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Progress Update and How To Write A Lot

Posted by on Mar 9, 2013 in Blog Posts, Uncategorized | 0 comments

One of the sweetest perks of my internship is waivers for classes at the Writers Center of Bethesda. Today I attended the evocatively titled “How to Write A Lot”. The gist of the advice was simple–set deadlines, outline first, do not revise or reread on your first draft, write every day, keep your fingers moving (no staring blankly at an equally blank page or screen)–and there were some nifty tips I hadn’t heard before, like using Pavlovian conditioning to make your story soundtrack put you in the ever-evasive “mood”. I always knew I wrote better when I had my iPod with me; I hadn’t considered how or why that was.

At the end of the class, we were given worksheets to write out our own “game plan” to finish a novel within the next 8-10 weeks. Using the advice we were given, I’m certain it is quite possible (if you can write 1500-2000 words in 90 minutes, and you write 5-6 days a week, you can finish a novel within 8-10 weeks). But my problem is: which novel would I want to finish?

First, I’m setting aside from consideration One Hundred Days, because it’s not a first draft, it’s revision (I swear, revising makes first drafts look easy to me). This semester I’ve tried to keep track of my novel pagecount week-by-week. Today I checked that worksheet and discovered with dismay that the progress bar for One Hundred Days hasn’t budged since I began tracking. To be fair, this is because the worksheet tracks manuscript pages from my flash drive; the Word doc hasn’t been opened since February, but I have finished making initial red-pen notes to myself in the margins of a paper copy.

The problem is that I have so many other things I do with my writing time (even when I manage to dedicate 25 or 30 or 60 minutes a day). At last count I have something like 15 WIPs–that is, stories I have actually done work on, be it outlining, drafting, editing, or revision at an editor’s request, within the past two months or so. Most are short stories, but I have, besides One Hundred Days, some ideas for sequels (finish it first! I hear you cry. You’re absolutely right…but the temptation to outline is real. And then to draft some of the sweet opening & closing scenes I’ve outlined. And then…) and also one or two sci fi/fantasy/genrebending novel ideas. Then there are the short stories and novelettes meant to round out my series’.

How do you prioritize these? I know, intellectually and more deeply, that the only way to finish a story is to sit down and work on it–and only it–every day for as long as it takes. But if I dedicate myself wholly to one story, what will happen to the others? Will I lose track of them?

And which story needs finishing first?

Currently, my answer is that I should complete revisions of One Hundred Days, then work on the short stories for my series’ (I can work on up to 3 short stories at a time so this won’t be a problem), and in the meantime if I have ideas for other work I shall just take notes. All this only after I return from Ghana, because my first international trip is not a time to start heavy wordage (furthermore I’m not sure I’ll even be taking a laptop of my own with me, given how far we’re traveling off the grid, plus converter problems and the risk of energy surges and brownouts). 

The important thing, I suppose, is to keep moving forward. And if the incremental increases of progress on my pagecount worksheet are to be believed, I have been doing that.

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