Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Wishes (and Resolutions) Aren't Enough


Two summers ago, a friend and I journeyed to Eastern Europe for a two-week vacation that included Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, Warsaw and, of course, Prague. I firmly believe that no trip to Europe (Eastern or Western) is complete without a trip to Prague. Central to this fairytale city with its “Thousand Spires” and towering castle is the Charles Bridge, the oldest bridge in the city and a tourist destination that no one should miss. Between the sixth and seventh pillars of the bridge, near the revered statue of St. John of Nepomuk—patron saint of Prague—is a small plaque bearing a simple star. This spot is said to mark the spot where the martyr’s body was thrown into the Vlatava River below. Legends (and tour guides) say that if you touch that cross and make a wish, your wish will be granted. As my friend and I walked across the bridge on a scorching day in late July, we found the spot, closed our eyes and made our wishes. Being a frustrated novelist-in-progress at that particular point in my life, I naturally wished for the thing most on my mind: to finish my book before the end of the year.

Well, that wish did not come true. In fact, it was almost a full year later that I finally typed those beautiful words: THE END. Looking back at the year in between my Charles Bridge wish and the end of my novel, I think I can begin to see where I went wrong. I had a burning desire to finish that project—it had already been hanging over my head for more than a year and I knew I wouldn’t be able to commit myself to anything else before I completed it. I had wishes, New Year’s resolutions, and a whole section in my Goals/Objectives Journal dedicated to writing. What I didn’t have was a plan. I’m not talking about some regimented system a la Stephen King wherein I would nail myself to a chair for three hours every morning at sunrise and write steadily until my egg timer went off. That sort of schedule doesn’t work for me, and not only because the sunrises I tend to see signal the end of a night, not the start of the day. I mean a plan to harness my particular writing habits into the most profitable use of time until I completed my manuscript.

Finally, last summer, I sat down and assessed where I was in my writing and what I was doing wrong and right. I made a list of the things I liked about my manuscript, things I knew needed work and things I hated. Then I made another list of ways to motivate myself and make the most of my time. The best idea I had was to stop going home at the end of my work day and instead head to the library, a coffee shop or just stay in my office with the phone unplugged and devote the time I always meant to spend on writing to actual writing. The result to that idea was even better than I’d hoped—in addition to finishing my first novel in under two months, something about writing each and every day kicked the Muse into high gear and I was able to complete a first draft of my second novel before the end of the year. Signing with an agent, and outing myself and my real name on this blog and other Net outlets also felt like a big step because it removed the idea that writing was a hobby that I could quit at any time with no one the wiser.

Since I now have a better idea what works for me as a writer, I approached my 2006 goals far differently. For one thing, I didn’t put a number or a deadline on myself. It’s never worked in the past (for major projects, anyway), and when the deadline passes and I’m still stuck I get frustrated and depressed. I also didn’t set a number of hours to spend on writing every day or every week because my day job is unpredictable and since it pays the bills, it has to come first. Instead, I am making an effort to fit writing into my every day life and, as much as I am able, to shift my focus into the literary world. Maintaining an active blog, and networking with other industry people are also major goals, and although I know that the time I spend doing those things may sometimes cut back on my writing time, I also know that keeping up with the industry makes me a better writer. I do have a game plan—not the kind of regimented, deadline-oriented plans I use in my day job, but I’m adjusting.

So, the game plan for 2006: write, of course. Continue figuring out how best to harness my productive times. And get used to the idea of being a writer, instead of someone who occasionally writes. The rest, I leave up to the Muse. She did well enough this year.

3 Comments:

Blogger R.J. Baker said...

I enjoyed your "hook blog", it seems that that is the only type of writer signed these days o the major houses.

You may want to cull the smaller genre houses for your mss. They don't give you as much $ advance but they are usually more hands on and writer friendly.

I am jelous of your Europe trip. I was in Venice last year because of the rates. I didn't want to leave.

Good luck....

9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anne said...

You know...I hadn't heard that story about the bridge and the martyr before. Makes me want to go back.

And go you on fulfilling your goals and setting the new ones. Dammit, that's what I need to do. Get more organized in my life so that I can see the writing time and make it happen.

*is feeling empowered thanks to Mel's post!*

9:47 PM  
Blogger Melanie Hayden said...

r.j. baker--thanks for the advice. I'll talk to my agent about that. We're still waiting on word from several more houses at the moment, so I definitely haven't given up hope. I'm glad you enjoyed the "hook" entry.

Anne--the story is actually a lot longer than that. Remind me to tell it to you sometime. And yes, organization has made all the difference. I may be flaky in the rest of my life, but I'm getting better organzing my writing efforts.

10:50 AM  

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