We’re wrapping up a series of guest blogs posts by novelist Susan Meissner today. Susan’s been talking about “Writing 300 Pages in 30 Days” which is a creditable goal. I think most people would be happy to do 300 pages in 60 days. Today, Susan talks about making a pact with yourself to get it done.
First a question from Tami:
“Can I use an inanimate object as my protag? It’s a wonderful old house built in 1863 . . .”
My feeling is you can do whatever you want if it works. The thing about a protag is that he or she or it has to drive the plot with a quest of some kind and we have to emotionally connect with that quest; we have to understand what they want and care about whether or not they get it. In the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, the ring of power is definitely a thinking member of the Antagonist’s team. When Gandalf tells Frodo that the ring wants to be found, we believe it. What you suggest can be done, but it won’t be easy. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try and see how it goes, though. Now then, on to making a pact. Anytime you take on a goal that will tax you on every front, it’s a good idea to know what you will be up against. What inhibits me as a writer is my love affair with procrastination and my tolerance of outside distractions. I don’t know why writers are such good procrastinators, but I’m thinking it’s because once we begin to bleed our words onto paper, it is hard to go back to the place where there was nothing. It’s easier to look at a blank canvas than to try clean up misplaced paint strokes.
But if you really want to make the most of your writing time, if you want to accomplish a lot of writing in an abbreviated time span, you have to slay the Procrastination Monster. You need to make a pact. You need to decide how many quality pages or words you will produce each day and then you need to make a contract that is binding. I like to produce 7-8 pages, or about 2,000 words a day when I am in write mode. And I do allow myself seasons when I am not writing. Like right now. I am not writing this month. But I will be in January.
It is not easy to write 2,000 words a day when you lead a busy life and you’ve got other responsibilities like a part-time or full-time job. I work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Writing 2,000 words when I’ve already put in an 8 or 9-hour day is a tall order. I hardly ever do it, but I’ve made no pact with myself for those days. But by golly, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I put in the time. And if I can crank out 3,000 words on those days, I do. If you really want to write 300 pages in 30 days, and I am not suggesting you do, you will need to come up with about 2,200 words a day, every day. I am perfectly happy writing 8-10,000 words a week these days, that’s what I aim for.
When I’m in write mode, I simplify my life as much as possible. For those six to 10- weeks that I am pounding out a manuscript, I make almost every meal in the crock pot. I highly recommend “Fix it and Forget It,” a fabulous slow-cooker cookbook that contains dozens upon dozens of main dishes. No pictures, but you don’t need those. You need ease. If you want to know which recipes are the best (since you can’t see them) you just ask and I will happily write down all the favorites that have served me well over the ten books I have written.
I also eliminate distractions by turning off my email program while I am writing and save blog-reading for after I’ve met my quota. If I’ve got a good start going, I reward myself every 500 words with checking my email (no answering, just checking) and reading one blog. Email and blogs are tremendous time stealers. Use them as rewards, don’t tolerate them as distractions.
Making a pact usually requires two parties. You can make a pact with just yourself but sometimes it’s hard to enforce the agreement. I recommend you ask someone to hold you accountable. Ideally, this would be your spouse, best friend, and/or your kids. My feeling here is that you need these people on your side, maybe even on your back. Their lives will be a little different while you are creating your masterpiece and if you make them an integral part of your plan they become accomplices to your feat and not interruptions to avoid. If they are endowed with the power to hold you to your page or count quota, they won’t feel left out. Let them enforce it. Come up with consequences to any infractions. Make the consequences fun for them, painful for you. And by all means, plan to reward your family for standing with you during your adventure. Save some money and time after the job is done for a day that’s all about them.
There is no perfect formula to writing a book just like there’s no formula for painting joy. There are only tools at your disposal: many colors on the palette, many kinds of brushes, many kinds of canvas. You need to decide which way fits the artist within you.
I hope what I have shown you is a formula for writing a good book, not a formula for writing fast. My way of writing a book happens to be fast, but that has always been incidental. It’s the pre-writing that enables me to pull it together faster than the average. It’s my way. But it may not be your way.
You’ve got to enjoy the journey or it’s just not worth it. Make sure you enjoy the process and the story that emerges. Worldwide renown and accompanying mega-bucks only come to a handful of authors. You gotta love it for the journey it takes you on. The journey you choose.
It’s been my pleasure to chat with all of you. Randy, thanks for letting me lounge around on your front porch for awhile.
Randy sez: Thanks, Susan, for being with us! I’ve learned a few tricks from you, and you’ve reminded me once again of many tricks that I need reminding about. So thank you!
Thanks Susan for the excellent info. I don’t know if this question is more for Randy, but how would one “plot” a historical novel? Since we know what happend, at least “plot wise”. Randy how did you “plot” the CoG Series? Was there any difference in “plotting” CoG vs Double vision? If so what were they?
Randy have you ever heard of, or tried yWriter4? It’s a cool program, so cool in fact the it has replaced your speadsheet. Sorry Randy. And it’s totally free! Man I sound like a used car salesman. You can get it at: www.spacejock.com
Randy sez: Plotting a historical novel is just like plotting any other kind, except that you are given some of the events already when you are writing a historical novel, and you have to incorporate those into the story. In the CITY OF GOD series (set in the years A.D. 57-66 in Jerusalem), I had a number of events that I knew had happened. The challenges were:
1) To figure out what actually happened (the sources are often vague)
2) To show those events that are relevant to the storyline
3) Blend them smoothly into the storyline
4) Ignore those events not relevant to the storyline
Every story is about SOMEBODY, and your challenge as a novelist is to figure out what that SOMEBODY wants and why they can’t have it (or must delay getting it for about 300 pages). It’s a little trickier when some of your characters are historical persons, because then you have to figure out their motivations instead of make them up. But the basic problems are the same.
Thanks for the link to the SpaceJock site. I have not tried the yWriter4 software. Didn’t know it existed until now. I checked it out just now and it is a Windows-only program. I can run Windows on my Mac, but I prefer not to.
A little housekeeping note: The Christmas holidays are approaching, and for me that means taking a few days off. This blog will go quiet from now until roughly the New Year. Then I’ll be back for another year of blogging on organizing, creating, and marketing your fiction! See ya then!