Thursday, February 02, 2017

Goal setting and Gremlins

I believe in worrying about what I can control. Some days this is easier said than done. But by and large, this has served me well as a parent, husband, educator. And writer.

By nature, I’m a goal setter. Short-term goals are very important to me. I try to accomplish something on the writing front most days. Be that writing a paragraph, rereading and revising a chapter, or writing five pages of fresh copy. The result is usually a book a year.

Some writers make it sound easy. At Crime Bake this fall, several writers said they write three pages a day no matter what. That gives them a draft of a novel in six months. Like clockwork. Hmmm. My writing, no matter how detailed my outline is, is often interrupted by problems the manuscript poses –– the need to stop and research; a plot move that forces the revision of a previous section; even the need to stop and think for several days and go reread what I’ve written to see where the train has come off the tracks. Outline or not, my process usually feels like E.L. Doctorow described writing: “. . . like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” It’s usually scary, but I always survive the trip.

When the process is stressful, goal setting is important. I can control finishing 30 pages this month. And 30 more next month. Thirty pages a month is an attainable goal. It needs to be because the gremlin never leaves my shoulder.

He’s always whispering doubts into my ear, asking where I get off thinking I can write a good novel. There are times in the process of writing every novel where the book gets hard and I am suddenly the fourth-grade version of my dyslexic self struggling to find the confidence to continue. So focusing on the here and now, and controlling what I can is a way to tune the gremlin out.

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