Saturday, March 9, 2013

Progress Update and How To Write A Lot

One of the sweetest perks of my internship is waivers for classes at the Writers Center of Bethesda. Today I attended the evocatively titled "How to Write A Lot". The gist of the advice was simple--set deadlines, outline first, do not revise or reread on your first draft, write every day, keep your fingers moving (no staring blankly at an equally blank page or screen)--and there were some nifty tips I hadn't heard before, like using Pavlovian conditioning to make your story soundtrack put you in the ever-evasive "mood". I always knew I wrote better when I had my iPod with me; I hadn't considered how or why that was.

At the end of the class, we were given worksheets to write out our own "game plan" to finish a novel within the next 8-10 weeks. Using the advice we were given, I'm certain it is quite possible (if you can write 1500-2000 words in 90 minutes, and you write 5-6 days a week, you can finish a novel within 8-10 weeks). But my problem is: which novel would I want to finish?

First, I'm setting aside from consideration One Hundred Days, because it's not a first draft, it's revision (I swear, revising makes first drafts look easy to me). This semester I've tried to keep track of my novel pagecount week-by-week. Today I checked that worksheet and discovered with dismay that the progress bar for One Hundred Days hasn't budged since I began tracking. To be fair, this is because the worksheet tracks manuscript pages from my flash drive; the Word doc hasn't been opened since February, but I have finished making initial red-pen notes to myself in the margins of a paper copy.

The problem is that I have so many other things I do with my writing time (even when I manage to dedicate 25 or 30 or 60 minutes a day). At last count I have something like 15 WIPs--that is, stories I have actually done work on, be it outlining, drafting, editing, or revision at an editor's request, within the past two months or so. Most are short stories, but I have, besides One Hundred Days, some ideas for sequels (finish it first! I hear you cry. You're absolutely right...but the temptation to outline is real. And then to draft some of the sweet opening & closing scenes I've outlined. And then...) and also one or two sci fi/fantasy/genrebending novel ideas. Then there are the short stories and novelettes meant to round out my series'.

How do you prioritize these? I know, intellectually and more deeply, that the only way to finish a story is to sit down and work on it--and only it--every day for as long as it takes. But if I dedicate myself wholly to one story, what will happen to the others? Will I lose track of them?

And which story needs finishing first?

Currently, my answer is that I should complete revisions of One Hundred Days, then work on the short stories for my series' (I can work on up to 3 short stories at a time so this won't be a problem), and in the meantime if I have ideas for other work I shall just take notes. All this only after I return from Ghana, because my first international trip is not a time to start heavy wordage (furthermore I'm not sure I'll even be taking a laptop of my own with me, given how far we're traveling off the grid, plus converter problems and the risk of energy surges and brownouts). 

The important thing, I suppose, is to keep moving forward. And if the incremental increases of progress on my pagecount worksheet are to be believed, I have been doing that.