200,000: When will you get there?

Yesterday at Wisconsin Dells I got to 200,000: Miles, that is, not words.

When we bought the car in 1995, I had no idea we would still own it now, much less if or when we would reach this milestone. Yesterday I was so excited that I took an exit when the odometer was getting close, so that I could drive around slowly and pull to the side of the road for the photo.

When do you plan to finish your novel? Will you set a deadline? Or will you work on it steadily with daily or weekly writing goals until the work is complete? Which strategy works better for you?

Last year, I used the deadline for the Random House first middle-grade novel contest as a goal, and it worked very well as a way to keep me on track and focused. If you write young adult fiction, you want to consider using Random House’s First Young Adult Novel Contest deadline as a goal this year (manuscripts must be postmarked after October 1, 2010, but no later than December 31, 2010). A friend of mine is using a contest deadline this year to finish her romance novel, as well.

For my current work, I am not going to set a deadline, at least not now, because I don’t have a good handle yet on how long the finished novel will be. Instead, I’ll stick with continual work and daily writing as my goal.

More Writing Goal Resources

Ami Mattison, in a post on her wonderful blog poetryNprogress (not just for poets), offers advice on “Developing a Writing Routine: How To Write Every Day,” including this:

“So, how do you stay motivated and maintain your writing routine? One way I stay motivated is to share my completed poems or more developed drafts via email to friends or my personal blogs. By doing this, I tend to get positive and constructive feedback from the supportive people in my life. Also, sharing your work with your greatest fan, such as your mother or your best friend, can be a great way to get instant gratification. I share my work with my partner who, of course, thinks everything I write is utterly brilliant.”

Finding a way to share your writing with someone you trust, whether that means sharing portions of the work itself or just talking about what you are doing, is a way to keep the work present and tangible. Since I began meeting monthly with a writing buddy, my direction is clearer, my writing is stronger, and my written output is greater, even if all we do is share our goals and be each other’s cheerleader. And, of course, this blog is also my way of keeping myself accountable.

For yet more inspiration, take a look at the the blog Write It Sideways, especially the posts  “A 6 Month Weigh-In of Your Annual Writing Goals,” self-reflection from another author whose goal is to finish her novel this year, and “The #1 Reason You’ll Never Finish Writing Your Novel” (thanks, Ami, for the link).

And, yes, I did write my page last night! In doing so, I got so excited about the story that I woke up at 3:30 a.m. as the plot lines work themselves out in my mind. I don’t mind the lost sleep. 🙂

What are your daily writing goals?

She who fails to plan, plans to fail.

Last year, for my birthday, my then 17-year-old son gave me what turned out to be one of the best birthday presents I have ever received. He admitted that he hadn’t gotten around to buying anything, so, on a simple card, he wrote that he knew I wanted to take my writing more seriously, so he was giving me the gift of telling me to write 250 words per day for a month. I asked him if I could email my daily output to him as a way to keep myself accountable (reassuring him that he didn’t have to read it if he didn’t want to), and he agreed.

I decided to use his gift as a way to begin a work of children’s fiction that I had been planning in my head for awhile. Two months later, the first draft was complete.

Two hundred and fifty words might not seem like a lot, but it was the perfect goal. It wasn’t overwhelming. Even if I didn’t get around to writing during the day, I could crank out 250 words in twenty minutes before bed, if I put my mind to it. I had no excuses. And, most days, I wrote much more. My son knows me well, especially my being a late bloomer when it comes to learning to make detailed goals, and my need for baby steps in the planning department.

Ali Hale, in a DailyWritingTips’ review of Stephen King’s book On Writing, agrees that setting modest, pragmatic goals may work better for many writers than aiming too high:

“King strongly believes in setting writing goals, and recommends a minimum of a thousand words a day, six days a week. I tried following his advice (whilst working a full-time office job) and didn’t last long – you might prefer to set your own goal at five hundred words a day or even two hundred. Since King himself says he writes 2,000 words a day whilst working on a book, I suspect his advice is aimed at those aiming to make fiction writing their career (especially given his advice to read for four-six hours a day as well!).”

In Publish Your Nonfiction Book, Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco suggest a goal of two pages per writing session, which is a bit different from a measurable daily output, because it applies whether you write once a week or every day. Their “Two (2) Page Rule” includes any new writing that directly contributes to your current project, from character sketches to first drafts, outlines to dialogue.

Since I will be traveling next week, I am setting an interim goal of writing one long-hand page of manuscript every day until I come home. Writing long-hand will be easier in hotel rooms and at my parents’ house than trying to find a computer. Also, I want to experiment with writing first-draft material by hand, something I haven’t done in awhile. Finally, I know that one page is do-able. If I write more, great, but I want to be sure that I begin this project with some success upon which I can build. Once I get home from my trip, I will reassess and set more permanent goals.

I have also decided to keep a small notebook with me at all times for this project, in which I keep a running list of ideas for scenes or even short descriptions or bits of dialogue. That way I will never be at a loss for something to write each day, even if it is a snippet from the middle of the story or a description of a character’s clothes.

What are your writing goals? Do you aim for a certain number of words per day? Pages per day? Something else?

What works for you? What hasn’t worked before?

What about your story makes you go gaga?

I love this description of how “writing creates you as you write it” by poet Reg Saner (from the March/April 2010 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle):

“[T]he interface between words and your sense of this world is a virtual place, and the locale where writing happens. Figuratively speaking, it’s an ecotone, the biologist’s name for a transitional boundary between diverse communities of life forms. It’s therefore also a zone where unexpectedly interesting things may happen….In essence, it’s a place where self-organizing, which is to say self-evolving, happens through interaction with the written word.”

This is a large part why we write. We don’t just write about our experiences and transitions; our writing is part of and contributes to our experiences and transitions. Writing becomes part of our “self-organizing” and “self-evolving.”

Saner suggests that we have different topics or places or issues of “interactive intensity.” For example, although he grew up in the Midwest, he rarely writes about his birthplace, because it doesn’t make him go “gaga.”

What makes you go gaga about the story you want to tell?

Two things make me go gaga about my novel:

Place. Unlike Saner, in recent years I have been persistently drawn back, in my thoughts and imagination, to where I spent the first eighteen years of my life, in rural South Dakota on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. For a long time I resisted the pull of place, thinking that too much has already been written about the area or readers won’t be interested. However, I have no choice about this setting. It has been chosen for me.

By wonderful coincidence, tomorrow I am taking a road trip from my Milwaukee home back to the farm where I grew up. I can hardly wait to soak in the sights and smells and sounds once more, not just for the sake of nostalgia, but as an initiation ceremony of sorts for my novel.

Family Diaries. Another recent project of mine has been transcribing diaries kept by my great aunt Harriet. Every day, from 1920 until 1957, she wrote about the weather, the work she and her husband did on their farm and ranch, the people she saw and talked to, and, occasionally, her feelings. As I slowly transfer her written hand into text files, and as I share with my family interesting items on a daily basis through Hattie’s Diaries. I know I need to bring Harriet’s life and story to the world somehow. I had begun a non-fiction book about her diaries, and even have submitted a proposal to a couple of presses and had a positive response from one, but I am  not “gaga” about the book.

Then, this past winter I read a review of Half Broke Horses, billed as a “True-Life Novel,” and I knew immediately what I needed to do: write about Harriet as a true-life fictional character. There is no question in my mind.

So, that is where I begin. The place and the diaries. They not only make me go gaga, they also are part of my self-organizing and self-evolving, a part of the person I am becoming.

If you are a writer or an artist or a creator of any kind, and what you are creating isn’t making you go gaga, if it’s not a place where interesting things are happening, ask if a different subject or place or idea is calling to you, one that you are drawn to as much as for your own self-organizing and self-evolving as anything else.

What about your story makes you go gaga?

Day One: Are you ready to write your first novel?

Hello, hello, fellow readers and writers! Thank you for reading this post, the first of this new blog that will be my companion as I fulfill a lifelong goal: to be a novelist.

Probably like many of you, I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I first started thinking about such things. Perhaps your path has been similar: I wrote stories and poems in grade school and articles for the school newspaper in high school. I began college as a journalism major before switching to English, then got an M.A. in literary studies, which led to a job as an adjunct college writing instructor.

When our son was a baby, I stopped teaching for a while but was soon itching to do something. Somewhere I read the excellent advice to freelance writers to start small and start local. Our family had recently become vegetarian, and I loved to cook, so I asked a community food and wellness magazine if they could use a cookbook reviewer, and, to my amazement, they said yes. That job eventually led to a cooking column and articles in our local newspaper and several national vegetarian magazines, as well as a newsletter I wrote and published for several years.

Continuing to write about my interests and passions, I switched my focus to education when our son was school age, especially gifted education and homeschooling, and have published four non-fiction books and several articles on those topics. I continued to teach college freshman composition, technical writing and creative thinking, and I also worked with a terrific group of teen writers while our son was in high school. Then, last year, I wrote a children’s historical fiction novel, which is currently with a wonderful agent who is finding it a good home.

Yet, through it all and for reasons I can’t explain, I still feel that something is missing that keeps me from thinking of myself as a real writer: I have yet to write a full-length novel, although I have tinkered for years with ideas and timelines, plot synopses and points of view. Somehow, though, I never get past a handful of pages.

My first novel is in me and no longer content to stay there. The characters are begging to be born. I’m ready to hear their voices and welcome them into my life.

Day One. It is time. Are you ready for your own First Novel Project? Are you with me? Let’s do this together!