This blog was once intended as a practical, “behind-the-scenes” view of the writing process. It has, I’ll admit, morphed away from that intent. I still, however, do have that underlying urge to occasionally share my own hard-won experience and advice in writing.
Today’s IWSG topic gives me an excuse to play to that (occasional) urge: “What steps have you taken to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?”
To tackle this one, I have to — with more than a hint of sad revulsion — briefly put on my big-boy pants and flash back to my days as a sales and marketing monkey.
In the old days, when I used to manage staff and projects, I would create timelines and plans with all kinds of measurables and delivery dates. I knew, every time I checked that schedule, exactly where any project stood at any particular moment. I also knew, within reason, when any element, major or minor, was going to be finished.
I do something similar with the writing. Err, I try to do something similar.
At the end of my normal prep process, I have a detailed timeline and a list of all the scenes in that particular story. That list includes the day/date of the scene, the setting and the characters involved, as well as notes on things like tone, perspective, and some background on what has gone before.
After I create that plan, however, the schedule is…well…the schedule can pretty much kiss my ass. Hey, I left the world of cubicles and meetings and schedules for a reason, goddammit!
I write whatever scene strikes my fancy at any particular moment. I’ve found that jumping around the story like the caffeine-addled squirrel that I am allows me to match the scene to my mood and inclination.
As strange as it may sound, that little tic actually makes the entire project go faster. Recently, I tried forcing myself to write things in order, and it turned out to be a serious failure. A failure from which I am still trying to recover, I might add. Writing a fight scene when I was feeling mellow and laid back…writing a love scene after a bad day…writing exposition and setup when there was chaos around me…these things were not a recipe for success.
Now, the above is pretty idiosyncratic to me, but there is something in there that can apply to almost any writer: don’t write to your word-count, write to your story.
If your plan is solely to write 1000 (or 2000, or 5000) words a day, then that is exactly what you are going to do…write words. Whether or not you advance the story is another thing entirely.
It is far too easy — and far too common — to get so caught up in the “measurables” that you lose sight of just what those those measurable really represent. Call it the writer’s version of “forest for the trees.”
Thinking of my story in terms of scenes, however, is something that works quite well. Each scene is (roughly) a day’s worth of writing, and represents a discreet and significant unit of the story itself. If I stick to the plan of writing one scene a day, I am certain to advance the story…and to get my necessary work done.
Honestly, it also plays into psychology…or at least into my particular psychology: finishing a scene provides a more significant sense of accomplishment than simply ending the day with 2,500 more words written.
My last bit of advice on this, and perhaps the more important one, is this: momentum is king. Writing — again, at least for me — is very much a game of momentum. A regular rhythm of producing at least one scene per day builds not just your story, but also your confidence and the flow of your words. Break that momentum? Stop that flow? Not only do bad things happen, but you make it vastly harder to start again.
Look, for most of us writing isn’t all that different from pushing the Sisyphean boulder up the hill. Take a break and that damned rock can roll right over you on its way back down. But if you keep pushing…
…if you keep pushing, you find the next hill. And the next hill, like the next story, is always better.