Tuesday Toss-Up

Why the Advice You Hate the Most is Right

May I confess something to you?

No? Well, I’m going to anyway.

Because it’s my blog.

And, also, I don’t have anything else to write about today.

I’m a pantser by nature. I hate schedules. I frequently have no idea what I’m going to fix for dinner before lunch and usually have no idea what my weekend plans are going to be until it’s actually the weekend. I fly by the seat of my pants.

And it works.

Sort of.

There’s a lot to be said for spontaneity. But it often is the enemy of actually getting stuff done. Sure, we might spontaneously decide to do the laundry backlog, start exercising, finish a novel…someday. But something that needs our attention right now is bound to come up, most especially when we’ve spontaneously started a project.

And some things, when left up to spontaneity, get pushed to the bottom of the list almost every time.

Like laundry–who needs to wash socks when you can wear flip-flops?

And novels. Especially novels.

Life’s distractions breed like tribbles the moment you start a novel (the way goodies multiply when you start a fitness plan). And they only pick up steam as you go along.

The solution, of course, is to make time. Set goals and tell people about them. Come up with at least a rudimentary schedule and stick to it. Come up with a system for accountability.

I know this. How well I know this. I’ve had success with this before in both NaNo and ROW80.

And yet, I struggle nonetheless.

Call it a defect of character, a lack of priorities, a distractible mind, or project ADD. Call it fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of dust bunnies. Call it procrastination (which itself is probably the nasty afterbirth of fear).

Whatever you call the thing, the end result is the same.

The novel left up to chance to write will not get written.

This is why NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of being introduced) is so great. You join NaNo, set a goal for 50,000 words for by the end of November, tell the world about it, avail yourself of the NaNo community and write like hell for a month.

This last November, I decided to make NaNoWriMo my spring-board for finishing my work-in-progress. I’d plotted and written part of a previous version of this novel, only to discover the story had mortal wounds. Once I recovered from that unpleasant discovery, I took the opportunity to plot a better story using most of the characters, premise and concept of the previous story. I’d mostly finished when NaNo rolled around.

Perfect timing. A chance to get a solid start (50K words should be half or more of the novel) and form good writing habits. Forcing myself to plan for daily word counts. A deadline hanging over my head. Community support. The thrill of victory should I complete the challenge. What could be better?

And it worked. I won NaNo and formed a habit for writing daily. In fact, daily writing became easier and much more pleasant. I looked forward to the blank page instead of dreading it.

Once I finished NaNo, I imagined I wouldn’t actually have to worry about setting word count goals. I’d have so much momentum built up from NaNo, I’d just keep writing…


Go ahead. Laugh now. I’ve earned it.

It didn’t take long for the lack of specific daily goals, deadlines and a system of accountability to show its rotten fruit. My productivity dropped off and I began dragging my feet when it came time to write. Distractions popped up with greater number and increased power. And much of the writing I did do felt off, forced and more than crappy-first-draft crappy.

I hate when they (the ones who talk about goal setting, scheduling, yada yada yada) are right. But I can’t deny they are.

So here I am, back on the wagon, however reluctantly. I’m shooting for 1K words daily and at least 4K words a week (allowing for days off so I don’t go NaNo nuts…those of you who’ve been there know what I’m talking about). I aim to have the first draft complete by February 28.

There and, now that I’ve told you all, I really can’t weasel out of it.


But I’ll thank myself when my novel is done. Finally.

I’m finding a few things helpful as I go along.

I use Scrivener (an all-in-one writing software program for writers) and I love having the Project Goals feature visible as I write so I can see my progress.

I have the WriteChain app (an awesome, simple app that allows you to choose your word count and writing day goals and gives you a link for each day you meet your goal) on my phone and I absolutely, positively refuse to break the chain. I’ve got 80 links so far, which includes NaNaWriMo and I stretched the coast days during the holidays.

diyMFA has excellent advice on setting and testing goals for writing (which could apply to any goal). I’m collecting data now for my own iteration process.

And Derek Hawkins has a great suggestion on his blog for keeping yourself motivated (*hint* it can involve chocolate).

How do you keep yourself on track with a big writing (or other) project? What tools and tricks work for you?

8 thoughts on “Why the Advice You Hate the Most is Right

  1. Heya Sonia,

    your post kind of jumped out to me, perhaps because I am going through a similar ‘dragging feet’ process and subconsciously need a bit of a ‘wakey wakey’ moment. I do not have a routine set, per se; however, I have been creating a workable schedule for me, once I finalise that, I am hoping to get my head down and writing…having said this, there is course I am hoping to attend April-May, if I have not started to write by then, I hope to have started during and after it. So that is my plan- no doubt I will start blogging once I know what I am doing. Hope you still to your writing goals, if anyone can, you can. 🙂

    1. It’s amazing how hard it can be to do what we know we need to do. I marvel at it all the time. I guess it’s a matter of building up long term habits. I’m still working on that. 😀

  2. Your advice is good. If I’d started out following that advice when I started college, I might have graduated with a 4.0 instead of a 2.0 – and if I’d continued to follow it throughout my career, I have no doubt I would have been much more successful than I was.

    The sad fact is that no amount of self-lecturing, attending seminars, etc., has ever been able to make me set and stick to goals. Mea culpa.

    So far as writing goes, I am definitely a pantser, but only after I have created a log line for my story and created main characters along with background sketches so I can understand how and why they behave. With the log line to keep me on track (and it does have to be changed midstream sometimes), and the characters reasonably well defined, I start in and then let the characters themselves help me along with my plot.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, though. Sounds like it’s working for you.

    1. Yeah, if I’d followed my own advice years ago, I’d have finished so many things by now. 🙂 Oh well. Live and learn.

      I’m a pantser by nature but I’ve (mostly) embraced plotting. I like to know my plot points, concept and major character. For this WIP, I went further, figuring out most of the major scenes as well because the ideas kept coming to me. But I still like to work a lot of the story out on the page. It seems I think best that way…I just need something to rein me in a little.

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