Sunday, January 08, 2006

Discipline in Small Doses

A while back, I discovered the joys of using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to track my editor and agent submissions and my contest entries, finals and wins. It didn't take long for me to discover that I could also use Excel to keep up with my daily writing schedule as well.

Last year, when I wrote my 80,000 word novel WILD CARD within two months, part of what kept me going was setting up a daily page goal in Excel and doing all I could to keep to it. I was lucky that WILD CARD was one of those marvelous creatures, a novel that practically wrote itself. Keeping to my daily writing schedule wasn't hard; many days I went over my total and got to subtract pages, even days from the entire schedule.

I used the Excel trick when I was revising two other books, including the one that would become FORBIDDEN TERRITORY. I was able to revise as much as twenty to thirty pages per day using the Excel method.

But then came my current WIP. I wasn't what I'd call bogged down, exactly, but between the holidays, my work schedule and my family responsibilities, my goal of writing five or six pages per day clearly wasn't working. I'd come home from work dead tired and mentally drained, look at my Excel schedule and see I was supposed to do six pages per day. Overwhelmed by the very idea, I'd just punt and add days to my schedule.

Finally, I realized that I had to give myself small, reachable goals every day. Two pages I could do, even on a brain-dead night. The thought of it didn't overwhelm me. And I soon discovered that when I gave myself permission to do only two pages a day, I often did five or six a day once I got going on the story.

The fact is, if you don't set up a disciplined writing schedule, where you write every day or almost every day, you will not finish a book. And if you don't finish a book, you'll never sell a book. So you have to face the fact that writing a book, while it can be fun, is at its core hard work, and you have to make yourself do it. Every day.

But don't overwhelm yourself, either. Set a reasonable goal, one you can meet virtually every day, while being flexible enough to account for unexpected setbacks and obstacles.

Look at it this way: if you write two pages a day every day, by the end of four months, you'll have approximately two hundred and forty pages. That's a short contemporary romance novel, a short mystery or a young adult novel. Two pages a day on week days and five a day on weekends, and you're looking at a long contemporary or a single title romance, mystery or historical at the end of four months.

Those are doable goals, if you're willing to put in the work. And if you can do more pages a day, even better. You can finish a book in a month, or two months.

I started this version of my WIP on November 29th. I now have 192 pages, well over halfway through my novel, and I'm on track to be finished with the first draft by the end of January, all because I gave myself manageable goals that I could meet or exceed.

You can do it, too.

1 comment:

Shesawriter said...

Hey Paula,

So you changed your blog. I like. :-) As for the tracking, it's a good idea. I wish I could be that organized. (g)