Wednesday, May 19, 2010

EATING THE ELEPHANT

As a mom with a full-time job, I’ve always had to squeeze time out of my busy schedule for writing. I’ve been writing steadily for about fifteen years, but for the first few years it was hit and miss, a little writing here, a little writing there. No pressure or time constraints and no real goals, other than to finish the manuscript I was working on . . . at some point.

In my forties, with the ugly Five-O on the horizon, I got serious about my writing. If I was going to do this, I’d better get cracking, I told myself. I was going to finish this darn book and get published before my fiftieth birthday.

Good grief, fifty! Where did all the time go? If I didn’t do this thing by then, it was all over but the crying.

Shows you how naive I was, with no real idea of the odds and difficulties I would face as an unknown writer on the road to publication. Ignorance is bliss, they say.

At any rate, with Doomsday looming ahead, most days I managed to carve out some writing time. I had a goal, a self-imposed deadline to meet, with ‘dead’ being the operative word.

Fifty, sheesh.

D-Day crept closer and closer.

As writing daily became a regular habit, I began to get anxious if I didn’t get my daily dose of prose. There were still plenty of days when life intruded upon my creative efforts, so I cut myself a little slack. I set a weekly goal of writing a chapter a week, which for me averages anywhere from 2500 to 3700 words. That way, if I missed a day because of work or the kids, I could make it up the next day without feeling guilty or anxious.

Did I mention that guilt is a motivating factor for me? Guilt is my friend and my enemy. It keeps me on the straight and narrow, but it also makes me crazy as a June bug.

I finished the fantasy manuscript I was working on before Doomsday, but I didn’t get published. I have the pile of rejection letters to prove it. A quite impressive pile of rejection letters, I must say.

Fifty came and went and I kept writing. I decided to try my hand at something else, a romance about Addy, a small town Southern florist and a hunky immortal demon slayer named Brand. Lo and behold, thanks to luck, prayer and a lot of help from friends, DEMONS IN DIXIE sold! Whoo hoo!

Now I am facing my first deadline set by the publisher and not my inner nag. I have a 30,000 word novella due in July. Having learned a little about time management and goal setting over the years, I’m trying to write 10,000 words a month. A highly doable goal, I think, given the fact I haven’t quit my day job or turned in my mom card. I reached my goal in April and I’m aiming for 12,000 words in May.

When you set out to eat an elephant, take small bites. That’s my philosophy and it works for me.

What about you? Do daily/weekly/monthly goals work for you? How do you get yourself motivated and keep your butt in the chair?

Oh, and by the way, I’m fifty-three. Life didn’t end at fifty and neither did my passion for writing.

Or my ability to dream and reach for that brass ring.

Hmm, wonder what I should shoot for at sixty?

17 comments:

Callie James said...

You know, I made that same goal for forty, and now I'm forty-one. I would highly recommend NOT doing this, as it makes whatever age you're shooting for seem far WORSE than it actually is when you show up empty-handed. :)

Still, the alternative to having a birthday is so much worse, right?

Jeanie, the fact that you published your second book is a huge accomplishment. Most of us are waaay past our second book and still unpublished.

I'm often able to keep up with my writing goals, even with a fulltime job and a lot of volunteer work (my son is in the Army so I don't have too much going on there anymore). I can write 5-10k a week, assuming I stay on task.

The ONE thing that derails me every time is rejection. This always sets me back a few days. I can't look at my work, sometimes for more than a few days after a rejection letter, and I'm beginning to think that's never going to change.

I need a secretary to go through my email. I'm thinking of hiring my hubby for this.

There's a title, "Hubby for Hire."

Hmm. I should go write now.

GREAT blog, Jeanie!

Debbie Kaufman said...

Hi Jeanie: We share the same age, but so far, only my Chicken Soup pieces are published. I have trouble with the "butt in chair" thing sometimes, so I jumpstart it with "write-ins" at a fellow writer's house. It's easier to keep the momentum after that.

Jeanie said...

Callie, you are so right! But I set myself up for this fifty thing and there was no going back. Fifty seemed enormous to me, for some reason. Not old. (I went through that trauma at 30.) Just significant.

As for the second book thing, I KNOW!!!! I am so aware of how blessed I am.

I will say, though, in my defense, that I worked on the 'first' book for more than ten years. It actually amounted to two books, coming in at over two hundred thousand words. I was so naive about the process that I had no idea it was too long. Learned about story arc, word count, genre expectations, etc, and divided it into two books, making the first one 115,000.

It's been a long, slow learning curve for me but I have loved it.

JoAnn said...

Thank you, Jeanie. This is really encouraging to those of us who are looking at 50 in the rearview mirror.

Jeanie said...

Debbie, Congrats on the Chicken Soup pieces you got published. My daughter LOVES those books! As for establishing a writing routine, you will get there. Keep plugging.

I LOVE the idea of a write-in! Anything to get the creative juices flowing.

Jeanie said...

JoAnn, I am right there with you! I truly believe we can reach our goals with faith, determination, and a little help from our friends. (Yes, Carla, I am talking to you, my guardian angel!)

I remember when I was a tadling I adored Glenn Campbell. This is when he first hit the big time back in around 1968. Anyway, my older brother and mother took me to Mobile to see him in concert. I thought he was dreamy. On the way home, I asked my mother how old she thought he was and she said, "He is thirty-three."

"THIRTY-THREE," I gasped. It seemed ancient to me. Oh, to be 33 again.

But 50 ain't what it used to be. We are living longer and better and healthier. And when we stop dreaming, we die.

Don't stop dreaming!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Okay, first of all, I thought you were at least ten years younger! Now that I'm over my shock, I can say that goals are the only way I keep myself going. When I'm not in revision mode, I shoot for at least 1000 wpd.

Revisions are the hard part because there's often no visible payoff at the end of the day. I have to set time goals for that, and also for the early brainstorming stages.

Good luck getting your novella done. I know you'll make it!

Jeanie said...

Gwen, you are my new very favorite person! Ten years younger . . . I am tickled.

I, also, try to write a thousand words a day. Most days I don't make it, but it gives me a goal. And revision is the pits. That's why I try and tweak the heck out of my stuff as I go, so I won't have to do so much rewriting!

astral said...

"Did I mention that guilt is a motivating factor for me? Guilt is my friend and my enemy. It keeps me on the straight and narrow, but it also makes me crazy as a June bug."

Amen to that!

You ARE very deserving of success - I know you put in the work and are very generous helping other writers.

Are you having any luck selling the fantasy books now that you've broken in the industry?

Debbie H. aka astral

Jeanie said...

Debbie, I certainly mean to try, as those characters are near and dear to my heart. Thanks for stopping by!

Carla Swafford said...

You're a mess, girl! "Eating the elephant!" LOL!

I'm just putting one foot in front of the other and keep going forward. I write everyday, even if it is a blog. :-)

Louisa Cornell said...

Great post, Jeanie! I did the same thing you did, said I wanted to be published at 50. Didn't work out that way, BUT I'm closer than I was. And I fully intend to choke down this elephant one bite at a time and go back for seconds!

It is tough to set a word count per day when most of my days REFUSE to cooperate. I am determined to try, however. I usually set goals and achieve them for a while and then "fall of the wagon."

But I guess it isn't how many times you fall off, but how many times you chase that sucker down, hog tie it and climb onboard again!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Louisa: It's like the Japanese Proverb...

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

Just keep plugging!

Jeanie said...

Yeah, most days my goal is to write a thousand words, but I seldom make it! Five hundred is much easier. That's what I squeezed out today. At least it's forward movement!

Christine said...

I am approaching 50 as well--weird to write that statement. And I got a little miffed at myself for not writing earlier, or being more serious when I was younger, but then I got over it.

I refuse to put a timeline on this publication by such and such date idea. I just want to write and blog and be a part of this community. Sure, I submit. And I do have an overall career plan with and end game or "if this, then what?" strategy along the way, but I am not going to say to myself that I have to do by X age.

I don't even know where all this will lead to and now I just want to enjoy the writing.

And now, back to the current WIP in revision. Got to get my MAGGIE entry ready :-)

Jeanie said...

That's the ticket, Christine! Being able to enjoy the process is a huge gift. And I know it was silly of me to put such expectations on myself, but there you go. I never said I wasn't mental! Fifty came and went and I kept on writing and loving it every day. How very blessed we all are to have something we are so passionate about, an obsession that transcends age and time. As long as our arthritic fingers can move across a keyboard or hold a pen we can write! And if we get too stiff to do that, there's always a recorder. I am so very glad I love to write. I think it is the very best kind of madness. And to have friends who feel that same way about my little sickness, well, that is a bonus beyond belief.

Stern Rake Studio said...

If writing is akin to running, you ladies are marathoners, wheras I'm a sprinter. Despite my rotating work schedule, I don't have a problem with self-motivation. What I do have a problem with is churning out 100k plus words, not to mention revising it all. At this point all I have patience for is writing article-length pieces, but I find great enjoyment in the mediums I work in.
Congratulations Jeanie and thanks for the post!

Ted