Monday, March 16, 2015

How a Purple Line Transformed My Writing Life

Last night, I finished a first draft of a novel. Because a contest stopped accepting entries on 3/15, it had been my goal to finish the book on or before that date. As time went on, it became clear that I would have quite a crunch to finish the novel on time. I decided I wouldn't have time to polish the entry for the contest, so I changed my mind about submitting to it, but I kept the goal of finishing on 3/15.

I expected my novel to be about 100,000 words--anything over 85,000 that still delivered a satisfying story would work, but let's face it... It is a first draft, and I already knew plenty of portions of the story would have to be cut. So, 100,000 words by 3/15 became my goal. (That's about 370 pages or so.)

I divided out the words, figured out how many pages I'd have to write per day, and got to work. I'm goal-oriented, so I thought that would be enough to motivate me to finish on time.

Within days, I lost track of exactly where I was. Was I behind or ahead? No idea. How far back did that off day set me? No idea. My goal seemed less and less achievable.

Finally, on 2/25, I drew on my work experience and decided to make an Excel chart to track my goal and my progress toward it. At that time, the manuscript was about 60,000 words, so I needed to write about 150 pages in two and a half weeks, or I'd miss my goal. Pretty intimidating.

But as soon as I had this line graph, my writing life was transformed.
I sat in my writing seat for hour after hour, thinking about that purple line and how I needed to stay above it. I'd tell my husband my daily progress. I'd challenge myself to write more words in a day than I had tracked any other day.

I got in the habit of writing at least about 2000 words per day, sometimes accomplishing much more than that so light days (I was sick on the 1st, but everyone needs a break now and then) didn't throw me too far off.

So, it turns out that visual tracking like this is a big motivator for me. Now that the book is drafted, I'm glad I can get caught back up on other things that I let slide while I worked on my goal. And I'm looking forward to polishing the manuscript--that comes so much more easily to me than the initial drafting!

When you have a big project to get done, how do you do it?

Your Sister

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