Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer writing goals or "get real!"

     I have to tell you that my initial response to the topic "summer writing goals" was "Summer writing goals? Hahahaha" (to quote Lucy of Peanuts fame.) For me at least, Summer Goals and New Year's Resolutions are the same thing. Only the weather is different.

      Every January I promise to lose weight, work out more, and at least try to read adult fiction. In a good year, I can make it to the neighborhood Super Bowl party, followed by a string of out-of-town school visits. The next thing I know, I'm on a plane, reading a children's book and eating overpriced airport M & M's.

     Each May for the last five years I have told myself that this was the summer I would finish The Novel.  I have worked on this book, for so long, that when I do return school visits, students ask if The Novel is coming out this year. I have to admit that no, I haven't finished, still writing.  I'd leave feeling like A Big Fat Failure who was never going to finish The Novel (or lose weight).

     However, this year was going to be different.

     From the summit of the third week of May, the summer and all of its possibilities shimmered at my feet. For the first time, our family vacation would begin the minute the last school bell rang. For once, my daughter's schedule wasn't studded with out-of-town skating competitions. For the first time in years I wouldn't be running a Young Writers workshop during what always turned out to be the hottest week in summer.
     In short, a free summer. Three empty sparkling months. This would be the summer that. . .

     I stopped short. I was about to make a Summer Goal.  Did I want to do this?

    Like most of you, I have to fit writing around my other obligations, which even pared to the minimum, are still a lot.  Circadian rhythms dictate that I am useless until about 9 am, walking into walls and such.  Left to my natural inclinations I would write all night.  I have to get my daughter up at 6 am. (Schools don't care about my Circadian rhythm.) So writing is shoehorned into the odd bits of time.  It's like the old joke, "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer: "One bite at a time."

    When I took stock at the beginning of this summer, I could see my "bites" had added up. I write out of sequence, and this particular book is divided into three "acts."  There were a few scenes missing from Acts Two and Three, but Act One, was a mere skeleton.  However, in writing backwards, I now knew the characters and setting better than I did when I first began this journey. Could I finish The Novel THIS summer? I have all this time and...

    Then I sat down with my manuscript and realized that not only did Act One need a lot of "fleshing out," but that there were a few bald spots in Acts Two and Three as well. Then I would have to go over the "finished" book to "fine tune" it . . .and discover more holes that needed filling and. . .

    No. I couldn't do it. I couldn't finish The Novel in three months, and more than I could lose ten pounds over a weekend. I thought some more. My writer's group was having a retreat at the end of July (which was this past weekend). Could I finish Act One by the third week of July? That seemed a do-able goal.

    Guess what?  I didn't finish Act One. I almost finished it. This a verse novel, and I know that Act One still needs two more poems, but I know exactly what they are. My critique group agreed, and saved me the trouble of having to revise Act One by showing me where and how to tighten the whole thing up.

     So, revised goal...finished Act One by the end of this month. Another doable goal. That's all I will focus on right now...not future plot holes and revisions to come. I am working on this goal. You will know when I have accomplished it, because you will hear a big old "yee-haw!" coming from Atlanta.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman   


Carmela Martino said...

Glad you've revised your goals to something manageable, MA. And congrats on being almost done with Act One!

Sabrina Mock-Rossi said...

Of course I can agree and empathize with all that you write - from your circadian rhythms to your New Year's resolutions. However the part that rang most true for me was fitting the writing into those snippets of time - around all of the other obligations we have. I sometimes feel like I am not a "real" writer because I don't devote "real" time to it. I make time - but not on a perfectly consistent basis. Life gets in the way. As does procrastination - when a huge task lies before me. From now on - I will remind myself to eat that elephant one bite at a time! Thank you - and congrats on making such progress on The Novel!

Lois Barr said...

Dear Mary Ann,
One of the highpoints of the summer was reading Yankee Girl.
I have also reached some of my goals, so it really helped to make them; however, reading your realistic assessment of your novel and how you were able to create it and assess it helped me a lot. It helps to hear that another writer writes shaggy novels with great holes in them.

mary ann rodman said...

Sabrina--When I first started writing seriously I met a writer with two toddlers who had just published her first book, and had a contract for two more. I ( did not understand how she managed ANY kind of writing until she told me that she learned to keep her notebook in the bathroom. Her kids were two young to understand
"Mommy is working" but they understood a closed bathroom door! She literally wrote all those books in five minute increments (except for when her husband was home...then she took long "showers." She is my hero! (along with another writer friend who actually COULD get up an hour early to write, BEFORE she got her kids off to school and went to her own teaching job.

Lois--Thanks for telling me YG was the high point of your summer. And I love the term "shaggy novels"
I used to think that novels sprang fully formed from the head of the author. My AH HA moment came when I read Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD. In saltier language than I will use hear, Lamott says that we are all entitled to crummy first drafts. Up until then, I would hammer away at Chapter One until I was too exhausted (and bored) to go on to Chapter Two. I have found that writing whatever is clearest to me at the moment makes me feel successful, instead of staring at a blank screen, waiting for the Muse to show up. This may not work for everyone, but I have discovered that if I just leave a big X where I know there is supposed to be SOMETHING, I usually find the Muse leaning on the X when I return in the second draft. She always has something to say.
We're all in the same boat here. Thanks for writing, all of you.

mary ann rodman said...

As you can tell, I don't proof read my responses. Sorry for the "two" and "hear". I really do know better!