Thursday, January 05, 2006

You Know What You Need?

A random Livejournal conversation yesterday had me in front of my computer for forty minutes working on a new project—not an actual writing project, mind you, but something to hopefully assist in my writing. A fellow writer mentioned a “Graph of Shame” on which to record daily word totals and find out precisely what my productivity is. Now, due at least in part to my background in politics, I love numbers because they tell you exactly where you are and when. Numbers, numbers—tiny little evidences of success—how I love them. As a sometimes-political consultant, I pour over polls. As a student loan-plagued former student, I love to watch my Sallie Mae balance inch down a little every month. And as a writer, I love recording word counts.

However, I know that the purpose of this little graph (or in my case, spreadsheet replete with automatically sum-functioned totals) is not for me to chuckle gleefully over my progress. A word count really isn’t a good arbiter of progress on any writing project; we all know that it’s not in the writing, it’s in the revising—and revising is hard to measure in neat little columns. What I’m really hoping this spreadsheet will do for me in the coming year is help me analyze when I’m most productive. I’m also hoping it will be, as Jennifer Echolls put it, a Kick in the Ass when I’m procrastinating or getting bogged down. Because as much as I believe in the power of revision, no words = nothing to revise. You’ve got to write it before you can perfect it.

My question to the rest of the writers out there is this: what provides your Kick in the Ass? Do you have a critique partner who doubles as your own personal Vic Mackie when you haven’t touched that dreaded Word doc for a week? Do you set daily word count goals—do you have a work ethic that compels you to meet said goals? Do you have Jewish/Catholic/Yankee/Southern guilt that nags you every time you sit down to watch Project Runway instead of sitting down at the computer? (Show of hands—who else wants to see a crossover with America’s Next Top Model where Janice Dickinson and Nick have the most awesome walk-off ever?) Do you have a Graph/Spreadsheet of Shame that makes you heave your butt off the sofa and into your desk chair? Or is it all about deadlines for you—do you need an actual drop dead date when the thing has to be finished?

As a writer who took two years (two. freaking. years.) to finish one novel, I can see the value in all of these methods. I’m hoping my little spreadsheet (which can be converted into a graph, come to think of it) will be enough to get me going when Shirley the Muse is being difficult. Let's face it, we all have slow phases. . .and dead phases. The point is to get going again, no matter how you do it. My goal this year, more than finishing any number of projects, more than writing a certain number of words, is just that--to get going and keep going even through the rough spots. I wish you all the same.


Blogger jason evans said...

I need bigger boots. I don't kick myself enough.

BTW-Is two years really that bad? You're talking done and in the box, right? Most of us have day jobs, after all (and given the publishing industry, we should quit them just yet).

9:03 AM  
Blogger Melanie Hayden said...

Two years seemed like an eternity to me. I did work full time (and started my own business) during the writing process, and I'm sure that was part of the problem. But my second went a LOT faster, and I'm hoping to keep that momentum going. I suppose it's not really that bad for a first novel, but I'd rather not repeat the process at that speed again.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

Try nearly 10 years...

It's all about the Catholic guilt for me. And reminding myself ad nauseam to be more flexible. Yes I CAN use those 20 minutes to work, between the time my 2yo settles down to play and the time he demands my attention. Flexibility is coming, but slowly...

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Barbi Kremen said...

I know I need a kick in the pants even with the jewish guilt going on.

12:52 AM  

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