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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Shifting priorities: sacrificing television, sex, and self-esteem to pursue your writing dreams

I've been enjoying all the smart, tough talk here about goals and late starts and being resolute. It's all so inspiring, and I need all the inspiration I can get. I'm a black hole for inspiration--I suck it all in, and nothing escapes the crushing blackness. Nothing.

Like many of you, I've got targets I'm aiming at. Unlike many of you, I don't spend time making lists. Why waste all that paper and ink listing goals when I can conserve energy and wallow in guilt ahead of schedule? You may think I have a bad attitude. Not true--I've simply made peace with my shortcomings and moved on to new, more interesting bad choices. At least I'm making progress.

Years ago, I told myself that if I had time to watch television at night, I had time to write. I rose from my comfy sofa, marched into my office space, and got to work. As a result of that decision, I haven't watched television for years--and I've carved out a big chunk of time for surfing the Internet. But I'm sure there are those who may decide to use former television viewing time to work on their manuscripts.

A wise writer once told me a page a day is a book a year. Repeating that mantra as I crawled into bed, night after night--without having produced so much as a paragraph--was making me gain weight, so I stopped. Now I share it with everyone else. (Just because I don't pay attention doesn't mean it's not good advice.) A page a day is a book a year. Go ahead--take it. It's yours.

Now that you've freed up some former television viewing time and adopted a guilt-inducing mantra, you're ready to start on your book. I find that opening a new document and typing Chapter One works well. So does taking a break and heading out for a drive-thru blended mocha with one shot of vanilla, which is usually my next move.

And then comes the hard part: the daily quota. I figured out years ago that I can comfortably produce about five pages a day. So when I'm slogging my way through the rough draft stage, I tell myself I can't go to bed until I've written five pages. They don't have to be good pages; they just have to be done.

It's embarrassing to admit how many times I've still been sitting here, long after midnight, squirming in this uncomfortable chair and feeling sorry for myself as I struggled to get those five pages finished. (My husband can probably tell you how many nights I've sat here long after he's gone to bed.) But the dread of having to produce ten pages to meet a deadline is worse than the self pity, so I stick it out. And then I treat myself to a drive-thru mocha and a croissant for breakfast.

Funny thing about producing a certain quota of pages each day--no matter how much squirming is involved--they start to add up. Suddenly, I've got 100 pages. And then 200. Woo-hoo! And what's even better: I've got a story here! Now that The End is in sight, I can relax and head in that general direction. Those last pages never seem as tough as the first ones.

Once again I've successfully suckered, bribed, and browbeaten myself into getting started. It's time to head out to celebrate at the drive-thru mocha place. Ahhh. Romance novels aren't the only things that have happy endings.

Terry McLaughlin used these same simple, easy-to-follow techniques to create her current release, A Perfect Stranger.

30 Comments:

At 8:25 AM, OpenID yatimk said...

Hi, Terry. You're right that even small progress, multiplied times 365 days a year, is a big accomplishment. I wouldn't focus on giving up television, though, but on taking steps to make that small progress, every single day. That makes giving up TV (if that's what one needs to do) easier.

-TimK

 
At 9:36 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

Terry,
Thanks for the reminder on the five pages per day. I did that before and it worked really well. I sometimes use TV as my reward if I get those five pages per day done.

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

You are too funny, Terry. I knew it was your voice before I got thru the second paragraph. I gave up t.v. a long time ago and then just recently started watching it late at night. Must go back to the five page rule... Thanks for the reminder! One word, one scene, one page at a time!

 
At 10:34 AM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

TV addiction is one of my downfalls. I think Theresa's idea of using it as a reward is a good one. I've thought about not allowing myself to watch tv until I've met my alotted page count for the day.

Guess I need to stop "thinking" about that idea and actually put it in action.

I'll let you guys know how it goes.

Pris

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Hi Pris, it was Maureen's idea to use television as a reward and I don't want to take undo credit. Ha! Good idea, Maureen! Good luck with the pages, Pris.

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I KNOW I needed to hear this! I am terribly addicted to television and I KNOW I need to give it up. Stephen King calls it the "glass teet" or something like that and he is very right. I just need to wean myself off of it and get back in the groove. Five pages a day sounds very doable if I can just reprioritize my time away from work. Working 8 hours a day (which actually means 9 to 10 hours away from home)just sucks the life out of me. I keep telling myself if I work really hard at writing and work up to my potential in it I can get away from the DDJ (dreaded day job!) Some days I believe it more than others!

 
At 2:05 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

How about weaning off television as opposed to giving it up? Sounds too cold turkey for me, and I'm not one for extremes.

I'm using my evening hours, with TV blaring in background, to do writing-related things, like blogging, email, and oh yeah...writing.

 
At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Linda in Burlingame said...

I have a DVR and you would think that would control my TV viewing. No, I watch all last night's show tonight! What's the rush? Basically, it's the same story told every week. I am trying to figure out how to tape everything, then spend one chunk of time viewing and fast forwarding!

I have an added issue of also being an editor so I do have work I need to do on other people's writing. Work on their stuff during the week but my stuff on weekends?

Arrgghh! I'm feeling overwhelmed. Full-time job, caretaker to Mom, avid TV watcher, addicted reader..when do i have time to do anything else?

 
At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Linda in Burlingame said...

I meant - besides having a full-time job (librarian), I am also an editor. Editing isn't my full-time job but it feels liek it!

 
At 3:24 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Linda,
carve out a time, any time, any way that works best for you. Maybe you will write on Monday nights only. Whatever. If you write five pages every monday, you've got a book in a year!
The trick is to decide what is writing time and then use it to write!

 
At 3:54 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi there, TimK--you're so right about the impact of small bits of progress. If they're steady, they can really add up, like rain drops in a bucket. Or the average pile of dirty laundry--look how fast that thing can grow in just a week's time!

A couple of pages a day over the course of a few weeks--skipping a day or two for life's emergencies--can equal fifty pages in a month. A few more months like that one, and you've got yourself the first draft of a book.

The trick is not to let too many unproductive days slip in between the days when pages are produced.

As for giving up TV--hey, I'm not an advocate of giving up anything, like drive-thru mochas or play time with a grandbaby, that makes life worth living. TV just doesn't happen to be one of those things for me.

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Oh my goodness, Terry, thanks for the laugh!!!

A guilt-inducing mantra. Yeah, we all need another one of those...:)

 
At 3:57 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Mo :-). TV as a reward sounds like a great idea! I'm all for rewards of any type. This morning I promised myself I could get a drive-thru croissant breakfast if I got out of bed, and it worked!

 
At 4:13 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Theresa--you thought I was being funny? That was grippingly dramatic, soul-baring honesty. I was so distraught after penning that post I told the folks at the drive-thru to make my mocha a double.

Seriously, if I can write a book, anyone can. I'm the laziest, least disciplined, most excuse-ridden writer I know. Now that I've sold, contractual deadlines serve as serious enforcers (and I use my five-pages-a-day comfort zone to help set those deadlines). Before I sold, I used Mo's reward system: if I wanted to continue going to conferences and hanging out with my new writer friends, I had to produce pages.

 
At 4:18 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Pris--after I finished one of my manuscripts, I decided to treat myself to an evening of post-dinner television viewing in the family room with my poor, lonesome husband. I plopped myself down on the sofa, asked for the remote, and began to click through dozens of possibilities for our evening's viewing pleasure.

After enduring a few minutes of my channel surfing, my husband asked, "Don't you have some e-mail or something to go check?"

 
At 4:26 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

doglady--I think I got some life sucked out of me just reading your description of your day. I'm sure I'll need a mocha--or a nap--to recover.

What are your five favorite shows? Maybe you can watch those every week, without fail, as your reward for skipping some of the others to produce pages instead.

I admire your determination and your dreams! Go get 'em, doglady :-)!

 
At 4:41 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

patricia--I know what you mean about that cold turkey thing. I asked for a fat-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free mocha one time, to see if I could increase my chances for longevity, and after one sip I decided I'd long for an early death if I had to drink that stuff for the rest of my life.

I guess we all have to decide how we want to spend the lives we've been given (and our lives are such amazing, awesome gifts, aren't they?). Watching other people's dreams on television can be either an escape or an inspiration. Each of us knows why he/she's watching and what he/she's getting out of it, so each of us is best at deciding whether it's a hindrance or a help.

 
At 4:55 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

linda--I produced only a handful of pages during the years I was teaching college-level writing courses (and editing stacks of student papers). I was a victim of that sucking phenomenon doglady mentioned: ppfvvvvvvttt. I admire your desire to want to create some pages of your own.

Your routine sure sounds rough :-(. And your question about finding time for anything else has got me stumped...unless you want to sneak away to a coffee shop for half an hour each day, either on the way to work or on the way home, and steal some time on your laptop in an Internet-free zone. (Or pull to the side of the road and write in your car, if you have to.) Even fifteen minutes could be useful, if you know what it is you want to write. I bet you could write a page in fifteen minutes--whaddya think?

 
At 5:02 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Good point, Diane :-)! People who tell me I have to write every day, without fail, make me feel guilty (and feeling guilty makes me gain weight). If it were true that I'd fall out of the habit of writing and I'd never write again, well, I wouldn't be writing this note.

I don't have to write every day--I only have to write as many days, and as many pages per day, as necessary to produce the books I've promised.

One problem, for me, with the one-page-a-day advice/formula is continuity. I find it's easier to continue a scene I've started than stop it halfway through, and...oops, I've just suckered myself into writing more than the one page I'd promised when I sat down to work ;-).

 
At 5:12 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, gillian :-)--yeah, those mantras have their uses (usually for meditating into a semi-comatose state).

I love inspiring quotations. I started a collection of my favorites once, but I lost the file somewhere on my computer desktop (I put it in a safe place--BIG mistake). Then I tried memorizing some of the shorter ones, but that just gave me more things to forget (like the punch lines of jokes).

 
At 5:57 PM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

Hey Terry,

You're tv watching experience with your hubby was too funny. :-)

I'm using RWA National as my motivation this year. If I don't have enough pages written by registration time, I'm not allowing myself to register.

With one child going off to college in the fall, my money can go to something different if I don't prove to myself that I am serious about my writing.

Talk about motivation. :-)

 
At 6:14 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hey again, Pris--I told myself I couldn't attend the RWA conference in Dallas in '04 if I hadn't finished my current project. I stumbled onto the plane in a state of severe sleep deprivation, and the final couple of chapters of that manuscript were peeyuuutrid, but it was finished. (That manuscript, by the way, was Make-Believe Cowboy, my 2007 RITA finalist.)

Go for it! And you'd better go for it, and I MEAN IT, LADY, 'cause I want to see you in San Francisco :-).

 
At 6:52 PM, Anonymous Linda in Burlingame said...

Terry -

I, for one, am happy you made it to Dallas - that's where I met you when we both sat at the "Information Booth, "even though neither of us had any information to give!

It's great to read everyone's comments - especially about the Tv watching. I had given up tv for two years once and it was the best two years I had in terms of reading and being creative. Then 9/11 happended and I wanted to be glued to the TV. Now, the elections..

Thank, Terry - now I want a mocha and I can't have one because I'm diabetic!

 
At 7:02 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Terry -

I like that you share advice regardless if you follow it or not - sometimes just writing it down makes us think about the things we've learned.

I can't recall the last time I sat down to watch television. As for 5 pages a day - I agree, but then it works for me. I have a friend who figured out she could do 3 pages a day of fresh writing and edit/polish those 15 pages on the weekends while she's hanging out with husband and family.

Good advice from everyone this month.

Can't wait to get my copy of your January 2008 release - A Perfect Stranger from Superromance. Sounds great.

Dianna

 
At 9:10 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

You know, I read on another blog, somewhere out there, that same tip about writing a certain amount each weekday and then spending the weekend editing and polishing.

Honestly, I had never thought about writing in that manner, but I'm really tempted now. I wonder how much easier it would be now that I'm editing the entire story, if I had gone back and polished smaller bits.

Anyway, it's these craft tidbits that make blogs such as yours so fun and so valuable!

Prisakiss, I'm rooting for you. With 3 girls of my own, I know how it's always about putting your family first. I hope you get to experience the wonderful energy of Nationals for yourself.

 
At 10:05 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

linda--LOL at the Information booth with no information :-). (I could add something about how I seem to end up in those kinds of situations, but it might reflect badly on my blog post today.)

I've been thinking about your dilemma--two jobs and a caretaker situation--and I've decided you need to run away from home. Seriously. You deserve some time for yourself each week, whether it's a daily sugar-free coffee break or one hour three times a week or whatever. You can use that personal time to write or just be at peace.

Good luck!

 
At 10:12 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi there, Dianna :-)! Yep, giving advice is easy; it's following it that's the hard part ;-).

I like your friend's plan of piling up the pages during the week and then editing during the weekend. There are as many ways to get a book started and finished as there are authors :-).

 
At 10:25 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

gillian--I'm a compulsive reviser and polisher (I have to be, considering the messes I create during Draft #1), so I'm always interested in others' methods for the finishing touches.

Last summer I was fortunate to sit through a couple of Jennie Crusie's day-long workshops. One of her tips was to edit each story act as a separate unit (she can usually read and edit an entire act in one day). That makes a great deal of sense, doesn't it?

And for those weekend cleanup chores, it's possible to focus in on a scene or two. Following the flow of any story unit (scene or act) from start to finish is one key to successful editing, I think.

 
At 11:00 PM, Anonymous Linda in Burlingame said...

Terry!

You tapped into my fantasy of faking my death and getting the heck outta Dodge! Alas, I maybe have $.75 to my name, I wouldn't get very far!---Linda

 
At 6:02 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Never thought about "story acts" but that does make a lot of sense...and would probably eliminate a bunch of little (really boring) transition scenes that are driving me nuts.

Thanks, Terry!!

 

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