OK, so here we are in 2011 – AKA The Year of Glory – and you’ll notice that my enthusiastic enthusiasm (better work on those adjectives, Mike) has led me to write this piece in the early afternoon. Insane! It’s not even 11.57pm yet! For me, this year is going to be about organisation. I’m a pretty disorganised fellow as a rule – I iron my shirts on the morning I wear them, evenings with my friends tend to be planned while we’re in them, and writing-wise, I keep notes and things all around the place in a variety of Word documents and random bits of paper. I want this to change, most notably with the way in which I organise my writing. I can let the shirts thing slide.
So here’s the goal – if you like, it’s my equivalent of a One A Day challenge for 2011. I want to write at least 1,000 words per day. Every day. It sounds like a lot, but realistically when I’m in the flow of things, it doesn’t take very long at all. It would likely take longer to write a blog entry of similar size than its equivalent in prose. But getting to that ‘flow’ can be problematic, as novel-writing can’t be turned on and off like a tap. There are times when words come ridiculously easily, and others where my brain’s a mush and can’t form a coherent sentence (as many of these blog entries testify). When it comes to the latter, forcing myself to write something would be a waste of time and that’s why I’ve built in a safeguard. Once I’m ahead of my 1,000 words a day target (for example, if I’ve written 10,000 words after only 8 days), then if I need to pull a sickie I can do so, as long as I stay ahead of the amount I should already have written for the year. This does rely on me zooming ahead in the first couple of weeks, of course, but that shouldn’t be a problem, given that I still have three more days off and all that lovely New Year enthusiasm!
But what if I run out of story and get stuck? Well, then I think I’ll substitute new material with a couple of hours of editing what I already have or something (and I’ll likely do this by default, anyway… I’m always playing around with stuff), but there’s also more than one thing I could be writing, so if I lose the thread for the new novel for any reason, I’ll be able to pick it up with something else until I’ve solved the issues.
Having the time to do all this will rely on sorting out my organisational skills, so here’s what I plan to do. Firstly, I’m going to take my Macbook Pro into work every day and write for the whole of my lunch hour. Secondly, when I’m writing at home I’m going to treat the time with the respect I always should have done. At the moment, what happens is that I’m far too easily interruptible. My wife will come in after half an hour or so and ask me to look at something, or do the washing-up, or start the dinner, and I’ll do so. The point here is that if I was at work, doing a set of accounts, she’d never think about ringing me up and expecting me to down tools to do something else. So what needs to change is the perceived status of the time I spend writing. It isn’t a hobby where I can just put down the controller on a whim and it won’t mean anything, it’s a serious vocation that I plan to one day make a living from. And therefore I need to treat it like I’m already doing that – as if it’s a second job, basically.
From now on, then, writing time is writing time, rather than writing-but-can-be-taken-away-from-it-arbitrarily-at-any-moment-for-any-number-of-reasons time. This may take a couple of weeks for my wife and I to get our heads around, but it has to be done.
Organising my notes in one place is made far easier with Scrivener. If I write something down on a bit of paper, I’m going to get into the habit of immediately transcribing it into the program as soon as I get near my computer. And if I come up with an idea at work for any reason, I’ll email it to myself and then do the same. I’ve lost count of the number of plot points I once had for my novel Certainty. I find them lying around the house sometimes, and think, ‘Oh yeah, I did plan to do that once!’ It’s easy to forget this stuff, and writing it down is better than trying to remember it in my head.
On a point of order, One A Day is still going until just after the middle of this month, so my 1,000 words target will include these blog entries until that point. But the theory is that by default I’ll have the first draft of my new novel ready before Easter. It’s a good plan, and if I’m more disciplined than I was with One A Day (I see that as kind of the test run for this), then by the time the novel’s done I’ll be in full-on ‘how did I ever cope before?’ mode.
Of course I may encounter unforeseen story problems, writer’s block and the rest, and end up having to split my time between various things, but the first line in the sand is to try to have a complete draft ready in just over three months. And, hopefully, to make it not shit.
I may well come to rue these words, but having now written them down as a challenge to myself, they’re likely to spur me on still further. I’m not a fan of abject humiliation, you see.