Last Saturday, at the monthly OCC RWA meeting, we held a drawing for everyone who entered goals three months ago. I did not accomplish my goals. Bummer, but you know, stuff happens.
If I were my 20-year-old self, I would’ve shaken out the hair shirt and really worked myself over for not working hard enough.
Age can mellow you out, especially if you’re a Capricorn like me.
Here’s what 23 additional years of life experience has taught me when it comes to not making my goals.
Examine. So why did you not make your goal? Were you too ambitious in your planning? (Pausing to raise my hand.) Did work/family/emergencies take you off the path? Examine what happened from the time you set your goal to the due date.
Do the math. How much did you accomplish in that time: half of the book, ¾ of the book, nothing? Even if you only got five pages written, give that some love. As a recovering hair-shirt-Capricorn baby, I can tell you that appreciating what you’ve accomplished is far MORE productive. And us Capricorns, are all about productivity.
If you have no idea what this whole Capricorn riff is all about, check this video out and then return to the next suggestion:
Reset. Okay, so back to the math. It took you three months to complete 150 pages when you needed to complete 300 to make your original goal. The deadline for your new goal – because you’re not giving up – should be three more months from now. Or, if you really freaked out, give yourself more time.
If you really want to go deep, I highly recommend The Chunky Method by Allie Pleiter. In her workshop and book, she helps you to determine what kind of writer you are, how productive you really are and then gives you the formula to determine when you’re most likely to successfully complete a book. I always thought I was a sit-in-the-chair-until-I’m-done-or-dead kind of writer. I was in my 20’s, but now I can last about 15 minutes before I need to get up and move around. By accepting that reality rather than trying to fight it, I’ve become much more productive and my yoga has gone up a level because I intersperse writing sessions with exercise.
You freaked out big time. Hey, it happens to all of us. My inner critic can wake me up in the dead of night. I’ve persisted through her schoolyard taunts for decades because those fears were embedded way too deep. I recently undertook Nancy Levin’s audio book, Worthy. Her book focuses on self-worth issues tied to money and abundance. All I can say from the experience is: wow. I dredged up fears and confidence issues that I spent way too many years denying. Through listening to the audiobook and doing the exercises, I’ve released old abundance myths and replaced them with new abundance truths and it has affected every area of my life, especially my writing. I also have the tools to face fears and recognize excuses – they never really go away, but I have gotten better at recognizing them when they show up – and keep moving closer to my dreams.
Get to work. Ever since last week’s meeting, I’ve made headway in reaching my goals. I’m beginning to suspect that I need to be better at tracking my progress and keeping a journal of what I’ve accomplished so I know where I need to pick up in between writing sessions. If I practice what I’ve just preached, I will achieve my goals of publishing Girl in the Mist audiobook and Lost in Whispers by November 2017.
I’ll let you know one way or the other!
What are your goals for the next three months? What do you do to stay on track? Share in the comments.
I should’ve added, “How to Make Your Goal Without Losing Your Mind.”
So this is by no means the absolute, fool-proof, 100% guaranteed list of how to achieve your NaNoWriMo goals. It is what works for me and I share this with the goal that it might stimulate you to come up with ways that will work for you.
Here we go:
- Understand how you write. I’ve been doing this writing thing since 1994. One would think I had it figured out. But life changes. The demands on your attention and energy change. You develop back problems and the old eyes stop working the way they used to. I was trying to do the same old routine: sit my behind down for an hour and write without a break. I can tell you what that accomplished: a page or two of work and way too much Facebook scrolling, sharing, liking and commenting. I read and practiced The Chunky Method and it changed my writing life for the better. I learned that I have an optimal 15 minute attention span. So I set my stopwatch and within an hour I work in 15 minute segments. And guess what? I write like the damn house was on fire in those 15 minute sessions! Do I say and not as I once did: rather than write the way you think you should write, embrace your work style and make it work for you!
- Give yourself a break. Oh I just heard that groan. I’m a mama so I also caught that eyeroll with the eyes on the backof my head, too! But seriously, give yourself a break. Even if it’s just to stand up, do some wrist circles or scream into a pillow, moving re-energizes the body and mind. My personal favorite is to do the dishes. Maybe it’s the flow of the water but it just gives my mind a release and then those characters start up again and I’m ready for my next 15 minute session.
- There will be days you can’t work and that’s okay. This is a judgment-free zone. Life happens. Kids get sick. You get sick. Someone at work gets sick and you have to pick up the ball. On days when I can’t write (and boy do I get a grumpy!), I remind myself that the world is always there. Because really, where the hell is it going to go? What will the characters do without you? I find that the simple statement, “The world is always there,” lifts the stress off my shoulders and prepares me to jump in mess up my characters’ lives even more.
- Meditate. Dude, this changed my life. I’m telling you the truth. A short prayer followed by a ten-minute session of quiet gets me in the world and ready to go. I’ve now started meditating after my writing session to transition into family time or work. I highly recommend davidji‘s Sweetspot Online Community for free meditations. He brings ancient meditation techniques to the modern world and he’s a funny guy. Plus Rocky the pug may have a crush on Peaches the Buddha Princess.
- Turn off social media. In fact as soon as finish reading this, do yourself a favor and turn off your browser. Set your mobile to Airplane mode, throw the wireless thing-of-boob out the window and get writing!
- Write the first five or ten chapters
- Revise Act I
- Write a novella or short story
The Broken Bridge and the Dream by Salvador Dali @ Art.com
Well, that pretty much sums up what I have to say. My writer’s brain is a strange contraption. It takes me to places and creates people that I swear are real. And just when I’ve got a handle on a character, the key to a scene or a sparkling bit of dialogue, within the same brain Ego snidely whispers, “That sucks. You think that will sell? You think people will actually read that and not laugh at you?”
I don’t know how many hours and days I’ve wasted caught up in the nastiness of when my brain and Ego conspire against me. If I added all that time, I bet its close to at least half my life … possibly more.
But in the last four years I’ve learned a thing or two. Meditation and study has helped me to recognize when my brain is turning away from the light of creation towards the darkness of despair. In her book Taking the Leap, Pema Chodron writes a great deal about shenpa, the Tibetan word for attachment. She describes it as the moment when we react or get hooked by a dirty look, a harsh criticism or even a compliment. She writes:
“Shenpa is not the thoughts or emotions per se. Shenpa is preverbal, but it breeds thoughts and emotions very quickly. If we are attentive, we can feel it happening.”
The only way to become free from the evils of shenpa is to become familiar with it, to recognize the taste, the feel, the sound and the smell of it. Only then can we unhook from it. Easier said than done because it takes study, meditation and awareness – all that stuff I claim I never have time to do. By the way, I’ve yet to catch myself from stopping shenpa and my deeply ingrained habits of obsessing, self criticism or talking smack about someone who hurt my feelings. But my practice has taught me to become aware of those habits and then I can carefully, attentively work myself free. Let’s face it, there’s something delicious about good pity party or bitch fest.
Yesterday was such a day. I got some critiques that really knocked me on my bum and made me question this whole writing racket. Suddenly the great WIP idea I’d been working on seemed like a dead duck, a terrible idea! What was I thinking?!? But I had to proof the copy edited pages of my upcoming short, “2:45 Out of Santa Ana” because they’re due before Friday. I haven’t laid eyes on this story in nine months and in my very sensitive, high-strung “who the heck do I think I am to attempt another lame story” state of mind, it would be fatal to proof my own work.
But alas, I’m a classic Capricorn and we scoff at weakness even when we’re dragging our wounded, bleeding limb behind us. When I began reading the proof pages, the snap of the lashes went quiet in my mind. In fact, these were no longer proof pages, it magically became story until I got to the fifth page when I realized this was my work. And God please don’t smite for saying this (so I’ll whisper) it was pretty good stuff. Re-experiencing the plight of my heroine, Danielle Dawson helped me to stumble through the dark room of my mind towards the shades and then crack them open to the light. After three passes, I proofed the pages and I was simply to busy to be bothered by all those dark thoughts and feelings. Suddenly the WIP that seemed DOA had promise again. I even heard the characters’ voices in the way that you tune a radio to catch a station. Just words and a few broken sentences. But they were out there. It was enough to give me hope that I wasn’t reaching well beyond my means, or going on some wild goose chase.
I’m not quite sure why I’m sharing this with you. Initially it was to give myself a pat on the back and then when I went back into edit it, I thought no, this is something all of us, writers or not, face every single moment. It’s not about victory or “hey look at me!” I’m just being honest that sometimes – many more than I care to think about – I feel like a failure. My ego and I beat myself up until I’m black and blue. And yet, I’m learning how to (politely) tell ego to go take a hike.
The hardest part of a story to write is the first line. Speaking from my experience as a reader (e.g. what pulls me into a story) and a writer (what has sold my work), a character has to make an entrance. Or, if told in the first person, a statement. I don’t mean just having someone walk through a door, or wake up in bed and most definitely not stare at herself in the mirror over the bathroom sink. Characters arrive. They have a presence that makes you turn to the next page and the next until the end when you (hopefully) wish the book hadn’t ended so soon.
When I think of great entrances, I remember the night I watched The Seven Year Itch on the big screen in downtown LA. When Marilyn’s fan cord stuck in the doorway, three hundred of us gasped in the dark. We held our breath at the palpable energy that radiated from her 50 years after she’d shot that scene.
Right now, or rather right before I began this blog, I arrived at the phase of my WIP when it’s time to write the first line. Some lines appear just like that. Some take a few drafts or they hide from me until I realize that the first 20 pages I wrote don’t belong in the book. The only way I know that I have the first line is when (a) it no longer bugs me in the middle of the night, and (b) when it makes me sit up and shout, “Whoa!”
So here I go into territory unknown and still no first line in sight. But I figure it’ll show up sooner or later.
So the other day, after almost two weeks of wandering in the desert of my mind, I committed to a project. Incidentally I also gained 10 pounds during that time so writing is much better for my health than I realized.
Well I’m at the part of process where I’m researching and character sketching. No plotting. That comes later. In years past I would be freaking out about now; antsy to start writing and have something to sell. But in my old age I’ve become comfortable with my process and that’s a big step. This is the part where the mysterious part of my brain seems to be conjuring up all the surprises that I’ll mine in the writing.
In other words, I look like I’m doing nothing but really there’s a lot going on.
And like The Ballad of Aracely Calderon (which Margo Candela is graciously reading), this project seems to have been percolating ever since I was ten years old and saw Marilyn Monroe perform “That Old Black Magic” from Bus Stop.
If you’re bored at work or curious as to what I’m up to, here are some of my inspirations for this particular work-in-progress: