Resolution Made; Now, Can I Keep It?

It’s been nearly three weeks since New Year’s, and so I’ve pretty much forgotten most of the resolutions I made for 2010. I really meant to start eating better, but with the house still full of holiday goodies — the fudge and cookies and that wonderful peppermint ice cream that the stores only sell around Christmas time — I just can’t get myself to give up sweets. And I’d intended to be kinder to strangers — really I had — but they keep ticking me off . . . .

But the promises I made to myself about writing more efficiently, about being more productive; those are the ones I most wanted to keep. At the end of last year, I took on a project with a tight deadline — I was given about a month to write a book of around 90,000 words. The book was a novelization, so I was working from a script, which saved me having to make up dialogue or work through plot points; those things were taken care of for me.

Still, I wrote at a pace I’d never even dreamed of achieving with previous books. Some people are fast writers; I never have been. Some writers work weekends; I usually don’t. So writing 4,000 words in a day or 25,000 words in a week was something I’d never thought I could do. I was wrong. This isn’t a matter of bragging. As I say, some writers work at this pace all the time; I didn’t do anything that others haven’t been doing throughout their careers.

But this was new for me. And while I’m not sure that I want to work weekends all the time, or push myself as hard as I did during those four weeks plus, I did enjoy churning out the pages so quickly. So when New Year’s rolled around, I resolved to be a more productive writer all year, rather than just when faced with a near-impossible deadline. To be honest, I thought it would be easy. I didn’t need to write 4,000 words a day, although I’d done that again and again in December. And I knew better than to think that word counts are the only way to measure production. Still, I figured if I could make a habit of 2,500 to 3,000 words per day, I’d improve my output enough to write as much as an extra book every year. That’s no small thing.

I told myself that there was no magic to what I’d done in writing this book. I hadn’t changed very much in my daily routine. I’d simply avoided distractions and refused to give in to the kinds of procrastinatory activities I usually allowed myself. For the most part I stayed off the web; I skipped those little breaks I take in the middle of a writing day to read something or play music; I checked my email less frequently. Couldn’t I approach my work day this way all the time?

Jury’s still out on that. The New Year has begun and I’ve moved on to a new project — a book of my own this time, rather than a novelization. I’m still in the research/character development stage, so the work is a little different. Still, I’m about to start writing, and I already I can tell that I’m not working as smoothly or as efficiently as I did in December. That sense of urgency isn’t there. I haven’t gone back to wasting time with the silly stuff I mentioned before. I simply find myself staring out the window for several minutes at a time, my mind wandering, my book forgotten, at least for the moment.

I’m always slowest at the beginning of a book. As I move through a project, I find the voice for the book, grow more comfortable with the characters, fall into a narrative rhythm, and my pace picks up. So it may be that in time I’ll be able to meet the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year.

I wonder, though, am I fighting human nature here? Did I expect too much of myself? On the one hand, I get mad at myself for working at that old pace again. On the other hand, that old pace had never been too bad, and I’d managed to maintain a career for fifteen years without burning out. Is there value in staring out the window for a few minutes at a time? I know that many authors feel that they write to a natural book length. Some wind up just shy of 100,000 words every time; others can’t write anything shorter than 130,000 or more. Do we write at a natural speed, too? Sure, under extraordinary circumstances I can force myself to write quickly. But is that the pace at which I should be writing?

I don’t have answers. I’m not even sure making writing resolutions is a good idea. We writers face enough challenges throughout a given year without setting ourselves up for failure by pledging to do too much. But for better or worse, I put this idea in my head, and now I have to deal with it.

How about you? We’re three weeks into 2010; how are your resolutions going? And what’s more valuable to you: A few hundred words a day, or that time you spend staring out the window, allowing your imagination to roam?

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  1. 1. Mindy Klasky

    You know, my resolutions are pretty boring, so I won’t burden you with a report on them. I just wanted to say that the peppermint ice cream is the best thing about the holiday season, and the most tempting distraction when it carries over to the new year!

  2. 2. David B. Coe

    The stuff is evil. Truly. I can hear it calling to me all the way up here in my office. I should go see what it wants….

  3. 3. Mindy Klasky

    This year, we found the “slow churn” (lower fat) version. There – it’s a *virtue* to eat it! (And the dark chocolate sauce I add? Well there are those good-for-you compounds in dark chocolate, right?)

    We won’t discuss my doctor’s recommendations :-)

  4. 4. Alma Alexander

    The deadlines we impose on ourselves are somehow NEVER as urgent or important as those imposed by other people (who might be waiting with cash in hand at the end of it). You wrote the novelization because someone wanted it, wanted it quickly, and was willing to pay for it. Is anybody out there waiting for this new book?….

    If not and you want to write it a a hot spanking pace, maybe you should invent somebody who’s breathing down your neck for it.

    Otherwise I find that any book of mine which is not due by a certain date takes as long as it takes, and that’s fine. Some books need a longer fermentation period…

  5. 5. David B. Coe

    Wow, Mindy, low-fat peppermint ice cream. That might be the Holy Grail….

    Alma, that’s a good point. Deadlines with cash do help. Yes, the new book is under a deadline, too, with the D&A advance waiting at the end, but the deadline is still remote enough that I don’t feel that same urgency. This, of course, is a self-correcting problem. The longer I plod along, the more urgent my timeline will become until I’m writing for my life again….

  6. 6. Leah

    I started a big push to finish the novel last year, Dec 24th. I’ve only missed one day of writing since then (due to being ill.) This first big push has given me a lot of momentum.

    I have a second big push, started yesterday, for 100 days, to rewrite all three novels. I have a better plan for the rewrites, and since it’s only 100 days, I think I can stay focused.

    As for looking out the window — some days that’s me. Other days it isn’t. One thing I find useful is setting alarms for myself. I give myself 30-55 minutes to work, and work hard. Then I get a break. Knowing the break is coming makes it easier to stay focused.

    I hope your writing continues to go well!

  7. 7. Will Mallette

    I know what you mean about writing more than you thought possible. When I wrote my fantasy trilogy, I wrote part one and two, in three weeks each. I think it comes in spurts. I welcome you to check out my latest book, The Magic of Fuller, book one, “Keeper of the Stone”. http://www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/TheMagicofFullerBookOne-KeeperoftheStone.html

  8. 8. David B. Coe

    Wow! Three rewrites in 100 days. That’s ambitious. Best of luck with it, Leah. And yeah, I can see where the alarm would work well. I give myself breaks at word count milestones; but sometimes I still sit and stare…..

  9. 9. Elias McClellan

    Frost said, ‘love and need must be one.’

    RIP Robert B. Parker, who introduced a 10th grade drop-out to Robert Frost and countless other writers. Mr. Parker also produced 2500 to 3000 words per day. If it was not all masterpiece-quality, it is at least a fine example of what is possible under a dedicated, disciplined, commitment to craft.

  10. 10. David B. Coe

    Thanks for the comment, Elias. “Commitment to craft.” Terrific phrase, and really the point in the end. Whether we write five hundred words in a day or five thousand, our goal should be to write every day, and to make whatever words we get down on the page as good as they can be. Again, thanks for commenting.

  11. 11. Elias McClellan

    @9. I am remiss! Please add my congratulations to the list of others for your accomplishment. That you reconciled your work to the script is, to me, a Hurculean task at least equal meeting the goal within the deadline.

    Yeah, I’m in the lower, the much, much lower end of the range you cite. I can only aspire to Mr. Parker’s output or income. Your example is a guidepost to what is possible once determination is target locked.

  12. 12. David B. Coe

    Many thanks, Elias. It was a fun challenge for the most part. Definitely a learning experience.

  13. 13. Doug Hulick

    I have a book due in just about a year, and I’m also a slow writer. With that in mind, I am trying to double my daily word output this year. Rather than focus on hitting the precise count every day, though, I am keeping a daily log and looking at the average over a longer term. So, if I am under some days but over others, as long as I am hitting my target overall, I’m good.

    I managed to double my daily average the second half of last year without using a journal; I’m hoping the journal will get me over this next hump and leave a little extra time to spare for some other projects before the contracted deadline hits.

    Of course, like David, I’m still in the planning/plotting stage, so I can’t say if it is working yet. Still, I think the journal will help keep me honest with myself and act as as motivator when the time comes.

  14. 14. David B. Coe

    Hey Doug! Great to see you here. I like the idea of using the journal to establish a new writing pace. You’re right — looking at page or word counts over a longer time span can be enormously helpful, and can help writers avoid feeling that they’d “failed” in some way simply because they had an off day or two. Best of luck with the planning and the writing!

  15. 15. Mikaela

    When I am not busy with exams (sigh), I jump into the Word War room that C.E Murphy have started. It really helps. I get 500 words on a bad day, and 1500 on a good day :)

  16. 16. David B. Coe

    1500 is a very good day, Mikaela. And yeah, I remember back in the Bronze Age, when I was in college, exams were a pain….

Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.

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