March 28, 2017

Blood, Sweat, Tears and Goal Setting

So let’s talk about the blood and sweat and tears of writing.

There is no easy way to write a book so don’t go searching for it.

UNLESS, you get the chance to “search” on a raft down the Grand Canyon, or on a Kenyan safari, or wandering through Prague. Then, by all means, go and go quickly. Do your “research,” laugh along the way, and drink a few glasses of wine for all of us.

Other than that, get ready for some pain.

The “blood, sweat and tears part” is real. I’ve had some vicious paper cuts handling the pages of my manuscript. I’ve had hot flashes and night sweats over my computer. And I cannot tell you how many times I have cried over my keyboard.

crying computer meme pixy

I write scenes that make me cry, what can I say? Sometimes I am writing about something that I’ve been through, sometimes I’m writing about something I haven’t been through, but I’ve experienced the emotion, sometimes I feel bad for what I’m doing to my characters, and sometimes I’m crying because, damn, writing is hard.

But if you are truly and totally determined to write a book, you must not only be prepared for blood, sweat, and tears, you must set goals.

Does goal setting sound like two bad words strung together? Does it sound like something that will mangle your creative process?  Too boring, too rigid?

Do you picture yourself only writing when the muse hits or the voices in your head start talking? Do you want only to write when you have time, a clear head, all problems figured out, all disasters handled, all kids in bed, all spouses and partners happy, the house clean?

You do? Let me tell you that that is the PERFECT way to never complete your book.

Utterly perfect.

blank page typewriter pixy

I have written eleven novels and six short stories.   I have set writing and editing goals for every one of them, because if I didn’t, they wouldn’t have been finished.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a book where my life hasn’t turned absolutely upside down and inside out during that time. Hell has come and so has high water. Disaster and problems and issues.

The house has been a mess, I’ve fought with my husband, the kids have been naughty. And I’ve still written.

The only times I stopped writing was during the critical illness/deaths of my mother, father, and mother in law. The grief was too overwhelming.

But I got back into it.  I drug myself to my chair. I forced those words out.

You must do that, too. Honestly, you could give me a hundred excuses as to why you couldn’t write that day or this day and for 98 of your excuses I would say that you should have written and that your excuse was not an excuse.

If you want to write a book you must write.

Life is a mess. If you want to be a writer you must write through the chaos.

So, goal set. Meet the goals. Every day, every week, every month.

goals notebook pixy

How do I personally torture my little writing self with goals?

Once my agent and editor and I have worked out the plot for my book, I wait for the first sentence to hit from outer space. I drive in the country, drink coffee, daydream. When that first sentence zips into my brain and I like it, we’re off and running.

Or, off and writing, I should say.

I write 2,000 words a day, 10,000 a week, or I don’t go to bed on Saturday night.

I write the entire book, straight through. When there is research I need to do, a character who is getting tricky that I can’t figure out, a problem with the plot or dialogue or direction or pacing, I write XXX.

When the first draft is done, and that can be at 70,000 or 100,000 words, I take a day or so off, then I start in on my editing goals.

I will tell you that my first draft is utter crap. It is the worst thing you’ve ever seen. It’s an embarrassment. If someone said, “You wrote this, Cathy?” I would deny it.

This is what editing is for, friends. Turning crap into something good.

My first editing goal is to go through five single spaced pages a day, twenty five a week. I edit the whole book. Because the book is so bad, this is a head banging process.

For edit number two, I attack 10 single spaced pages a day, fifty a week. For edit three, fifteen pages a day, seventy-five a week. For edit four, twenty pages, etc.

I edit all of my books eight or nine times before they go to my editor and agent.

edited book 0323 cathy lamb

YOU MUST SET WRITING AND EDITING GOALS, TOO.

Stick to those goals. You might set a goal to write 250 words a day. Or 500. You might set a goal to edit two pages a day or five pages or ten. Figure it out. Be reasonable, be kind to yourself, be ambitious but be rational.

You may have to give up something, or many somethings, to meet those writing and editing goals. For me, when my kids were young and at home, it was sleep. I wrote from ten at night until two in the morning and was up by 7:30 to get the little sweethearts off to school.

It’s not that I recommend this, as it’s no fun to be wiped out and feeling zombie-like, but it’s what I had to do to get published.

At the same time I was a freelancer for The Oregonian. I was very busy. Now and then I also cleaned the house and schlepped something onto plates for dinner.

You might have to write on your lunch break and during your kids’ nap times. You might have to write early in the morning when the crickets are sleeping. You might have to feign sickness and not go to church or your mother in law’s house or work. You might have to give up nights of dancing or cocktail drinking. You might have to volunteer less.

You might have to pretend you’re going on a business trip and go hole up in a hotel in a town an hour away from you. (Yes. A very famous author did this. No. I will not tell you her name.)

Something in your life will probably have to go to make space for your writing and editing.

But you want to write that book, right? You want to see your name on that cover. You want people to read your story. You want to be a published writer.

Then do it. Set goals. Write. Edit.  Repeat.

Write on friends.

(Originally published here, in Ms. Career Girl, where I write a column on how to write books. http://www.mscareergirl.com/2017/03/23/blood-sweat-tears-and-goal-setting/)

 

 

 

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Cathy Lamb
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