Friday, December 30, 2011

Tips for Writers: Get Back to Work!

’Tis the Season for New Years’ Resolutions, and, like a lot of writers, my resolutions touch on my writing goals, although mostly they circle around writing: reading more/better literature will help refine my own style; reading more literary magazines will help me understand better what the journals are looking for; staying off the Internet will free up time for everything else. (I could probably tie in the eating better/exercising more resolutions, too.)

It all boils down to discipline. And the search for discipline explains my attempts at meditation and my reading on that subject—still waiting for that to work. But part of my effort to improve discipline involves goal-setting.

I know writers who set daily word-count goals, and I do that sometimes, such as during a NaNoWrimo push. (My goal for this November was 2500 words per day, and I stuck to that for most of the month, easily surpassing the overall goal of 50,000 words.) When I’m in revision mode, I may set a page-count goal rather than focusing on the number of words. I did that in August when I was at a writing retreat in France, working on the revision to my novel manuscript: the number of pages I had to get through divided by the number days available. That worked well.

Most of the time, though, I’m floundering. I hate to admit that, but some days I sit at my desk and I don’t know what to write. It’s not writer’s block, exactly. It’s more fundamental than that. It’s not knowing. It’s not being ready to move on in the given project. And so on days like that—days like today, for example—I write something else: a blog post, like this one; a book review (I did that yesterday); ideas for something I might want to write in the future. If I’m really struggling, I might read something relevant to writing—I just started The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

But what I don’t do is leave my desk, at least not during the hours I set aside only for writing. I don’t go run errands when I should be writing. I don’t do housework. I don’t read magazines or books unless they’re related to the work. Or, if I do let my attention wander into other realms, I remind myself, like a student of meditation, to begin again. In other words, even if a word-count goal or a page-count goal isn’t feasible, then my objective is simple: get back to work. And that, basically, is my New Year’s Resolution for 2012. 

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