Sunday, April 1, 2007

Nobody Gets Out Unscathed

That would be my new take on writing characters. Which probably isn't that new, considering my friends have been calling me the Mistress of Evil for years now. I guess I started the trend early in all those role-playing sessions I use to run.

I've come through the last month with new goals, new priorities, and a system based on reward rather than deprivation. Guilt, I've learned, is not my best motivator. Rewards, however, like cookies, are delicious temptations which I cannot refuse. Must . . . have . . . cookie . . .

But before we get into the goals, a few things I've learned over the past month: I haven't much problem starting a story anymore. Beginnings, while not necessarily easy, no longer bog me down under a cloud of confusion and doubt about what scene to start with, what character to use as PoV, how to make it interesting. I think I realized that when I started on my current stories by having one of the female protagonists turn the daughter of her lord and lover into a zombie with his permission. Well, not quite a zombie. More like a golem. It was a very good moment in writing.

But middles are an issue, because I don't have many stories where I've reached middles. Four, actually, written on my own. Usually I start getting close to the middle, barely out of the beginning, and realize I'm clueless how to proceed through it toward what I see as the end, and stop. Pick up another story. Start over. Which is why I have more experience and comfort with beginnings. Lots more beginnings than middles written. Ends are even worse. Three, just three!, endings reached during my novel writing career.

So this year is about middles. Next year will be about endings, hypothesizing that by next year I'll have several stories that will be in the middle so I can work on them to the end.

Which brings me to my goals. This year, 180,000 words written by the end of December. No set number of stories, though my goal in doing all those words is to get several stories well into the middle of their tales. So I shouldn't just be starting stories out of hand, but trying to keep to only a handful of tales.

180,000 words by December, starting in March, means 18,000 words a month. Which is around 600 words a day. For a writer who has tackled four years of NaNoWriMo (and won three--sorry, have to toot that horn, I'm proud of it), 600 words should be a walk in the park, right? Well, it would be if by the middle of NaNo I wasn't pulling out my hair and whacking my head against the keyboard with cries of "why me? why me?" On a good day, I can whip out 1500 words and hardly notice I've done so. My good days come maybe once a week. The other six days, I have to prod myself into the chair, prod myself into a scene, prod myself through a sentence, and hope all that prodding will prod loose 600 to 800 words by the time I'm sore from all that prodding.

Not that I don't like writing. I love it! But it is work to transform the scene in my head to the scene on the paper, because I see scenes visually, like movies playing out for me. And movies don't always translate well into the written word (which is funny, since most of them came from a written script).

So 600 words is the best daily goal for me. 600 words isn't a daunting number. It's attainable for me in one sitting (and as anyone who has studied goal-reaching knows, attainability is one of the most important parts in a goal). but it isn't a cake walk. 150 words is a cake walk. 600 means I have to prod. I have to work for it. So when I reach it, I feel good about having done so (another important part).

So 600 words a day, but if I miss a day (and of the actual 25 days in March that I had left after I set my goal, I missed 9 of those days), I'm not going to beat myself up. Nope. I'm just going to try not to miss the following day.

Which is where the 18,000 words a month comes in. I missed 9 out of 25 days for writing. But some of those writing days were good days, where I wrote over 1000 words. Still, by the last day of the month, I had a choice. I was 3000 words shy of the monthly goal. Do I just pat myself on the back with a "well, you came really close! Good job!" or do I go for it and pry out those last 3000 words, NaNo fashion, to hit my goal.

That's where the reward comes in.

I would love to attend the Willamette Writers conference, which they hold every August. But it costs nearly $400.00 to attend the three-day conference. I can't afford that, even on a good month of budgeting. But, if I start saving now, I can go in 2008. So, my reward is if I reach the 18,000 words by the end of the month, I get to set $40.00 aside toward going to the conference. If I reach my 180,000 words by the end of the year, I still get the nifty typewriter I've been wanting for a few years now (yes, I know I have a computer, but I still love typewriters).

Three goal, two rewards, and several stories to write. At the beginning of the month, I had one novel sitting unfinished and three sitting at under 1,000 words. I've come out of the month with my novel finished (huzzah!), two of the three at nearly 4,000 words, the third at nearly 10,000 words, and a brand new story already at 2,500 words. And I'm enjoying each one of them!

It's a good life.


Carole said...

A third reward would include all those words written, another story or the nearly completed story in itself. Sure, the typewriter and conference are cool, but the words are a reward too.

Ris said...

Oh, the words are most definitely cool, and the only way I could get through a month of them would be the daily charge of realizing I just wrote sentences that didn't exist before I sat down at the computer. That still just baffles my mind!