Thursday, January 13, 2011

Productivity: Dreaming About What You Really Want

"I would like to thank the Academy, and Steven Spielberg, and my mother, and Pulizer Prize nominating committee for the fact that you like me. You really really like me...."

Even though writers usually write for the sake of the story itself, we all pause to daydream a little about winning a major award, and being honored, and having lots and lots of money and respect, but daydreaming about winning an Oscar is not going to do much toward getting you one.

There are other kinds of daydreams, though, that can do you some real good. Money gurus sometimes set people to dreaming about winning the lottery, only it's usually a special kind of dream-game. Instead of dreaming about what you would do with a bazillion dollars, you dial it back a little and dream about what you really want, and how big of a prize would you need to achieve it? In that way the person starts thinking about the things they can control, and how to get there, even without winning the lottery.

I think it can be valuable for a writer to dream about the writer you want to become. Assume money and success. Assume that you will one day achieve freedom to do what you want. And assume one more thing... that you gain the skills and sureness and speed -- and time -- to write everything you want to write.

What do you want to be when you grow up as a writer? What kind of work is close to your heart? What do you want to have achieved? And most importantly for this exercise: if you had the super powers of a master writer, who had no other claims on your time, how much would you like to write each year?

A lot of writers don't think about this, but it is important. When you think about what you want to be, part of it is the many kinds of stories and such you want to get done. You may be a literary type writer, who wants to write one major book over two or three years. But you also may be a mystery writer who has several series in your head. You may have several different genres you'd like to write in.

So in your perfect writing life, how much can you achieve? Make sure you consider how much you WANT to write, not how much you think you can write. I mean, don't go too wild, like when I was a kid, sometimes I dream about having a thousand horses. Really, though, you could never get to know that many horses, and one is a handful. Don't get too greedy and think "I'll write a hundred novels a year!" Imagine them as individuals that need your attention.

So, for me, I have several mystery and adventure series. I have Mick and Casey, plus the work-in-progress with George and Karla. Both of those are the kind of series you might like to release a new book every year. But you could taper off after you'd explored the characters sufficiently - only write a new one when the idea is hot. I also have a few other series on the back burner, but they could potentially wait until I was taking a break from my main series.

But I also have some other types of stories I want to write. I like to keep my hand in with short fiction, and I love novellas. I have The Serial, which I expect to be a long running series. It will be made up of novellas, but I will probably write a book's worth of them every year.

So when I think through all I'd like to write, and how quickly I come up with new ideas, and how satisfying working on an idea is... I have to assume I would be happiest if I could be writing at least three books a year, or 240,000 publishable words.

If you were a literary writer, though, you might have different ambitions. You might want to write a 100,000 word novel in two or three years. Odds are that a literary writer would also want to write short fiction, so I think it would be reasonable to say you'd be at your happy, productive best if you could write 100,000 good words in year.

Today's assignment is to figure out what you would love to be able to do. Be flexible. Maybe come up with a couple of different scenarios. Then....

Do a little math and figure out how much you'd have to write in a week to achieve that. Make it easy on yourself and round down. You'll take some time off once in a while, right? Say you only put in a full work week 40 weeks out of a year. Divide your yearly total by that 40 (or 45 or 50), to come up with how many words in a productive week. That literary writer would need 2500 words in a week. I would need 6000 words in a week.

They need to be good words, though. But don't worry about that yet. (After all, you get better with practice.)

Now, here's the magic:

When you have tested yourself on how many words you can write in a half-hour, you can calculate how many half-hours you'd need in a week to achieve that ultimate goal. If you can write 500 words in a half-hour, the literary writer would only need 5 half hours a week to achieve his goal -- which leaves plenty of time for thinking and preparing so that the 500 words are brilliant.

I would only need 12 half hours a week, which still isn't that many. Of course, I also need prep time for all those stories. Lots of brainstorming and dreaming.

If you don't have enough half-hours in your week to achieve what you want, consider the following things: You can work on changing your life to give you more time. You can work on your writing to need less time. You can prioritize your writing to give yourself time to develop the skills and schedule you need.

And if you write what you can while you are developing these skills and life changes: slow and steady will win your race for you.

I hope this exercise makes you see that your dreams are possible, but if your dreams are very high, and your current skills very low, just remember that you can work to bring them closer together. I'll be talking about techniques to get you there.

I uploaded Harsh Climate tonight to Smashwords and Kindle. (It's available on Smashwords right now, but it takes a while to process to get it up anywhere else.) I will be jumping feet first into the dare now -- trying to get a draft of Old Paint done. My posts will likely be shorter and pithier for a bit -- mainly tips on specific techniques to prepare for writing, and for getting the most out of a writing session.

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