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Archive for May, 2010

Managing Your Novel’s Progress

Monday, May 31st, 2010

This week, I thought I’d share my progress on my novel, which I announced that I’d start work on in the beginning of this month.  There are two reasons for doing so:

  • To share a method which has helped me be more disciplined about writing
  • To show that even experienced writers can still have trouble keeping to a schedule

The basic idea was to apply some concepts from project management to writing a novel.  Ideally, to complete a first draft of a 100,000-word novel from May 1 to December 31, a writer needs to write approximately 409 words per day.  Rounding this up to 425 per day, this is still an attainable target for most writers.

In the graph below, you can see the red line represents an ideal increase of 425 words per day.  The blue line represents my actual numbers.

Word Count - May

Word Count - May

As you can see, I’m currently behind (by about 6000 words).  However, there’s something interesting that happened on May 22nd–my actual word count started going up.  That was the day I started officially tracking my word count.  By paying attention to where I’m at, and where I’m supposed to be, I know whether I need to speed up or adjust my schedule.  Having more information helps me to make better decisions, or adjust my goals.

You can also see that there were several weeks where my word count was flat–this means I was not making progress at all.  Like many other writers, I kept telling myself, “I’ll make some progress tomorrow.”  Putting my progress in a spreadsheet and graphing the results is already making a huge difference in how much work I get done each day.

And as you can see, it doesn’t take long before you get several thousand words behind.

While I could fake out the results to show that I’m on track, I’d rather keep my actual progress so I can use it as a learning tool (and as motivation to finish more than the minimum each day).  Working on this minimum each day has also had some side benefits–beyond my primary story, I’ve also recorded ideas for three other stories, as well as come up with several nuggets for plot twists within my primary story.

Since my goal of completing a novel by the end of the year is self-imposed, there’s no real penalty for missing the date.  However, setting a date and tracking my progress helps me to make sure I continue to get closer each day.

Also, since I need to update my spreadsheet every day to keep the graphs current, there’s also a bit of self-motivation to add something to the story just so I can show some progress for that day.  Even if I don’t hit my 425 words each day, I expect I’ll always add at least 100.

When I get closer to the end of my draft, I do expect I’ll find my word count stabilizing (or even going down) as I start to shift into the editing phase.  However, for pounding out the first draft, I think this method is going to be an effective way to keep myself working every day.

What tips do you have for other writers to help them make progress on their writing projects?  What works for you?

Using tragedy to inspire writing

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

This week has been one of worry for me. I live in Rochester, Minnesota and since January, I have been following a bear named Lily and her cub, Hope via Facebook and the web. Hope and Lily live in Ely, Minnesota. This week, 4 month old Hope and her mother were separated when Lily went off exploring while Hope was sleeping. It is not known at the time I am writing this, if Hope has been found or is even alive.

However, as I monitor the situation via the web, I have never seen so many people try to pull together for something as common as a small, black bear cub. People are so inspired by this tragic turn of events, that they have written several beautiful poems and said many prayers on behalf to Lily and Hope.

Why does tragedy inspire us to write? Is it because writing is a stress relieving activity? Is it because we can use writing to vent all those feelings that we may not be able to express in another way?

As I worried about Hope, I began to work on a story line that I have been toying with lately. I was also waiting for my car to get out of the shop and worried about the cost of repairs for it, so I sat down and wrote for 90 minutes. I was in the lobby of the shop, waiting for the mechanic to finish fixing my car and for ninety minutes I was in the world of my characters. All the worry and stress I had been feeling seemed to fade away as I wrote. When I finally finished and decided to walk to nearest store about a quarter mile away, I felt so much better.

Any time I have had to deal with stress or personal tragedy, writing has been an outlet for me. When I was fifteen, I had my first experience with death. We watched my grandfather succumb to liver disease. I was so saddened by this traumatic event that I would often turn to writing to help me cope. When he finally died in August of 1999, I used writing as a coping mechanism. If I could just pour out all the hurt and sadness into a piece of paper, I knew I would feel better, eventually.

When my uncle’s health took a downward turn in March, I was heartsick. I am very close to my uncle and regard him as more like an older brother. I live 10 hours from my family and could not get home when he was at his worse. To help myself deal with the pain of not being there when he needed family at his side, I wrote a beautiful poem for him. He was so touched by it, that he cried when he read it. I had put 26 years of feelings into that poem.

Writing can be a positive way to deal with all the negative that seeps into our day to day lives. It is a way to clear your mind and rebuild your thought process.

I am not saying that writing only when you’re stress or sad is the way to go. I am saying that using negative feelings constructively can be beneficial in writing. Use those pent up feelings to make your characters come alive and see where that takes you!

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