It’s a new writing week, which means I’m looking at 50 pages. Which is daunting. So daunting that (to steal from Lawrence Block) it scars the adverbs out of me. Which is why it’s important not to look at those 50 pages, but, rather, at the work right in front of me. What’s in front of me? A 40-minute writing session. No more.
This sudden fear of the week’s work reminds me of something Dean Wesley Smith used to talk about on his blog: Eating the Elephant. Jerry Mundis, in his wonderful book, Break Writer’s Block Now! called it “the Baggage Train.” Both phrases mean the same thing: That you’re trying to do more than can possibly be done during any one morning of writing.
Eating the Elephant: That’s thinking of writing the novel rather than writing the scene or the chapter at hand.
The Baggage Train: That’s thinking about establishing your career or supporting your family rather than on the words you’re putting on paper.
You can’t write a novel in a day (at least, I can’t), and you can’t establish a career in a day. The old cliché applies here: A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The finishing of a novel (which is where I am right now) is still done one page at a time, and the establishment of a career is still done one day at a time.
Long-term thinking is important, but so is realizing that today’s work is just that: Today’s work.
It reminds me of something Jesus said: Don’t worry about tomorrow, for today has sufficient problems of it’s own.
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School down here in Texas ends on Wednesday, June 4. Summer is a mixed blessing for me. I love the freedom summer brings: no more homework, school projects, practices, games, socials, picking up the kids every day after school, and the relentless making of lunches each morning. The change of schedule will be nice and much welcomed.
On the other hand, writing becomes more difficult. Right now, I have the freedom of the eight-hour school day to get my writing down. I admit, I probably don’t write as much as I could during these hours, and that’s something I hope to address next school year. But for the summer, my goal is still 10 pages a day. This is doable, so long as I remember to do a few things:
First: Write in 40-minute sessions.
Second: Spread those sessions throughout the day, writing early in the morning and late at night if necessary.
Third: Meditating for a few minutes before writing.
In fact, Number Three on this list may be the most important. Often on busy weekends, I can grab an hour or so to write both Saturday and Sunday. But I end up spending the first thirty minutes that writing time screwing around on the Internet. Again, Jerry Mundis’s Break Writer’s Block Now! helped me understand what I was doing.
The time on the Internet was a relaxation period I needed to shift from being “father” and “husband” to being “writer.” While Mundis didn’t say that himself, he did talk about the need to meditate before writing, especially if you have to write in the middle or the end of the day. You need something that severs you from ordinary life and gets you ready to write.
When it comes to work, my wife has this: She has to get into her car and drive somewhere. That simple activity of driving is a signal that it’s now time to get into “office” mode or “home” mode, depending if she’s coming or going.
This Saturday, when I sat down to write at 3 PM after a busy morning and early afternoon, I tried to meditate before writing instead of jumping on the Internet. It worked! Instead of spending thirty minutes getting ready to write and thirty minutes writing, I spent ten minutes getting ready to write and forty-five minutes writing.
So: This summer, as my writing time gets spread throughout the day, meditating before writing is going to be The Key that either makes me or breaks me.
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It’s June 2nd, so what are this months goals?
I’m going to keep things pretty simple.
Writing: I want to write 10 pages a day, 50 pages a week. I want to finish the current work in progress. I want to start something new.
Reading: I want to read 40 to 50 pages of fiction or a short story a day, 15 to 20 pages of nonfiction or an article a day, and one poem a day.
Learning: I have a about 60 or 70 books on writing I’ve picked up at used book stores around Dallas, and at least that many on my Kindle. It’s time to forget workshops for a little while and get busy reading these books. So, three learning goals. First, I need to categorize these books according to topic. Second, I need to decide which topic I want to study first. Third, I need to start reading.
Now, it’s time to get ready for today’s first writing session.