Monday, May 30, 2016

Craft of Writing: Setting the Pace

It is hard to be an author. It is especially difficult when you frequently feel it is an 'all or nothing' prospect every time you take up the pen or sit down to type. With challenges like NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo, it is easy to get caught in that particular deception. After all, when the challenge is structured where prodigious output is the goal and people in the community that are praised generally are ones who seem to hit all the high notes, it can be discouraging when you are not churning out words like some kind of machine. I, for one, struggle a great deal with this deception.

Some days, I feel like I should just give up entirely on this grand dream of being a successful author. I look at my own work and I feel like my paltry daily production is just evidence that I am not cut out for this. I have days where bitter envy over other aspiring authors' successes is like bile at the back of my throat. This excessively harsh tendency to judge my work as flawed or my efforts as doomed to failure is simply another manifestation of that 'all or nothing' view. It really is something that I struggle with everyday in just about all areas of my life. (I'm working on that with my therapist, who says I am making progress. Pathological perfectionism is not healthy. Don't fall into this trap, please.)

The thing that helps me keep going is giving myself benchmarks to meet. I make myself work towards goals with fixed and visible signs of accomplishment. Sometimes, I will expect myself to meet a timetable that is unreasonable. (It's a bad habit. I don't recommend short changing yourself time for any project to anyone. It just gives you more stress. Learn from my errors, please.) My execution of this pace setting maneuver is not the best, I'll confess. It is, however, something that helps me stay sane.

With out those visible signs of accomplishment, I start making wild demands upon myself based upon the false notion that others in similar circumstances are doing more. Comparison with others, I have heard it said, is the death of self-esteem. Take control of your situation by making a list of concrete goals. Determine your success by your own measure. Don't expect yourself to write the Great American Novel in two days time, unless you are in favorable circumstances that encourage you to do so. And, even in those circumstances, allow yourself the forgiveness and understanding to accept that it may not be 48 hours from first word to the finale of the manuscript.

It may take some time and some practice. When you do your goal setting exercises, you are doing more than just getting experience meeting deadlines. You are learning what pace you work best at. Once you have learned where you do your best work, create the environment that encourages it. Don't demand that you do more than you can accomplish on a bad day. It sounds counter-intuitive, true, but setting your pace against the less productive days makes you feel more accomplished when you meet your median day production rate.

Setting your pace according to your abilities keeps you from falling into the trap of 'I must do EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW' or 'There is NO POINT, I can't DO EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW.' Your goal is progress, not perfection. The best way to make progress is with a realistic assessment of just what you can do right now. Yes, it is excellent to want to improve your skills and accomplish mighty goals. The way to do so, however, is to be very good at what you can do now and learn more at a pace that does not make you panic.

It may be that for one month, your goal is to get an hour of writing done. It doesn't matter that your next door neighbor can commit to an hour of writing every day. Their lives are different from yours and they have an entirely different situation they are working in. Focus on your goal. Once you can meet that goal consistently, make your next modest step up.

We are not born with the ability to write a novel, run a marathon, or be the best car salesman. These are skills we acquire with consistent, conscientious, and careful effort. Take baby steps at a pace that doesn't make you panic. Give yourself time to learn. As you make progress and grow more, you will find that the advanced things are not quite so intimidating and that the process gets easier (and faster) as you go.

Set a healthy pace. Focus on progress. You can do this. Rome wasn't built in a day. And that's ok because eventually, Rome became one of the world's first superpowers as they perfected their skills over the course of a natural growth curve. Seek your own natural growth curve. Build your empire.

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