Being an ex-engineer, you would think I would track everything with charts and graphs, like ninja writer Adam Heine. And I do that in many areas of my life, but not with the writing.
Then I did NaNo this year, while simultaneously launching Open Minds, and discovered the power of numbers to keep me on track with my writing as well.
50k words and a WIN
Our brains are naturally wired to like numbers. Before you erupt into protests about how much math perplexes and tortures you, ponder this: Do you track how many followers you have on your blog? Do you pay attention to how many friends you have on FB or followers on Twitter? If the answer is NO, good for you! (Truly, those things will make you crazy.) But you're fighting against the natural human impulse to track numbers and want them to change in a positive direction (usually up, but in the case of the scale in my bathroom, most definitely down). Every game known to man uses the principle of MORE POINTS = MORE BETTER. It's not quite Pavlovian, but the reward centers in our brains light up when we cause a number to positively change. My mom (the psychologist) would call it Behavior Modification or possibly a form of biofeedback, where the "bio" part is your brain going nuts over reaching 500 followers (or some other nicely round numerical milestone).
Numbers have the ability to "feed back" the results of your efforts in a clear, unambiguous way. Being able to measure the results increases the intensity of the reward. (These speakers go to eleven!)
Back to writing.
Chasing that wordcount line for NaNo was such a powerful motivator, I found myself needing to create an psuedo-NaNo environment in December to complete my first draft by Christmas (#MissionAccomplished).
Draft 1: Complete at 86k
Now that I'm diving into the second draft, I'm facing another challenge. I would like to complete the draft in a (relatively) short period of time, but how can I use this numeric method to help keep me on track? Revisions are not like drafting. You don't have a relentless march of wordcount to keep you moving forward. I may spend an hour creating new slang or inventing a new technology or fleshing out a character arc that weaves through the story, with no noticeable change in wordcount or progress.
I decided all that doesn't matter.
In spite of the amorphous nature of revisions, in this second draft, I also need to march through the MS, line by line, making craft changes - and that's something I can track! So, I set up a new spreadsheet to track my progress. I had a revision checklist, revision notes, and a firm grasp on my expectations for the second draft (something presentable that I could give to my first round of crit partners): seemed like a great plan.
The first road bump came in having to rewrite the first chapter. And rewrite and rewrite. I mean, I knew it was bad, but holy cats! Next road bump was in having to finish revisions on my short story for the upcoming Anthology with the Indelibles. Totally fun and good to do, but didn't count for any progress on my chart. Then the second chapter revisions required more rewrite of the first chapter and suddenly I was going BACKWARDS and ready to tear out my hair.
1) Were my goals completely unrealistic?
2) Was I losing my touch? No matter what I did to chapter one it was sucking socks.
3) Should I consider selling real estate instead??
Writing is a constant process of learning (one reason I love it). Not so much learning to moderate your use of adverbs, but learning about your process and yourself. One thing I've learned: whenever the writing process becomes painful for me, it's because I'm about to learn something important.
So I took some time to journal about my writing, and I quickly realized the lesson: the first chapter wouldn't be perfect in the second draft. Or even the third. That I had room in my schedule for at least four substantial drafts, because my Logic Brain already knew that was how long it took (maybe more). The problem was my Creative Brain wanted to reach the finish line too quickly, all in one draft. (Creative Brain is not patient or logical.) I could see the end goal: I could picture the final version of the story in my head. Creative Brain wanted to skip ahead to that awesomeness NOW, rather than waiting for the process of creating it to unfold.
A funny thing happens whenever I get through the painful part of a lesson and really absorb it. My productivity kicks into high gear, and I start to do what seemed impossible the day before.
The happy in my brain lights up as that green bar rises. By the time I'm done with Draft Two, it won't be perfect. It will be Draft Two, and hopefully good enough that my crit partners won't choke on it (too much), so they can help me find where the story might be going off the rails. This is an important step, one I can't skip over.
Having to chase the line taught me a lesson in patience. #irony
Do you use numbers to motivate your writing?
UPCOMING EVENT: The Indelibles are hosting a chat on INDIE PUBLISHING on Wednesday 1/18 from 8-9pm EST. If you have questions about Indie Publishing, between the 25 Indelibles authors there is a wealth of experience, and we are happy to pay forward what we've learned. I hope you can stop by!