Sunday, June 15, 2014

Goals for Writing Sessions

There are essentially three ways of prioritizing your writing sittings. Mostly, I hear of two of them only, forming a binary that is hard to escape from mentally. What are they?

The first is to orientate your sittings around the goal of word count. That is, every day or every week, maybe every month, you have a certain word count you want to achieve, say 2,000 words a day or 10,000 words per week. The pros are that this gives you a real result that can't be faked. (I suppose you could just type "blah blah blah" over and over again - but really who does that?) This goal also gives you a lot of flexibility. You could hammer out all the words in a few minutes, depending on the gaol, and then be free most of the day - the best part about being a writer! Or you could write and then return later after a break. What's also good about this technique is that it gives the writer an incentive to, well, write. This is often the hardest part about, uh, writing - putting words down. We often filter ourselves, demanding perfection or something damn well near it. But it also makes us reluctant to write anything down. This idea, at least, seems to free us from that perfectionist filter.

Now the cons. For me, I spend most of my time editing or coming up with different scenarios or restructuring or developing characters and so on. This unfortunately doesn't count. Or if it did - if I counted the words added to, say, character sheets or an outline, it would be very frustrating because I often delete a lot and then add a lot, delete and then add. In fact, I'm a strong proponent of Hemingway's iceberg theory, basically that the more you take out from a story, assuming it's unimportant, the stronger it becomes. So I delete a lot. I'm also not very verbose - something else that I've learned from Hemingway and others. I don't slow sentences or scenes down - unless for some effect. So, although this principle adds a lot of words, which can then be deleted later, I fear that I would be wasting a lot of time because a) I need a lot of time to develop characters, the scenery, the plot, etc. and b) I would develop threads of story that are spur of the moment and not well thought out.

The other main way writers tend to orientate their sittings is with a time goal. Maybe you write for two hours a day, if you're the busy type, or twenty-five hours a week. Again, there's a lot of flexibility here because you can complete those hours whenever you feel like it - all in one sitting or throughout the day whenever you have time. The idea behind this way of thinking I think is quantity over quality. I personally have been using this strategy as of late because of the aforementioned writing habits of mine. I do favor this over the former approach because I think that any time spent thinking, structuring, tinkering, and/or writing should count.

However, there is one significant drawback: wasting time. I've often been tempted to sit there and do nothing or prolong the process simply to meet my time quota. Yes, there are ways of preventing this sort of thing on a conscious level - by keeping a timer, for instance. However, the important point is not to have that incentive at all - because, at some point, subconsciously, you are going to be influenced by it, and time is, almost undoubtedly, the single most important aspect of a writer's life.

There must be a better way. For me, I think I've found one, though some may argue it is a variant of the time goal. What works best for me is to write based on specific goals per session - that is, to finish some segment, a sizable chunk, of story or novel per day. It depends on where you're at in the writing process. If you're editing, as I often am (I'm on the fifth draft of my first short novel), then you goal might be to finish editing one chapter a day. If you're writing an outline, then maybe your specific goal is to write a general outline of the whole novel by the end of the day. Then it might be to do a more specific outline for each chapter per day. Not only does this approach afford you flexibility - you after all know what you can accomplish per day or per week - but it gives you tangible results. It works well for me, pushing me while letting me know I'm making progress. The only drawback is that you have to set the right specific goal: it has to be specific, challenging but doable. That is how you grow as a writer - or, as everyone else seems to call it, waste time. Speaking of that, I'm done. For now.

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