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Clean Slate In Progress

A New Routine: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

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In an interview with Barnes and Noble, Stephen King advised his readers that writing a novel should take a season, a three-month period.

I gaped at this. “Easy for you to say, Mr. King. You’re one of the lucky few who can spend all day writing.” Writing a novel in three months is easy for him. What about me? I felt like a failure – hopelessly lost in the briar patch my novel-in-progress had become.

Once my hot head cooled down, I realized that he’s right, and that my frustration has more to do with my own lack of routine and the stress resulting from it than his expertise. I lamented the fact that I work full time and seemingly had no time to really dig into the draft. The novel has been more in my head than on the page, which is basically keeping it on life support, making no progress. I struggled over the summer and into the fall to establish a routine. The idea of completing it “in a season” seemed hopeless.

Yet, Mr. King’s idea of “season” has stuck with me. As October deepened, I thought, “It would be nice if I finished a draft by Spring. If only…” I did the math. That would be about five months. Six if I took till April. Twice as much time as Mr. King advises, but enough to accommodate for my working life. But how would go about it?

Then last week, I stumbled upon a helpful and encouraging blog post by science-fiction writer Veronica Sicoe on “The Power of Momentum and the Triple C of Productivity.” It is the perfect article to keep in one’s writing arsenal! In a nutshell, she writes about struggling with the paralysis caused by perfectionism. Isn’t that the greatest relief – to know you’re not the only one?

So. Break it into pieces, scene by scene, or even word by word, she says. Her three “Cs” make sense: aim for concrete goals, be consistent and complete a draft. This post was oxygen to my stifled brain. It brings to mind a quote (or was it a mantra?) from Henry David Thoreau “simplify, simplify, simplify.”

Simplify, simplify, simplify. Scene by scene, word by word. Easier bits to chew.

In the past, I’d sit down to write for an hour or two hours. Half the battle, they say, is getting oneself to the page. But once there, I’d be antsy, glancing at the clock every five minutes, checking Facebook, looking around for my cat – practically begging her to jump up on my desk and bother me! It didn’t matter what or how much I wrote because the only “rule” was to sit there. I’d continually go back and tweak things that I’d already written. Greatly adverse to outlines, I had no specific milestones to reach, no mechanisms in place to keep me on task. Hence the briar patch. I was walking around in circles, grass and weeds past my waist. I needed a good, sharp scythe and a compass.

So armed with Mr. King’s concept of the “season” and Ms. Sicoe’s three Cs, I’m trying a new routine. It’s a simple thing consisting of a few parts that I hope will actually steer me toward that dream/goal of finishing a draft by late March or April.

I will stick to a word quota. A novel is “supposed” to be anywhere from 50,000 (small) to maybe 100,000 (good-sized) words. 50K is an excellent place to start. The previous draft of my novel, if I remember correctly, was about 120K. So 100K, for me, is a logical target.

I did the math. If I wrote 2K words a week, I’d make it to 50K easily. So I doubled it. 4K per week for 23 or so weeks. 1K per day, if I write at least four days a week.

So… four days for a set 1K: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Wednesday would be for making up any time or otherwise resting. Saturday would be for immediate revisions, brainstorm, catch-up or playing around. (We all need to play around.) Sunday is Sunday.

Simple.

At first, a thousand words seemed a huge challenge. I went into it apprehensive and doubtful I could get anything “done.” Wrong. I can write a thousand words in an hour. An hour is more flexible than a 2 or 3 hour block of time. So if I have to run errands in the evening, which happens frequently, I can come to the page when I’m finished. Or before dinner. Or right away when I get home.

So far, 1,000 words is easy. My goal is to complete a draft – no matter how awful I think it is. And it will be awful. But it’s okay. An awful draft is better than no draft.

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