Shameless self-congratulations AKA Writing Progress

Lookee! My little wordcount widget – the numbers, they are going up again! I’ve written about 4,000 words since I set my new goal. Can you tell I’m pleased with myself? The goal itself changed from “write 500 words every school day” to “be happy with whatever amount you manage to get done instead of feeling guilty because it wasn’t more”. Funnily enough, it still came out at an average of 500 words a day – but the process was much less painful.

Plus I got lots of practice at not guilting, which has got to be a good thing, since my “feel guilty about everything” gene is almost as well-developed as my worrywart gene. Witness the following exchange:

Guilt Complex: Oh Noooes! We’ve only written 286 words today. We are a Failure! We will never get this book finished. Never get published. We will be lying on our deathbed one day saying “if only we had tried harder we could have Achieved Something”. And we promised on our blog to write 500 words a day! Public humiliation!! Death and catastrophe!!!

New Improved Me: Begone, evil spawn of Satan! I refuse to listen to you any more. Tra la la! See? That’s me not listening. So what if I only had time for 286 words? At least I wrote something. I’m enjoying this book again! And ideas are starting to come! All is sunshine and roses!!! And tomorrow is another day, tra la la.

It’s true, ideas are starting to flow. I don’t know if they’ve been lurking in my subconscious all this time I’ve been avoiding the book, but they’re popping up all over the place since I poked a cautious toe into the dark waters of The Novel. Some of them are even good.

I had the most gob-smackingly brilliant one (ahem, even if I do say so myself) last night while I was cooking dinner. That pivotal moment in the finale of the book? The one covered in my sad excuse of an outline by the extremely useful sentence “SOME HUGE COMPLICATION NEEDED HERE”?

I thought of it. And it is brilliant. Totally worth waiting for. Sigh.

Gee, I’m just full of smug today, aren’t I? If you feel the need to go away and barf somewhere, go ahead. I’ll wait.

Back so soon? Let me just squee over one more thing, and then I’ll stop. Promise.

I killed someone!! Not a real someone, I hasten to add. That wouldn’t be squee-worthy. A character in my book. Since I am such a scaredy-cat, I couldn’t face leaping off into the unknown of the last quarter of the book. So I went back to a scene I had previously skipped over. It was a necessary scene, but at the time I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for it, so I just wrote “K tries to kill A and fails. She and G are captured” and moved on. Faced with the idea-less void of the rest of the book, however, even that much guidance made writing that part an easier choice to ease my way back into the book.

I was plodding through it, busily getting this secondary character out of the way for the big fight, so he’d be free to come back and rescue my heroine from captivity later, when it occurred to me that it would be much better if the heroine rescued herself and gee, wouldn’t it be fun to actually kill this guy instead. Immediately that scene became much more attractive to write, plus the implications for the rest of the plot started bouncing around, sparking new ideas left, right and centre. I may even become a mass-murderer, I enjoyed it so much.

But you know what the best thing about my new writing goal is? It’s made me remember that writing is fun. Take that, guilt complex!

“Should” is a dirty word

Yesterday was my blog’s first birthday. Way to go, little fella! Can’t believe you made it!

When I told the ducklings it was my blog’s birthday, Baby Duck asked, “What’s a blob’s birthday, Mama?” He couldn’t understand why his sisters cracked up. That child is just made of cute.

I hesitated for a long time before starting this blog. I was afraid that I’d lose interest and it would go the way of so many – initial posts full of enthusiasm, gradually petering out into silence. But I cleverly got around that problem by being a slack poster from the beginning. Such forethought!

I wondered if I could think of enough things to write about. Fortunately I have the ducklings to help there – they provide plenty of inspiration with their funny ways.

I used to be a mad keen scrapbooker. For a few years there our lives were obsessively documented. The ducklings couldn’t sneeze without me shoving a camera in their face to capture the moment forever. These days I’ve gone back to quilting and writing, but at least if scrapbooking gains the ascendancy again I’ll have plenty of readymade journalling from the ducklings’ bloggy exploits.

Not that those exploits have been comprehensively covered by any means. I remember one of my goals at the beginning of the year was to blog twice a week, and that certainly hasn’t happened. No one could accuse me of being a speed demon.

I’d like to blog more. I feel I should blog more, though it’s just something I do for fun. Why do I feel like that? Life seems full of worthwhile things that it should be easy to fit in, like brush your teeth for three minutes, exercise at least 20 minutes every day, wipe down the shower and sink after your morning shower so it’s not such a big job later. Yet if you added up all these “just a few minutes” activities you’d need about 40 hours in every day. And so we all seem to run around, perpetually behind where we think we should be up to, doomed to feeling like slackers forever.

I set some writing goals in January. Assessing my progress so far, I can see it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I haven’t gone back to the revision of Man Bites Dog, and I certainly haven’t completed the first draft of Dragonheart. I have written more short stories and even submitted two. Yes, a whole two. Please try to contain your excitement.

I was also hoping to establish a daily writing routine. It wasn’t going too badly till personal things reared up and threw my concentration into disarray. Still struggling with that one, but hoping for improvement soon.

Note that I cleverly didn’t include “participate in Nano 2009” as a goal. Much as I love Nano, I’m starting to think another Nano this year might be a bad idea. I can see a classic “non-finishing” pattern emerging: Nano 2007, start first draft of Man Bites Dog, but don’t have time to revise and complete before – Nano 2008, start first draft of Dragonheart, but don’t have time to revise and complete before – Nano 2009, start first draft etc, etc. You get the picture.

I blame my three-second attention span. My life is filled to bursting with unfinished projects, and it drives me nuts. Three seconds? Who am I kidding? That’s waaaay too generous.

One of my non-writing goals was to declutter the house, but I think first I need to declutter myself. All this incompleteness is weighing me down. I wish I could get a working attention span. Would anyone care to swap? Mine’s quite cute, so tiny and decorative. I need a big honking industrial-strength model to get through all the stuff I’ve left hanging over the years.

In recent years I’ve even had trouble finishing reading books, let alone writing them. There’s been a pile of half-read books on my coffee table for over a year, often as many as a dozen books high, all with bookmarks shoved into them. One had been there so long that when I removed the bookmark I discovered it had changed colour. The part inside the book was still dark green, but the part sticking out had been bleached by the sun for so long the shade was half its former strength.

For months I’d looked at that stack of books, thought, Nah, don’t feel like reading any of those, and gone and started another one. Sometimes I finished them. Often they just joined the growing pile. When the guilt got too much, or the pile threatened to topple over, I might finish one, but it never made much difference. The pile had almost achieved sentience, it had been there so long.

I knew I didn’t want to read them, but I couldn’t bring myself to give up and put them away. They were unfinished projects, clogging my mental to-do list, depressing me every time I saw them. Just one more thing I knew I should do.

I know a mother’s work is never done. Jobs waiting to be done everywhere you look is pretty normal in most people’s lives, I guess. But how silly is it to let your leisure activities become a burden of guilt, to see the books you read, supposedly for enjoyment, as a chore hanging over your head?

So I finally took my attention span aside and gave it a good talking to, woman to woman.

“Admit it,” I said, “you are never going to finish reading those books.”

“I might,” it whined, giving me those big puppy-dog eyes. “At one stage I really wanted to read them, and you never know when that feeling might come back. Could be any millenium now.”

“Don’t give me that crap. Look at this one – the bookmark has changed colour, it’s been there so long! And what about this one? You can’t even remember what the book is about any more. You’d have to go back and start at the beginning anyway!”

“But I really enjoyed the first one in that trilogy. I’m sure I’ll get into again if I just … Hey, look over there!”

“What? Over where?”

“There! Look – new! Shiny!”

And that was about it for my attention span. But I refused to admit defeat. Time to bite the bullet, turn over a new leaf, take the first step on the long road to Organised Me. Or at least Slightly Less Maddening Me. Time to wean myself away from should.

So I did it. I took all the bookmarks out of those books. Oh, the pain! Then I lumped those suckers downstairs and banished them to the bookshelves, never to be guilted over again. And it was ridiculous, what a feeling of release such a tiny act gave me.

So, we’re trying, me and the teeny tiny attention span. Trying to let go of so many shoulds, to make more time for the ones that really matter. Trying to make easier goals. My new writing goal is to write only 500 words a day on school days, instead of 1,000. Yeah, I should be able to write 1,000 words in a day, but so often I don’t and then I feel all hopeless and disappointed with myself. So time to be kinder and more understanding of the teeny tiny attention span.

I doubt we will ever metamorphose into a frequent blogger, the attention span and I, but then, I’ve decided that “should” is a dirty word. And I never thought I’d be wishing you happy birthday, dear blog, so you never know.

Many happy returns.

The little engine that could

You may notice I’ve put the “cover” of Dragonheart and an up-to-date wordcount widget in the sidebar. Not because I think anyone will be interested in how many words I’ve written, but I because I find the “public accountability” aspect a useful weapon in the war against procrastination. And the cover? Hey, I made it for Nanowrimo and I just like looking at it! Makes me feel all “authorly”.

Having spent the last two weeks celebrating my new freedom to do anything I like by in fact doing very little, I decided that the time had come for butt-in-chair. So on the weekend I read through the manuscript so far of Dragonheart, which I haven’t looked at since November, to get myself back up to speed. I have such a bad memory I’d forgotten where I was up to. Fortunately I still liked it. It was almost like reading a real book. I got engrossed in the story and was quite disappointed when it ended. “But what happens next?”

I wish I knew! I have the next little bit mapped out, but the rest of the book is distressingly vague. My notes to myself are full of “But why?”s and “such-and-such needs to happen – HOW?”. And in the big finale: “some huge complication needed”.

Muse, if you’re paying attention – a little more detail would be helpful. Appreciated, even. My control-freak self hates the not-knowing. Control freak self lies in bed at night going “but why? Why does that character do that?” and getting really frustrated when the answer doesn’t immediately appear. It’s that big gap between being a reader and being a writer. When you read, the story unfolds with such a smooth inevitability you can’t help but imagine it must have fallen fully formed into the writer’s head. If the writer’s done their job, it seems there’s no other way the story could have played out, so once the writer thought of the very first sentence, all the rest of it must have just flowed naturally from there. It’s so easy! Anyone could do it.

If only! I try to console myself by looking back through my notebook and realising how much was unclear when I started, which has since fallen into place. Surely the rest of it will too – eventually. But I’m an instant gratification girl and waiting is just hard.

I know if I keep trudging on it will come. So my little wordcount widget sits there like the beacon on top of that terrible hill that leads to THE END, urging me on.

I think I can. I think I can.


Whew! Lucky I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions. Those babies would have been smashed already. Have I been exercising? Eating less rubbish? Writing every day? Updating my blog twice a week? Only if today is Opposites Day.

Not that I’ve been completely unproductive. I’ve sewn a few bags lately, including a tote bag for Demon Duck’s teacher that we both liked so much we were sad to part with it.

I also finished a more sedate handbag for myself. I’m wearing a lot of blues and browns lately so it goes nicely.

I’ve got stuck into the decluttering and have already thrown out a stack of scrapbooking magazines about four foot high. I’m still working my way through another stack almost as big. This job is part of the reclamation of the rumpus room as a usable space and not just a junk storage area, which has been hanging over my head for ages. It feels great to see the floor reappearing from under the piles!

A curious side effect of the sorting process is that is makes me want to scrap again – or at least mess around with paints and patterned paper, which I haven’t done in nearly two years. I dug out my old art journal and did a couple of pages, which was a lot of fun. This is one of them.

So no New Year’s resolutions, because I know I’ll break them. But goals – I can do that. Generally I aim too high and miss, but at least I get further than I would otherwise. Last year I wanted to finish two first drafts, Man Bites Dog and Starfire. I only managed Man Bites Dog, but I wouldn’t have done even that without something to aim for. I also wrote 50,000 words on a new novel, Dragonheart, plus started revisions on Man Bites Dog.

Another goal was to start submitting short stories for publication. I only submitted two, which wasn’t as many as I’d planned, but one got a very encouraging rejection and the other got published, so that went pretty well too.

Writing goals for this year are:

* finish revising Man Bites Dog
* complete first draft of Dragonheart
* write and submit more short stories
* establish a routine of writing daily (at least on school days!).

Other goals include:

* keep up with the monthly art journal challenges at Blue Bazaar
* declutter and get organised
* have more fun!
* and I’m not even going to mention the whole exercise-and-diet thing.

The “have more fun” goal started well. On New Year’s Day we had afternoon tea with the neighbours that turned into dinner and a movie as well. Less successful (from my point of view at least) was an excursion to Jenolan Caves a few days later. But I’ll tell you about that next time I post on my new bi-weekly*-but-it’s-not-a-New-Year’s-Resolution schedule.

Happy New Year to all!

*I just looked up “biweekly” in the dictionary because I was having a vague moment about whether it means “twice a week” or “once every two weeks”. According to my dictionary it means both. Both?? They’re two completely different things! It’s an outrage!! What kind of sloppy good-for-nothing word is that?

Guess what?!

Okay, don’t strain yourselves, you’ll never guess. Besides, I’m dying to tell you.

Got an email today with the news every aspiring writer wants to hear:

“We are happy to advise you that your story ‘Pre-Dinner Drinks’ has been selected for publication in ZineWest 2008 and is eligible for the competition prizes.”

I’m going to be in print! Admittedly, only in a small regional magazine, and payment is a free copy, but still. My first published story. Thirty-two entries were chosen for publication from 108, and all those are now eligible for the grand prize of $400.

I have no expectation of winning that. In fact, I was sure they wouldn’t take the story. After I’d submitted it I showed it to my writing group, and they convinced me it was unfinished. So I dreamed up a new ending and was just waiting for the rejection before I revised it and submitted elsewhere. It’s funny how these things work out, isn’t it? I think the writing group was right, but somebody else thought the story was good enough as it stood. I guess it shows you shouldn’t try to secondguess these things. Some people will like your work and some people won’t, and you’ll never know which is which till you send it out.

I tell you what, though, there’s nothing like an acceptance to give you a confidence boost! Look out, world. This is but the first step in my fiendish plan. Today, ZineWest. Tomorrow, NYT bestseller list.

No harm in dreaming, is there?