The final lap

A wise man said, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” The point being? If you wait for perfect conditions, you will wait… and wait… and wait…. and never get started.

I’ve had people ask me, do you wait for inspiration strike before you write? My answer: do you wait for inspiration to strike before you go to work?

This week seemed like perfect conditions for writing: a week to myself in the city of Hemingway, the fridge fully stocked, no shortage of coffee, and plenty of cafés and coffee shops to choose from. I set my goal–15,000 words, 3,000 words a day–and set to work.

The curve ball I didn’t see coming: feeling pretty lousy for half the week. Suddenly conditions were no longer perfect. Who cares that it’s Paris, I don’t even want to go outside!

I was hoping to get a lot of writing done in the mornings. It didn’t work out that way; instead I ended up writing through the afternoon (usually my least creative time) and well into the evening.

I wanted to try new places in Paris and get back to some others I hadn’t been to in a while. That didn’t really work out either. Who wants to sit in a café–or a library–hacking and coughing and generally being a public health hazard?

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Here’s one of the libraries I didn’t go to… Maybe next week.

So it didn’t go like I’d imagined. But it did go, I got through it, made it to the end, made my goal. And what was the result? Too much to describe here (it would take about 15,000 words…), but some good progress… and some utter junk.

Like the parts that were just filler words; literally writing things like: “Oh here’s an idea… etc. etc.” or “I need to rethink this part” or “This character needs to…” Some of it was lists of ideas (most of them dumb) until I got to the one that worked.

And that’s okay. I’ve read plenty of articles on how to free write where the encouragement is given to just put the pen to the paper (or fingers on the keys) and start writing, even if it’s just “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write.” Because as you keep writing, keep typing, eventually words that start to make sense start hitting the page. It really works.

So, the Audacious Writing Week is in the books. Tomorrow is another day. And I’ll be writing.

 

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Ignoring the voice that says, “Quit”

Well. I thought yesterday was a challenge… but sometimes things get harder before they get easier! Used a tree’s worth of kleenex today. Fought off a persistent headache with some big guns. And believe me, if I hadn’t set myself a writing goal, it would have been movies on the couch all day long. As it was, I only left the apartment to go for a short walk this evening to get some fresh air. (And chanced upon some good breakdancers doing their thing at the Trocadéro across from the Eiffel Tower.)

 

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Sorry, this isn’t from the Trocadéro, but I didn’t take any pictures tonight. Hope you don’t mind.

Let me tell you, the excuses and rationalizations were nipping at my heels all day. You’re 200 words OVER your goal for the week–that means you can quit with fewer words today. Or heck, just quit whenever you want and make it up tomorrow… You’ve done enough, call it a day…

But I made it. And discovered things about the plot, my characters, and the world they live in that I never would have if I hadn’t spent so much time with them today.

And even wrote 250 more words than I was aiming for.

 

Stuck in the middle

Anyone who’s ever started anything knows: beginnings are exhilarating, endings are fulfilling (hopefully), and middles… Yeah, the middle can be a slog.

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Sometimes in the middle, you can’t even see the end…

In my college days, a number of times I hiked the Manastash ridge trail in central Washington State before dawn to catch the sunrise. It was the same every time: Getting up and heading out in the dark to hit the trail? Yes! How exciting! And then at the end, standing at the crest while the sun inched up over the horizon and the dawn light filled the valley below? Awesome. (It was the nineties, so everything was awesome.) But slogging up the seemingly never-ending trail in the shadowy, predawn half-light with a head full of bleary thoughts? It went something like this: What am I doing here? I should still be in bed! I’m starving and my side aches… I really don’t even like this trail!

No doubt about it: the middle is hard.

I’m into day three of five days of focused writing–my Audacious Writing Week. (And I actually got a head start on Sunday evening, and I’m thinking I’ll extend into Saturday… but either way—I’m smack in the middle.) Today was most definitely more of a slog than the previous two. The novelty has worn off; now it’s feeling more like a grind. And a face-filling head cold has decided to come my way which means I’m propping up the kleenex industry and drinking loads of seltzer.

But I’m still on pace for my goal. And in the midst of just trying to get my 3,000 words down, I even had some unexpected–and welcome–character and plot breakthroughs. And I guarantee, without the goal in mind, I wouldn’t have gotten those breakthroughs. Perseverance pays off. And even though the middle can be a grind, I managed to cap off the day with an evening with friends. Now to get some sleep. Tomorrow’s coming.

Got a goal driving you? Has perseverance paid off? Leave a comment!

Audacious writing week

Put on the coffee, log off Facebook, and get the laptop charged up–it’s time to write. A lot. Yes, it’s time for an audacious writing week (came up with that myself). Okay, maybe that’s a bit much. Maybe aiming to write a whole mess of words doesn’t quite fit the mold of “showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks.” After all, it’s just writing; it’s not like I’m going to be swimming the English Channel or climbing the Eiger. But it does mean putting everything else aside, putting in the hours, and putting down the words.

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Here’s a distraction I can handle: a lovely view of Notre Dame from Shakespeare & Co.’s new cafe.

Why now? Well, Merideth is off to D.C., the girls are on a ski trip with their school (gotta love the schedule of vacances scolaires in France!), so for me, it’s the perfect opportunity for a mini-NaNoWriMo of my own.

Now, I could use the time to get out of Paris to see another part of France; I did that in the fall and had a great week in Colmar and even got some good writing done. But doing that also means a lot more planning and energy spent finding places to write. So this week I’ll stick to Paris and see how much I can get done.

Planning the work, working the plan

Planning for this week has already paid off. Leading up to it, I spent time going through the manuscript, evaluating which parts need the most work, where the gaps are, and seeing what I could hope to get done in a focused week of writing. Suffice to say, I’ll have no shortage of material calling for my attention.

Having some specific writing goals helps, but the real enemy to getting the writing done isn’t found in the writing itself–it’s in all the distractions that clamor for my attention. (Like blogging, maybe? Hmm…) So, the more important planning I’ve done for this week has gone into how I’m going to organize my time, such as:

  • Getting to bed at 10. No binge-watching Netflix and noshing on Cheetos (can you even find those abominable things in France? I hope not!) and then waking up too sleepy and sluggish to get the writing started.
  • Getting up at 6 and getting ready for the day. (So far so good!)
  • Planning out some reading to give my brain a break from writing, since I can’t just write for eight hours straight. I’ll be starting each day with a chapter from 1 Peter and then dip into The Elements of Eloquence throughout the week for some writerly inspiration (I blogged about finding this fantastic book here. Check it out. Everyone who writes should read this book!). I’ve got a couple other books cued up as well.
  • Being intentional about exercise and meals and even chores.
  • Planning some lunches and coffees with friends and even a game night. I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done, but I still need to see other human beings!

So: here’s hoping for 15,000 words–or more–this week. I’m already more than 10% of my way there.

And now it’s time to get back to it. The next chapter is waiting.

 

Setting my sights on 2016

Paris. So many wonderful breads: croissants, baguettes, brioche… so many pastries: pain au chocolat, chausson aux pommes, mille-feuille… Last night Merideth and I shared a baba au rhum that came complete with the bottle of St. James from Martinique left on the table in case we needed to douse it with more rum goodness. Needless to say, getting fat on tasty carbs is a definite possibility in France.

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Baba au rhum to share. Oh yeah–along with a crème brûlée…

But it’s the New Year, it’s 2016, and I’m committed to not letting that happen. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made for being healthy was giving up breakfast cereal in 2014, and I stuck with it all through last year. I do have granola a few times a month, but no more corn flakes or raisin bran or chex or any other processed, ultra-refined carb bombs to start the day. More yogurt. Eggs. Protein. Whole fruit. It’s been great. And for us here in Paris, croissants or pastries for breakfast are an occasional treat, not the norm.

This year I’ve set my sights on lunch. Changing it up, that is. I love, love, love hot sandwiches, but I often feel lethargic afterward. And afternoons are already a low-productivity time for me. So I’m going to be experimenting with less bread at lunch. More fruit. Salad. Tuna (a wonder food!). Smaller lunches in general. It might mean bigger breakfasts.

Sticking to those goals

Americans love making New Year’s Resolutions—or at least talking about them. Everything I’ve read says writing them down is key. And then regularly reviewing them. A goal without a plan is a wish, right? And a plan that isn’t actually followed is a fantasy.

I’ve already spent hours working my novel-writing goals into shape for this year. Trying to make them specific and achievable. Setting a bunch of goals to achieve in a year’s time is challenging, so I’m breaking them up:

  • Plotting out what I want to accomplish in the first quarter of the year
  • What that means I’ll be doing in January
  • And what I’ll be taking on these first weeks

I know if I set all these goals and stick them in a drawer, they won’t help me in the least. So my intention is to review where I’m at at the beginning of each week to keep me on track and revise them as needed. For these first weeks, I’ll also be tracking closely my writing time: how long I’m working, how many words drafted or edited, etc. so I can make sure my goals are realistic.

Maybe as I check off my writing goals, I’ll treat myself to some of those great Parisian pastries… although then achieving my writing goals might come to be at cross-purposes with my healthy living goals… hmm…

Well, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.