October 22, 2012

Ramping Update

A month ago I announced a goal for myself. I said, "I'm going to increase my hourly goal each week for the next four weeks. At the end of that time, I'm going to post about this again and tell you how well I'm doing."

Well, it's the end of that time, and I am now bracing myself for your mild disappointment, because I have to admit that I failed in my goal. Go ahead. Lay it on me. Really let me have it.

Done? All right. Now I'm going to rationalize why my failure is okay.

(I'm only partly serious about it being okay, because part of me hates that I failed to meet my arbitrary goal and doesn't see any way to live with it. But another part of me understands that one of the least productive uses of my time is beating myself up over past failures to make productive use of my time. I'm telling you this to assure you that I'm neither consumed by self-loathing nor bathing in zen-like tranquility, but somewhere in the mundane middle.)

First of all, I didn't fail to the point of not working on changing my habits at all. The first two weeks of the endeavor, I ramped up as planned, and in fact I even did one more hour of writing than I'd committed to. Of course the project grew more difficult as it went on, and the third week was just a flat-out failure in which I wrote less than half of the hours I was supposed to for no particularly good reason.

I made an important realization during that third week. Some time ago I began calculating my productivity by week, and since then I've developed a bad habit of thinking, "Ugh, this week has gone badly so far and I'm way behind, so there's no point in even trying until next week." To counteract this tendency, it would work a lot better for me to think about each writing day independently and adopt the philosophy that every day is a chance for a fresh start.

So for rationalizing purposes, I would like to put forward the theory that coming to an important realization to improve future habits is far more useful than meeting an arbitrary goal. Therefore, this week of failure was probably the most useful one of the experiment. Heck, I'm so convinced of this that it doesn't even feel like a rationalization.

In the fourth and final week, I was determined to make up for my failings of the week before, and I had a carefully laid plan to fit in my required hours. But my calendar had different ideas, and I was up against a greater than usual amount of competition for my time during the week. I might have met my goal if I'd skipped some of those appointments, but instead I fell somewhat short. I've decided that my failure in week four was only a technicality.

The way I was focusing that week, I would have made the goal if I'd been home a little more, because I spent just about every non-scheduled hour working on my novel (that's why there were no blog posts last week). In the past, I've usually accomplished very little writing during a busy week due to my distractibility. For me, this week was a huge success, despite not quite meeting my numerical goal.

Now here's the biggest rationalization of all: It's kind of a relief that I failed to do what I committed to. If I'd succeeded easily, I'd be kicking myself for going so long without writing more hours all the time. As hard as it is for me to accept, I'm already writing at close to my limit.

Once I've had a chance to recover from your disappointment, I'll try to share some more embarrassing admissions on this subject.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ In The Millions, Bill Morris looks at five cases of good and bad literary timing: "While Shakar's misfortune was that events [9/11] made his novel seem instantaneously dated in many eyes, Franzen's good luck was that those same events made his novel look prescient to just about everyone. Life is not fair."

7 comments:

mamagotcha said...

OK, ready? Here goes: *tsk*

Really, that's about all I can muster. Sounds like you are doing a lot of good thinking about how to make the most of your time and resources, and I really can't get too worked up about that! xoxo

Sally said...

"neither consumed by self-loathing nor bathing in zen-like tranquility, but somewhere in the mundane middle"
: )
I like both the substance and the wording of this. I'm very glad to hear you aren't beating yourself up, and it sounds like some very important progress was made both on the novel and on your understanding of your process. So, well done!

Laurenhat said...

That's a pretty good outcome of a "bad" week (and some productive other weeks). Sounds like a good experiment!

The phenomenon of giving up because I've already screwed up part of a week sounds very familiar. I've had some luck with the "every day is a fresh start" model. Also with the "Running to Mordor" model -- I don't know if you were aware of that meme, but for a while, a bunch of runners/walkers were tracking their progress traversing Middle Earth. It was sometimes motivating to me, even when I wasn't successfully hitting a daily/weekly goal, to see that I was still making progress toward some overall goal that didn't have a particular deadline. If I hadn't gotten distracted from the meme before reaching Mordor (or other major Middle Earth landmarks, maybe I would have thrown a party at that point or otherwise rewarded myself. :)

Henri said...

I've never written a novel, so I have no idea how people manage a project of that scale. I'm wondering if hours is the way to measure your progress. Have you tried counting pages, say? Would that be better or worse? My projects are much, much smaller, and for me what works is setting intermediary deadlines (and often missing them, but I set them overly early to compensate for that.)

Lisa Eckstein said...

Thanks, everybody, for the supportive comments!

Lauren: There's a sort of built-in "Running to Mordor" element to revision -- I am on a path that will conclude at The End, and I know how many chapters I have to go through to get there. That does help. I can't imagine having the motivation for any of this if there were no endpoint.

Henri: I do also count pages, and on average there's a correlation for me between hours and pages, but hours is a better way for me to set goals. Some days, and some scenes, the writing is much slower than other times, so I could write for the same number of hours every day but not produce a consistent number of pages. I'd rather count the more controllable element.

Anna Scott Graham said...

I smiled all through this, because well, you're so darn honest and witty at the same time. Bodes well for the novel, methinks.

My work week came to crashing (ha ha) halt, so some deadlines might be shaken. Life happens, and for our best efforts, occasionally things slip. As writing ebbs and flows, editing does too, maybe not to the same extent, but it's not like an assembly line.

So I send a gentle twing, if it makes you feel any better. More I say keep up the good work at whatever pace you feel is necessary. Rome wasn't built in a day, and novels are much the same.

Lisa Eckstein said...

Thanks, Anna. Yes, life happens. I'm not very good at remembering and accepting that, but I'm trying!

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