January 21st 2010
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?
David B. Coe
David B. Coe is the author of eleven fantasy novels, including the books of the LonTobyn Chronicle, Winds of the Forelands, and Blood of the Southlands. He has also written the novelization for the Ridley Scott production of ROBIN HOOD, starring Russell Crowe, that is due out in May 2010. In 1999 he received the Crawford Fantasy Award, given annually by the IAFA to the best new author in fantasy. He has a Ph.D. in United States environmental history and lives on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee with his wife and daughters. Visit site.
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