Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Light is Changing

The light is changing, do you see it? The temperatures are still warm, but it’s getting cooler little by little. The first of the yellow mums have started to bloom in my yard. It’s that “back to school” feeling that has sent many of us back to some kind of work routine that signals the end of lazy summer days.

Monday night I started an eight week novel writing workshop and the timing is perfect. The week long retreat got me started on the right foot and lately when I sit down the write, I’ve managed that magical balance where I can turn off my editor and let it flow, knowing that every few chapters I can go back and make edits, and tweak and fiddle. There are ten of us in the workshop and over the course of the eight, two hour sessions we’ll alternate discussions on craft, books and shaping the novel with critiquing. We’ll have the opportunity to get two 10-12 page excerpts critiqued by our instructor and we’ll submit one excerpt to the group for critique.

I’m a pretty disciplined person anyway, but there are few things that get me to buckle down, focus and produce like a deadline, and now I have one every week for a while.

Scott was mildly amused when he walked into the kitchen yesterday and found me with my laptop, chunks of manuscript with my red inked edits all over them, a dictionary, thesaurus, E.B. White’s Elements of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style spread out all over the island counter. It’s an odd feeling to try to ready pieces of a partial first draft for review and critique. I wonder what the expectation will be as to the state of completeness of this stuff. I’m 11,536 words and 53 double spaced, 12 pt., Courier New pages into a first draft – to be exact -- so I vacillate around about how much I should tinker and add, how much I should clean up, how much I should focus on these three submissions alone and how much, if anything, I should be doing to add to the story over these next eight weeks. Some of the students are farther along in their stories than I am, but just as many are not as far along. I guess what we submit for critique and those nine submissions I get to critique will be in a variety of states.

It will be interesting and I’m looking forward to it. This will be the very first time I have the chance to be involved in a critique group and I’m incredibly grateful that it is structured and the instructor will be providing her critiques too.

This very specific incentive made me wonder about how other writers motivate themselves and set goals. The processes people follow seem to be as varied as each person. Do you make yourself sit down for a set period of time? Set a word count goal for the day, or the week? Set goals for revising a number of pages? If you have a full time job, other than writing, when do you manage to get most of your writing done? Is writing easier/harder in the fall and winter, than in the spring and summer? How about goals for your work? Do you have a goal set for when you want to finish your project and look for an agent (if you don’t already have one)? Is it a very specific “by the end of 2007” or is it something vague, like before my 40th, 50th, 60th birthday? What keeps you going?


Anonymous said...

If you have a good group, you'll enjoy the workshopping critique.

Goals? Well, the first one was to be published by age fifty--having started my first novel nine months' prior to that.

So much for goals.

susan @ spinning

Lisa said...

I've met two of the other nine before and I know the instructor has given this course many times and seems to be on top of making sure the critiquing is constructive, so I'm optimistic. I don't seem to be able to set a goal related to the actual publication yet -- I think because I'm still to unsure about how long it will take me to produce something I'm happy with, so I keep setting smaller goals as I go along. So are you still working on your novel? I can't tell how long ago that goal might have been set :)

kristen said...

What I learned this year--the year I've returned to my writing in a creative (rather than assignment-based) format is that I'm best with trying to hit a word count per day. I think in word counts. I see in word counts. I can scan something and figure out the word count fairly accurately, so it just makes sense for me. If I have X number of words, I feel I've accomplished something.

As for summer? Forget it. I tried. I did work out a lot of stuff in my head, but I'm anxious for my son to go back to school so I can go back to the novel. Hmmmm, I wonder if I will love it as much after this two month break?

Enjoy your workshop. I've loved every workshop I've ever participated in. Loved the critiques, the chance to see what others are working on and the priceless opportunity for feedback.

Larramie said...

Time has always served as a great deadline, no matter what my writing projects. But I naturally like to plan ahead. ;)

iyan and egusi soup: said...

early morning is my divine time of day (before the world is awake), so i tend to set writing hours for this time.

with everything else, i move with my internal compass--going with whatever "feels" next; this has worked well so far.

Lisa said...

Aha, as I suspected, everyone has their own rituals and routines. Kristen is motivated by word count, Larramie by a deadline and iyan and egusi soup by the magic of the early morning hours. Weekends seem to be my refuge, but lately I've been trying to use an hour or so in the afternoon during the week and it's pretty good too. I started focusing more on drafting specific scenes, or specific conversations in my mind, even if they aren't the next thing to happen in the story. If I imagine it and I'm inspired to write a section that comes at some point and I don't know where yet, I just do it now and fit it in when I understand where it goes. It's hard not to check that word count though :)

liz fenwick said...

I haven't been able to write in summer with the kids about to i look on that as feeding the subconcious time and reading time. During the school year I set a weekly target - days vary but I normally hit my weekly goals and it allows the necessary give so I don't fail to often :-)

A good critque is brilliant and I have been blessed with several that have helped me look at my writing with greater distance. i hope this works for you.

NoviceNovelist said...

I like to set myself a deadline otherwise I think I would meander way off the track - for ever!!! It's an interesting thought for a novelist if you don't have an agent - because you get to choose your own deadline. I was worried mine would go on forever and I would never finish a first draft so I plucked a date out of the air and stuck to it.

I work full time so I grab writing time whenever I can - but I've certainly learnt the hard way not to leave it for more than a few days - if I do that - it feels like walking through a vat of treacle with wellington boots on when I come back to it!!

Enjoy your course Lisa - sounds like a useful one.

reality said...

Looks like you are doing well with your writing, in terms of word count, motivation and now a critique group. Bravo.

Since I work full time, I tend to set a deadline for say 6o days to write 80,000 words. So my deadlines are more mid to longterm.

As long as I am within striking distance of my target, I am a happy bunny. If I fall too far back, then I summon the energy and will to work harder.
I cannot set a daily target because of my work and the amount of traveling I do. And before I forget I do have a wife and a house full of lovely kids.

Charles Gramlich said...

I try to write every day. I always have a primary project that I'm working on, story or book, and then secondary projects that I can switch to if I get blocked. In the summer when I'm off I work for many hours each day, but when school is in session I try to get at least two hours a day in after hours. Sometimes I can't manage that and then I only strive to make a "little" progress on whatever I'm working on.

Shauna Roberts said...

I posted earlier this morning, but it appears it didn't "take." Please pardon me if my post ends up here twice.

When I was still working full time, I reserved Fridays for writing fiction and squashed all my paying work into Monday through Thursday (and sometimes Saturday).

Now I do the paying science writing half time, on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesdays and Fridays are for writing fiction. Thursdays are for running errands, going to the doctor, blogging, updating my account book, and writing-related reading.

That's in theory, at least. Because I've been getting ready to move almost the whole time since I started the new schedule, the fiction writing has gotten short shrift. The paying writing HAS to get done, and the move HAS to get done. Without an editor demanding a manuscript, the fiction has to wait.

I work 9 to 6 or thereabouts on my fiction days, just as I do on my nonfiction days.

Good luck with your workshop. I'm so happy you found (even temporarily) some people to critique with and discuss writing.

Lisa said...

Liz, You and I must have been on a similar course this summer. I did some writing, but I did more thinking and reading. I time spent subconsciously "percolating" is highly underrated.

NN, I've still never chosen dates as deadlines, I'm not sure why, but I do agree with you that the longer we stay away from writing, the harder it is to get started again. Is treacle even real? I think it's something you reference in the UK to confuse us here in the US :)

Reality, I am bowled over at the idea you can manage 80,000 words in such a short time period. That is incredible! You are very driven and I can tell you set very high standards for yourself and you work incredibly hard. Hopefully, some of that will rub off on me!

Charles, I keep thinking I should start some secondary projects besides the novel I'm working on. I think it would help to keep me fresh and at least if I need a break from the primary project, it would keep me writing. I have a list of short story ideas and about 6 short story drafts. You've just motivated me to get back to work on them too.

Shauna, So glad you are back! Why doesn't it surprise me that you are incredibly organized about how you divide your writing time? I always have a hard time sticking to set schedules because something invariably upsets the plan -- which is just an excuse and is the reason I don't get to the gym as much as I should. Thanks for the good luck -- I think it's going to be very beneficial and since we all live in Denver, I'm sure there's a good chance some of us may want to continue meeting outside of class after it's over. (Fingers crossed).

Shirley Quaid said...

Put me down for a first edition will you? I love reading about your journey.

Lisa said...

Shirley, I'm so glad to hear from you! If I find myself in the position to sign a first edition, I will deliver it to you in person! :)

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf