Goals Used Against Me

The problem with goals, even though I love them, is I tend to see them as “have to’s” rather than “want to’s,” even when the goal comes from my deepest self.

When I didn’t succeed at my goal of winning NaNo last month, I had a really hard time with it. I had a good reason not to get my 50,000 words done (read my blog post about it here) but I still had to deal with that little voice in my head that told me my “reason” was just another word for “excuse.”

I think I’ve come by this way of thinking honestly, as a part of my medical training, but I don’t think it serves me any longer.

When I was a third year medical student, I was doing my pediatrics rotation at a big hospital. My team was rounding on our patients at a certain time and my intern (who was my supervisor) told me to get all the x-ray films for all the patients we would be seeing that day.

I went down to x-ray to sign out the films and was told that the x-ray machines were down and no films could be developed (This was before the days of digital images.) The technician I spoke to said she had no idea when x-rays would be available.

I arrived at rounds at the appointed time and my intern asked if I’d gotten the films. I explained the problem and that no x-ray films were available.

“So, you didn’t complete your task, did you?” he asked.

“No,” I answered, “I didn’t.”

No excuses were acceptable. I learned that lesson many times during medical school and I stopped making excuses, even when the excuses were things like “I have a fever of 103,” or “I just had a baby 10 days ago.”

So, when I didn’t complete my NaNo goal, I had to do a lot of self-coaching to feel okay with the fact that I didn’t achieve my goal—even though it was a conscious decision not to finish—one I made over and over as the end of November loomed. I could have pulled a couple of all-nighters on the last weekend of November but I chose not to—and then I beat myself up about it.

My friend Julie just decided to do NaNo in January. Why didn’t I think of that?

I was too busy thinking negative thoughts about my lack of achievement to come up with something as creative as changing the month I did NaNo in.

Negative thoughts = stressful thoughts = narrow focus = lack of creativity (among other things.)

Right now, the best way I know how to be creative is to continue to examine my thoughts and decide which ones are true and which ones are just unquestioned.

Once I clean up my thinking, I can get back to my real work, which is writing.

Are negative thoughts interfering with your writing? Can you let them go?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and stepmother. I didn’t succeed at my NaNo goal, but now that it’s occurred to me, I think I’ll try again in January! In the meantime, I’m still plugging away at my novel. And blogging, of course!

Procrastination Station

There’s a link on the NaNo website that used to take you to Procrastination Station–a page full of things to do when you want to avoid writing your novel.

I’m not sure anyone needs a Procrastination Station–most of us can find plenty of ways to procrastinate without any help from others. At least, I can.

I have noticed that most of the people I know (myself included) tend to have a similar pattern when we have a big task to accomplish, such as writing a 50,000-word novel in one month (yay, NaNo!) or completing a short story. No matter what the task, the pattern of procrastination is the same.

When we procrastinate, not only do we not do the thing we want to (committed to/agreed to/contracted to) do, but we also stop doing anything else enjoyable or fulfilling in our lives.

We tend to “multi-shirk” by watching bad TV or cleaning out a closet. We do the chores we have to do but we don’t allow ourselves to have any fun.

We basically tell ourselves we can’t have fun until the big task is done.

But the more we punish ourselves for not doing the thing we said we’d do, the more we procrastinate.

So, the best way I have found to deal with procrastination is to give myself permission to do the things that bring me joy, even if those things have nothing to do with getting my novel completed (or the blog post written). I find when I allow myself to go running in the park, I’m much more likely to come home and decide to sit down at my computer and get something done on my novel.

When we deprive ourselves of small pleasures because we “have to” get something done, we feel punished and our resistance increases.

If our lives are full of moments of fun, tackling that writing project becomes less stressful.

Any project is more doable when we are living a life of joy and fulfillment, which starts with figuring out what we enjoy.

My list includes things as small as a decaf latte and as important as conversations with my sisters. Other things that feed my soul are playing outside with my son, cooking for my family without any distractions, and reading.

There have been times when I didn’t allow any of these things—either because I created a life when I really didn’t have time for most of these things (can you say “med school?”) or because I simply didn’t give myself permission to do them.

Now I feed my soul as often as possible. And I procrastinate much less. I get my butt in the chair more often, usually with a good cup of coffee to my left and a picture of my son to my right. Such simple pleasures!

What are the things that fill you up? Do you allow yourself small pleasures, even when you are under a deadline?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, life coach, mother, and family physician. I’m behind on NaNo, but I’ve made a start and I know I’ll get there!

I Want to Write

Back a few weeks ago, I responded to a writing prompt I found in a Writer’s Digest magazine. The prompt asked me to “acknowledge that writing is hard.” I think that all the time, but I’ve never written those words down. So I did—plus a few more. Then I went on to the rest of the prompt, which included: “Write about how you are going to make writing happen.”

Writing down how hard writing is, acknowledging it, brought up the question, “So why do I do it?”

My answer is simply because I really, really want to. I have no idea why I have such a longing to write, and I have come to see that I don’t have to know. I believe that if I have the longing, I must also have the skills (or the ability to learn the skills) to be a great writer. I’m learning the craft, practicing finding the right words. Everything I write feels like progress on my journey. My voice is starting to emerge on the page and I’m starting to get glimmers of where I might go with my writing. That’s enough for me for now.

Responding to one writing prompt, writing about how difficult writing is and why I want to do it helped me to be able to make a commitment (again!) to making my writing happen. I realize I need to spend time in the chair, trying to find the right words, not just thinking about doing it or reading about how others have done it.

So, I signed up for NaNo. And I put my life coaching blog on hold for the month of November (here’s the blog post I wrote about it.) I’ve also committed to writing for 15 minutes a day—minimum. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s way better than nothing and it’s progress, which is what I’m really after. (In school, my nieces and nephews now say, “Practice makes progress,” instead of “Practice makes perfect.” Isn’t that great?)

I’ve used the built-in accountability and fellowship of NaNo successfully in the past (I won last year and in 2008,) and I’m hoping to do it again this year. When I picture my future self, she’s always a writer. If I’m a writer, I need to write every day (or most days.) That’s a very hard thing to do. But I’m clear on how important writing is to me and my intuition tells me that’s one thing that’s never going to change.

Where are you on your journey as a writer? How are you making your writing happen?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, life coach, mother, runner, and family physician. I’m gearing up for NaNo and excited to make writing a priority as much as possible in the month of November (see how I’m qualifying making writing a priority already? Yikes!)

Finding a Critique Group

I’ve been asked a number of times how to find a critique group, so I thought I’d list some of the avenues I followed to find a critique group that works for me.

First, you need to have an open mind. A good friend of mine joined a mommies group after she had her first child, and she told me she was going to keep going “until I made one good friend.” I thought that was really smart. Often we join a group and, when it’s not immediately fulfilling, we stop going. My friend kept going until she had one good friend that she continued to see outside the group—mission accomplished.

After that, I think it’s a matter of trying multiple options. Here are some of the things I tried, which eventually led to my current critique group, which is everything I ever dreamed of in a critique group:

Online critique groups: There are many. One free one is Critique Circle, which allows you to critique others and receive feedback on your own work. You can also try places like The Writer’s Chatroom, an online writing community, which hosts author chats, workshops, and  also has discussion forums where you can find other writers who are looking for someone to critique their work (I am a moderator on this site. Everyone there is very helpful!)

NaNoWriMo: November is National Novel Writing Month, and the members of www.nanowrimo.org have all committed to writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Once you sign up (it’s free, although donations are accepted and encouraged) you can join your local region and chat online with other people in your area. There are also many live and virtual “meet-ups” during the month—a great way to connect with other writers in your area.

National and regional writing organizations: I joined Sisters in Crime, a mystery-writing group, and the local chapter (Sisters in Crime New England). Sisters in Crime has a online chapter called the Guppies that is dedicated to getting its members published. Critique is a big part of their mission. If you are looking to publish in the mystery genre, I highly recommend them. Other genres have similar groups, so just join the group that fits you best.

Writing Conferences: I have gone to New England Crime Bake for the past few years and I have met many people who inspire me as a writer, but I also met one of my current critique group members there. I recommend volunteering at the conference you go to as it forces you to meet people and interact (especially helpful if you go alone.)

Local bookstores and libraries: Most local bookstores (even the big ones, like Barnes & Noble,) have a bulletin board or a newsletter that tells you if any writing groups meet there. You can also ask the staff if there is a writing group that meets there.

Local coffee shops: Like bookstores and libraries, most coffee shops have a bulletin board. Post something telling writers you are looking to form a critique group, or ask the staff if they know of any writing groups that meet there.

Lastly, keep that open mind and keep trying—all that time and energy seems well-spent once you have a critique group that helps you become a better writer.

Any other ideas for finding a critique group?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: wife, mother, writer, life coach, blogger, family physician. I’m working on my my novel and getting ready for NaNo. On the advice of my critique group, I’m currently going back and outlining my novel-in-progress to make the plotting better (and to make sure I have GMC in every scene!)

On The Fence

nanofence            Last November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. I didn’t write an entire novel in those thirty short days, but I did I add 50,000 words to a novel that was already underway, and that made me a winner.

I loved having that goal and that deadline. Dorothy Parker famously said that “writing is the art of applying ass to seat,” and Nanowrimo certainly motivated me to stay in my chair.

Participating in NaNoWriMo gave me permission to write and write and write and to keep on writing: the essential task necessary to advance the novel I was working on.

  • I loved Nanowrimo on the days I could chalk up another 2,000 words.
  • I hated Nanowrimo on the days I had no words to add to my tally.
  • I loved Nanowrio for helping me buckle down and spill the goods.
  • I hated Nanwrimo for promoting quantity over quantity.
  • And I loved that by the end of last November, I added 50,000 words to my draft.

So, as the emails from the Office of Letters and Light (the originators of what has become an international November phenomenon) start to skitter across my screen announcing the countdown to November, I’m not sure if I’ll sign up again.

For one, I’m still working on the same novel I was writing a year ago – now in its third draft. I’m making great progress (thanks to drafts one AssInSeatand two). In fact, I’ve (re)written 50,000 words in the past six weeks. At this point – since I know my characters better and have a much clearer idea of what kind of trouble they’re in, my rate of composition is accelerating exponentially (as are the number of hours I can spend at my desk).

I’m sure I could sign up for Nanowrimo and “win” again, but I’m not sure I want to. The program offers lots of support – which I barely used. The Office of Light and Letters sent me emails to cheer me on, and they offered me a virtual network to other writers all over the world. But I already get a lot of email, which distracts me from my story, and when I’m finished writing for the day, I want to get off the computer and socialize with people who I can hug. And I don’t want a virtual drink, thank you very much, but a real slug of single malt.

There are good reasons for me to participate in Nanowrimo this year. I’m still aiming to finish this draft before the end of the year, and a little pressure wouldn’t be amiss. But there are also good reasons for me to skip it: I’m already in the groove, and I like to get off the computer after a day of digging in the word mine. So I’m on the fence. Do I sign up or not?  What are you going to do?

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin is novelist, essayist and educator. She is a regular commentator for Vermont Public Radio and the author of the award winning novel, Into The Wilderness. She teaches writing workshops and offers editorial consultation. For more information, visit her website at www.deborahleeluskin.com

From sand sculptures to corn mazes… are you ready for fall?

Can you believe it’s the last week of August?

From summer sandcastles...

From discovering summer sand sculptures…

Where did the summer go? I know that it’s technically ‘summer’ until September 21, but kids are going back to school (if they aren’t there already), and Labor Day is upon us (in the States). So, it feels like summer is mere days from wrapping up.

I was at the beach on Sunday as a last hurrah with Little Sis before she starts her senior year in high school. Thousands of people had the same idea. We saw a life-size sand sculpture of an alligator along with numerous castles with moats.

As I planned this week, it felt like a last hurrah too. I’ve kept a relaxing pace for work the past couple of months and as the calendar turns to a new page, that pace is going to pick up — clients will be back from their summers and projects will need to get done before the end of the year.

Fall has always been my favorite season. And it has always given me a sense of having a fresh start. As a kid, going back to school was always fresh and new. As a corporate employee, the office became a full house again and meetings got scheduled and project assessments made.

Since becoming a business owner, September feels like the start of a new year (instead of January). My calendar year is January to January, but September is when I get re-inspired and motivated for the next 12 months.

I evaluate work-to-date, clients, projects, and personal writing projects. I think about what to keep working on and pursuing, and what to let go. I start planning.

My Planner Pad gives me a 2-page view of the entire year, so I’m able to start marking off dates for conferences and workshops I want to attend, vacation time I want to take, and deadlines I already know about (blog post deadlines, such as this one; critique group times; annual recurring appointments). It’s amazing how quickly the calendar can fill up! Having the visual of free time and busy time gives me a sense of fulfillment.

Filling the calendar now with what I know I want to do in 2014 makes decision making easy when new opportunities arise. There isn’t the worry of “I think I have something that month, but I can’t remember what it is.” A quick glance let’s me see what’s in play and I don’t have to sweat making a decision.

...to finding the way out of a corn maze in the Fall

…to finding the way out of a corn maze in the Fall

I may not have exact dates for conferences and workshops, but I can estimate by month or week. Business activities such as networking events, small business classes, and business expos sprout up in the Fall, and so looking things over in September helps me get (back) on track to finish the  year strong.

September is when I find my way through the maze again — when I try a few left turns and right turns until I figure out what works best and what fits into the schedule the right way. I love having a schedule and knowing what to look forward to. It goes back to what I talked about in my 3AM is too early post. Starting with the end in mind ensures I reach my goals.

Do you feel more invigorated/inspired in September?

Lisa J. Jackson Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys the crisp fall mornings and warm sunny days. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

Nanowrimo #Fail (I blame you, Larry Brooks.)

I will not be crossing the Nanowrimo finish line tomorrow.

I have failed – utterly – to get 50,000 words of my novel cranked out in 30 days.

I blame Larry Brooks.

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You see, a year or so ago, fellow Live to Write – Write to Live blogger, Wendy, introduced me to Brooks’ work on the theory of story structure. As I dug into his content – rich blog posts, in-depth ebooks, and honest-to-goodness print books (joy!) – my interest blossomed from merely curious to fanatically infatuated. I unleashed my inner student with her armory of colored pens and highlighters and dove into Story Engineering with gusto and gratitude. I made notes, underlined everything, and drew diagrams.

I cannot recommend Brooks’ work enough.

Reading his explanation of what makes a story tick was like learning the secret behind a mind-blowing magic trick. Once I’d seen it, it made such sense. It was inspiring. It made me want to try my own hand at creating a little magic. Real magic.

As November approached, I got the crazy idea to give Nanowrimo another go (I’d “won” in 2009, but skipped out in 2010 and 2011.). Despite being super busy, I was invigorated by the thought of creating a strong outline based on what I’d learned from Brooks. This year, instead of blindly hacking out 50,000 words of crap, I would invest my time in creating a halfway decent first draft with a strong underlying structure – something with real possibilities. I wanted something I would actually want to polish instead of, like my 2009 “novel” (and I use the term ever so loosely), something I would bury in a never-visited archive folder deep in the labyrinth of my computer’s hard drive.

I was pumped. I was tingling. I was bursting with ideas.

And then, life happened.

My uncharacteristically open work schedule suddenly filled back up to its usual full capacity and all the October hours I’d gleefully allocated to story planning were sucked up by urgent client projects. No matter, I thought optimistically, I’ll just plan on-the-fly. It’ll still work.

But, it didn’t.

I couldn’t take the pressure of trying to plan my book out so quickly. I wanted time to let the idea germinate and develop. I wanted time to play with variations on the theme and a variety of possible story threads. When November 1st arrived and I was still without a plan, I found myself face-to-face with some major resistance. Though I did some work on character and location sketches, sample prologues, and a few opening scenes, I didn’t want to write.

I didn’t want to write.

It’s not that I couldn’t. I could have followed my 2009 playbook and just rambled away with no idea of where I was going (or why). I could have written random scenes and hoped that I might eventually someday stitch them together into a semblance of a story. I could have done a whole freeform thing and not cared one whit about the end result.

But I’d grown beyond that. I’d seen the truth behind the trick and I couldn’t unsee it.

“Play” writing has its merits – it can free your muse, tickle your fancy, turn expectations on their heads to reveal striking new plot insights and concept perspective. It can serve as a roundabout way to brainstorm a story. It can unearth important personal discoveries that contribute to the veracity and depth of your work.

What it won’t deliver (unless you are a massively gifted and highly experienced virtuoso) is a well-structured story that hits every mark in terms of concept, character, theme, story structure, scene execution, and writing voice  – Brooks’ “six core competencies” of the story craft.

I knew that without a plan (or the brain of, say, Stephen King), I wouldn’t be able to create the kind of story Brooks’ work had inspired me to write. I knew that even if I managed to get 50,000 words down most of them would never again appear on my screen, let alone be read by another human being. Though I hated to do it, I laid down my pen. It wasn’t an easy decision. I am not a quitter. But, in the end, I decided that my time would be better spent continuing to work on the bones of my story. Like a sorceress creating a creature from dust and light, I knew I had to start with the bones and build out from there. It was the only way.

So my Nanowrimo dreams for 2012 met a premature end.

And I’m okay with that.

In fact, I’d like to thank Mr. Brooks.

I may not have written 50,000 words in November, but because of what I’ve learned from him I know that the next 50,000 words I write will have a much higher chance of becoming part of a publishable manuscript.

I’m definitely okay with that.

What are your thoughts on plotting (designing your story based on a framework like Brooks’) vs. pantsing (relying entirely on your muse to drive the story as you write it)?  If you did Nanowrimo, did you have a plan going in, or just wing it? How’d that work out for you?

P.S. I offer my most sincere and heartfelt congratulations to everyone who successfully crosses the Nanowrimo finish line this year (especially to my fellow Live to Write – Write to Live bloggers – Wendy and (hopefully!) Deborah. Way to go, girls!).

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Winning at NaNoWriMo

          It’s November twenty-seventh, meaning including today there are just four more days to finish the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel in one short month. As of this morning, I’m at 42,452, so it’s nip-and-tuck whether I’ll cross the finish line in time, but in my view, I’ve already won.

When I first heard of Nanowrimo a few years ago, I thought it was for amateurs. Then this year, I signed up because I needed a push. I got just what I asked for: incentive to sit at my desk and write daily, advancing the novel I’ve been working on for years.

What I’ve written isn’t a novel yet, but it’s part of a wonderful first draft that resembles a slightly overweight, middle-aged woman: blousy and untucked, hem crooked, lipstick wearing off, a bit florid in the face. Roots visible. Flabby, untoned, maybe even intoxicated, certainly out of breath – and very, very happy. At least I am.

What I have now is a fabulous mess. Oh, it started out a bit more controlled, just as I started out ahead of the curve, writing 2,000 words/day at the start of the month. But I knew what was coming: a trip that took me out-of-town for a week, followed by a week of preparing and celebrating Thanksgiving with a dozen house guests.

Given these major distractions, it’s no wonder I fell behind. But I didn’t give up. And that’s the magic.

So whether I cross the 50,000-word finish line this Friday or not, I consider myself a winner, big-time. Here’s a partial list of my prizes:

  • The knowledge that I can write fast when I need to;
  • I can write early in the morning, before the house wakes;
  • I can write at the airport, while waiting for my plane;
  • I can write in bed, before sleep, if I have to.
  • I can mark places in the text that I’ll have to go back to and check facts later – and not stop to do research (i.e. procrastinate).
  • I can spill ink, blood, sweat and tears on the page without worry,
  • Because I’ll have plenty of time to clean up the draft as I rewrite it
  • Again
  • And again.

If my nano-novel is like a blousy woman, then that makes me a personal trainer who’s looking forward to the next phase, after the rough draft is finished. That’s when I’ll work her hard to get her into shape. I’ll help her lose words, tighten her prose, improve the condition of her characters, take hours off her plot, and make her something to look at.

Did you attempt Nanowrimo this month? If so, what did you learn about yourself as a writer?

Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. Listen to her Vermont Public Radio broadcast about NaNoWriMo here. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Must. Stop. The Voices. Nanowrimo internal dialog

There are anti-nanowrimo voices in my head.

Their chattering is a consistent and slightly ominous low murmur until I sit down to write. When I sit down at the computer with intentions to “crank” out however many words I’ve fallen behind, the volume of their commentary rises from a whisper to a ruckus to a veritable keening.

It’s not pretty.

There are three conversations in my head: one that’s designed to distract me from the task at hand; one that’s hell-bent on convincing me that I have no business writing anything, let alone a novel; and a third one that wants to edit, edit, edit until the proverbial cows come home.

So, while I’m trying to craft a single, salvageable sentence, my lovely and charming mind is doing this:

Distraction Mind:

  • Maybe I should double-check and make sure that Carbonite is actually backing up my Scrivener files. Does it do that automatically? Perhaps there’s a help file I should check or a help desk I can call.
  • Maybe I should visit the Nano forums. That’s half the fun, right? Why do Nano if not for the camaraderie?
  • I should really find a new conditioner. This one leaves my hair all limp and tangled.
  • My Q3 quarterly taxes are overdue.
  • Are my favorite jeans clean?
  • I need a break. I’m going to Facebook for some LOL cats.
  • If I don’t email that client back, she’s going to be pissed …
  • I’m hungry. I can’t write on an empty stomach – maybe just a spot of toast and tea …
  • I should start my Christmas shopping soon.
  • The cat’s shaking her head. I should clean her ears.
  • I wonder if I should work on that other story …

Inner Critic:

  • You are so far behind. You’ll never make it. May as well give up now.
  • These other people are Real Writers. You’re a fraud. I bet they’re all tons better than you.
  • You can’t tell this story. Are you kidding? You can’t even tell a simple joke!
  • This is all a waste of time.
  • You’ll never get published.
  • That thing you just wrote? It makes NO SENSE. No one would ever believe that. Stupid. Rubbish.
  • Do you even KNOW who your character is? I didn’t think so. Hack.
  • What made you think you should write anyway? This is probably all a big mistake. Definitely.
  • Why am I doing this again?
  • It doesn’t really matter if I win or lose … won’t make a difference either way.
  • You’re vain. SO much going on in the world today and all you care about is writing a crappy book? Lame.

Eternal Editor:

  • If today is the 14th, that’s 14 days times 1,667 words per day = 23,338 words … so, if I’ve only written 12, 342 that means I’m 10,996 behind … which means … oh, crap.
  • Spellcheck will only take a minute …
  • Where’s my thesaurus?
  • What’s the name for those things that girl put in my drink … is it a “tincture?” Where can I look that up? Maybe I should be a bartender.
  • I should set up a reference chart and some character profile sheets and make a map and draw the interior …
  • Should that be a comma, or a semi-colon?
  • Does this make any sense in terms of story structure?

… you get the idea.

I’ve lost my Nanowrimo Zen. I need to get back to beginner mind. I need to wipe the slate clean, surf the waves of blissful ignorance, and just write – damn it!

My first Nano back in 2009 was a wild ride of I-don’t-care-what-this-is. I had no plot and no problem writing anything and everything – just to get the words down. This year, I’m much more hung up on wanting something that I can actually turn into a viable manuscript. I believe in the idea and don’t want to muck it up. Unfortunately, that fear is paralyzing me and sucking all the fun out of my Nano experience. I need to step away from my expectations and get back to being in the moment and not trying to ensure any particular outcome.

If you’re doing Nano, how are you faring? Are you having any of these conversations in your head? How are you getting your internal voices to shut the hell up so you can get back to work? Are you ahead of the Nano schedule? Behind? Thinking about giving up? What’s happening in your world?

Image Credit: Kaptain Kobold

Progress Report

Rather than wait until New Year’s Eve, when it’s too late to do anything about the year’s unmet goals, I took stock at the end of October. Despite grand ideas of writing a poem a week this year, I haven’t.

In fact, I forgot about that resolution until I reviewed my posts for this year. I’m not beating myself up about it, either. It’s a good exercise and a great goal. Maybe I’ll try again next year, even join a poetry group for guidance and support.

The single most important task I set myself in 2012 was to write one, complete, messy, first draft of a novel. To my credit, I’ve been consistently tunneling my way through two decades of notes. I’ve hit dead ends several times, most notably in August, when I deleted nearly two-hundred pages and started over (again).

Since then, I’ve been writing faster, with more confidence and more clarity, and I’d finished three chapters – almost 30,000 words – by Halloween. But I could see this still wouldn’t get me to The End by December thirty-first, and I knew I could write faster – if properly motivated. I needed something to nudge me to write with less fear and more abandon. As a reader of this blog as well as a contributor, the answer became clear: sign up for Nanowrimo. I did.

I put the 30,000 words of the first three chapters aside and restarted my word count with Chapter Four on the first of November. My goal is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month, which will leave me about another 20,000 to write by Christmas. If the draft is finished by then, I can put it aside to ferment over the holidays, when my family will be home.

Nanowrimo is more fun than I ever imagined, even though I’ve not taken advantage of any of its social offerings. I simply love viewing the bar graph at the end of the day, when I clock my word-count and see how I’m doing. It’s like having a boss who’s holding me accountable in a way I’ve not been able to by myself.

Nanowrimo has also helped me give up tight control, which has little place in a first draft. In order to pound out two thousand words daily, I’m writing a little more wildly than I had been before, and this is okay. There are eleven other months in a year to chisel away and give the story the shape and polish I aim for. Right now, I’m delighting in simply writing. And I’m pleased to think that I’m again on track to reaching the goal I set at the start of the year.

The point here isn’t about Nanowrimo – that’s just a tool I’m finding helpful in meeting a larger goal. What I’m so proud of is that I haven’t given up because I might not meet my goal. Even if I don’t “finish” by the end of December, I’m going to end the year trying.

How are you progressing toward the goals you set for this year?

Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. She lives in southern Vermont. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com