to hit at least 1K. At first, before I took the book seriously, I didn't write every day. But when I started writing ever day, or nearly every day, my word count went up to 1200-2000 words a day, with a couple of 6000-word days (when that's all I did). Of course, now I have to revise, get beta critics, etc., and it will have taken me probably 6 months to write and finish my novel. But I wrote 98,700 words, which is too much for a regular novel anyway. There is a lot of revising needed. Next time, I'll try the weekly goal and see how that works. It sounds easier than daily goals.

Delia said...

Like Noelle, I'll be going back and forth between the two all day. Actually, I'll Remember You by Skid Row was playing while I read this (no, I'm not kidding), so it'll be a three-way. (hehe)

For me, it's more the editing than the drafting that takes the most time. I wonder if your calendar method would work...hmmm. I might just have to try it. So, y'know, thanks for that.

Samuel said...

I did the Nanowrimo thing last year and it really helped me. Demanding 1667 words a day really pushed me, compounded by when you miss a day and now need to stack the other ones even more to make up. And then you miss another day. Arg!

I like to do a Chapter a day when I am on a push, and right now my chapters are about 2500+ words in my current WIP. This whole project will be finished in about 6 to 7 weeks, but I did pile on a bunch of research for a week or so before I started, and the jury is still out on whether the book will be any good. I had a book take me 8 months, one took me over 1.5 years... but the actual writing never takes me more than 60 days. It's just a matter of how concentrated those 60 days are.

as a side note, I do not appreciate the song implants one bit, and will now embark desperately upon some Led Zeppelin therapy to cure the problem. =)

Stephsco said...

I'm always a bit amused when women in my extended family say they want to lose enough weight to fit into their wedding gown. Many of these women are divorced and married in the 60s, 70s or 80s. You really want to put that dress back on? We'll all laugh at you.

Anytime someone says they want to lose weight to be healthy, I'm all on board. I think dieting to fit in the wedding dress is unrealstic, and probably related to some gimmick fad diet that's going to lose its interest pretty quick (especially that diet that will not die, the supposed "doctor" diet that includes "what a patient eats before surgery" involving dry toast and tuna from the can with no mayo. Who have you ever met in your life who ate that for a week before surgery?! (No one)).

But none of this was really about weight, it's about pushing yourself. Noted. Thanks for letting me rant!

Sharla Lovelace said...

I can't get back to my 20-something body? From 20-something years ago? Well hell... Gimme a brownie then. :-)

I shoot for 1K a day, but work full time so that's sometimes a laughable goal. I do better at it if I have time to do a 1k1hr on Twitter, but I don't always have a whole hour at one time. LOL. My family makes sure of that. But I try to make up for it on weekends. Good for you for sticking to your goal so far! I wrote my first book in nearly a year (pre-contract days) and then my second in 4 months. That one nearly killed me, but it was better than the first. O.o Go figure. lol. My current one will likely be around 5 months.

L.J. Kentowski said...

I like to keep my goals high. That way I'm always pushing myself. There are MANY times I don't meet those word count goals, but I don't dwell on it, I start again the next day/week. Great post! You crack me up! Good luck in keeping up with your goals!

Roni Loren said...

I'm not a naturally fast writer, but now that I'm on tight deadines, I have to learn to pick up the pace. I've done the same thing you've done. On Scrivener you can set a word goal for a whole project, a due date, and even mark your "work" days, then it calculates daily what you need to do. That has helped. Something about that little progress bar is motivating. I have to write 90k by Nov. 1. We'll see. Good luck with your goals!

Sarah Allen said...

I am in total limbo right now, waiting to here back from grad schools or jobs or a friend I might move in with or whatever and I just have no idea what I'm going to be doing or where I'm going to be living in the next few weeks so the writing thing has been going slower for me lately. I would LOVE to have a word-count schedule like that once I get my life in some semblance of order. In the meantime we do what we can.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Monique Liddle said...

I was a big fan of Salt-n-Pepa! I grew up in the 80s (college '88-'92) and am proud of it. It was a freakishly silly time in terms of fashion & hair. But there were some great music during that time. A few friends of mine & I tried to think of as many groups from the 80s. We covered almost 3 univ-size whiteboards!

Answering your question of writing goals…I have way too many health problems to write consistently anymore, plus the heat & humidity don't help either. When I did have daily writing goals, I liked having realistic goals. They gave me confidence. Then when I started to consistently beat my goals, I would increase them. For me, the joy was on the writing, & goal-setting was secondary.

I'm rooting for you!

larashan said...

Hilarious post! I love it. And Salt N Pepa.

??? said...

Concrete writing goals work sooo insanely well for me, it's just that I'm lazy and easily discouraged. When I was battling it out full throttle during National Novel Writing Month, I was kicking out at least 10k words every week and finishing a novel in 3 months. But that was before I started college - now, I'm lucky if I have the time to take a nap, let alone write a novel.

You've inspired me though Tawna - if you can handle all that and still churn out 7k, I can do it too. PUSH IT REAL GOOD.

Di Eats the Elephant said...

I'm still singing "SCREAM" by Usher. OOOOOh baby baby OOOOOH baby baby...if you want to scream YEAH, let me know and I'll take you there....(singing it now are ya? if not, go check it out on YouTube.) I'm at a Writers Workshop this weekend and loved what one panelist said. He sets his daily word goal to 200 words. Yep. Just 200. He says he hasn't really had any trouble meeting it, but if he did, he'd be able to forgive himself easily and then go on. (I asked how many days he lets it go by before he starts chastising himself, because well,that's just how I roll...I push it til I have to chastise myself, so goals are not usually good for me. They're more like suggestions, because even I can't tell myself what to do.) Oooooh baby baby ooooh baby baby.... A better question for your move than when and where might be why. So, why are you moving? That should help figure out where and when. Good luck!!