Monday, March 28, 2011

Fitting it All In: The 27-Hour Day

Yesterday, no one in our Plot Therapy group had plotting issues to be dealt with. Instead, the issues were goal-setting and motivation. In this 24-hour world of day jobs, family responsibilities, and book promotion, how do we manage to fit it all in and still pursue a writing career? "Put your writing first," the experts say, but when the baby (or the puppy) is throwing up and the job that pays the bills demands 14-hour shifts and 7-day work weeks, putting writing first is easier said than done.

Of course, some of the demands on our time aren't really demands at all; we meet our friends for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant ("After all, I have to eat anyway."), and the meal and after-dinner conversation stretch for hours. We plan to work on our novels . . . just as soon as we finish watching season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix ("After all, I have to have a little time to decompress."). Sometimes it feels like we're trying to fit 27 hours into a 24-hour day.

Although we were at different stages in our writing careers--one is not yet published, one is moving from a micro-press to a larger press, and one is multiply published with a major house--all three had a common goal: to finish the current draft of our next books by the end of April. Two of us had gotten off to a good start during NaNoWriMo in November but had made halting progress in the interim. One was in the beginning stages of a new book. What we needed, we decided, was a NaNo-like system adapted to our individual needs. I share them here in case any of you are similarly stalled.

1. Have a specific goal and a specific timeline. "I will complete the first draft of my book by April 30."

2. Break the goal down into smaller, more manageable goals. If you don't make the goal today, you need to meet that goal plus the next day's goal tomorrow (extra motivation not to fall behind!). For me, that comes down to two days of research followed by two chapters a day for thirty days. Since I have the basic structure of the book laid down, and since it's approximately sixty chapters, the two-chapter-a-day goal makes the most sense for me. Another member of the group, a detail-oriented plotter, has based his goals on the remaining scenes, writing on a calendar which scenes he expects to fnish each day. Another, a dyed-in-the-wool pantser, will shoot for a specific word count. We each got a daily planner in which to record our goals and our actual output--goal in one color, actual results in another.

3. Have a support system and a system of accountability. We decided to use daily Facebook messages to share our progress and encouragement with each other.

4. Plan rewards along the way. Want to watch an episode of Criminal Minds? Only after you've reached your goal for the day. Love chocolate? Have a small piece after each scene.

5. Plan a larger reward for when you've reached your goal. "No money spent on books until we reach our goal," we said. Then we'd meet on May 1 at a local bookstore and go on a book-buying spree.

How about you? Fellow writers, how to motivate yourself to meet your writing goals? Fellow readers, I'm sure you have the same struggles to fit everything in. How do you do it?


  1. I'm a dyed in the wool pantser, as you know. It's word count all the way, baby. 90K by July 1. 9K currently. 1K/day should do it. Easy-peasy.

  2. When I am writing, which I'm not right now because my new book comes out in about three weeks and I'm currently working on getting blurbs in, I have to write by scenes. If I can get 2-3 scenes written per day and cleaned up to a point where I like them, then I can move them around if need be, but at least I'm getting something completed I can refine later. It isn't too much and keeps me working one step after the next instead of jumping around before I get it all going one direction. I know what needs to go into the scene to keep my threads working before I start, and the timeline I develop as I go functions kind of like an outline but without more structure than I want yet. The scenes tend to write themselves this way...all I have to do is type.

    This is a great idea you came up with.

  3. Good heavens, what happened to the formatting?! I'll fix it ASAP. I hope.

    Bente, 90k by June 1. It sounds formidable, but at 1k a day, I know you can do it. I've tried pantsing, but I don't seem to be cut out for it. I have to have a few pitons to get me to the end.

    Melody, I like your method. I usually do the big messy first draft first from beginning to end, but I do the second draft scene by scene, as you do.

  4. When I really don't want to write, don't want to get all tangled up in trying to make sense of what I've written...I do what I used to do when I galloped into the show ring to jump a course of fences that scared me to death. I'd tell myself, "You are foreign spy undercover as an equestrian. If you do not complete course, you're true identity will be known and you will be hunted down and shot."


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