Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Routine (the dreaded spreadsheet!)

Despite all our great ambitions of sitting down and simply pouring our souls upon the page in a mad rush of writerly creativity, the reality is that writing is often danged hard work. For me at least, I have to build a routine of writing that works and keeps me on task.

For my first book, "The Hand Behind the Mouse: an intimate biography of Ub Iwerks" I had a routine where I wrote my parts primarily late at night. Usually I would wait until the boys were in bed at 9 and then would go down to the basement and type and type and type. Sometimes I'd be up until 1 or 2 am if I was on a roll, and sometimes even if I wasn't! More than once I fell asleep at the keyboard and once I fell asleep with my hands on the keys. When I awoke I had 400 pages of bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb's.

I kept the same routine for the next book and for all of the screenplays I did for A Film A/S, a Danish animation studio. But for that, I added a morning session as well. It worked out great in that regard because I'd send my scenes at the end of my night to the producer who would review them on Denmark time and send me his comments. Those would be waiting for me in the morning when I arose and it was exceptionally efficient. I kind of got a good pace going with that - and I have kept that morning/night routine ever since. It feels right to me.

Whatever the daily routine, it is essential for me to go a step further, and to actually schedule it. For me that means spreadsheets. This is my spreadsheet for "The Missionary and the Brute".

For this novel, I established attainable daily goals which I then strove hard to maintain. Typically I blew those out of the water, but I was very cognizant that should I fail to meet an individual goal because life intervened, that I would not beat myself up over that - and to accept it. I knew I'd make up for it later. As I got really into it, I adjusted my goals upwards to accommodate my accelerated pace. My average daily output was 831 words but the maximum was 3000+. I personally find that those sort of measurable goals help to focus my authorship. By having them in a spreadsheet, I can see the end is not unreachable. That is a good feeling. Without that, I think I'd always be worrying that it was taking forever and get discouraged. This keeps small daily positives flowing...

Lord knows we all need that!


Catherine Noble said...

Excellent post! I adore spreadsheets; I had a similar one to yours for NaNoWriMo, but failed to maintain it properly. I think it would be good to instil discipline and routine... something I desperately need!

John D. Kenworthy said...

The key for me, Catherine is to give myself those outs. Have at least two days with lesser writing required - having all days be attainable goals - and knowing that I can totally blank a day and still maintain my schedule. I forget exactly how I did that with the spreadsheet - but it has to do with the various Weekly goals (the numbers at the left, by the week number) and a complex color coding scenario which totally eludes me now but made sense then.

The other thing I found important was to not work myself ahead. I could write ahead - and did. But if my goal was to write 300 words and I wrote 3000, I didn't use that as a crutch for the next day's individual goal - I still needed to write that day's 300. No banking allowed.

For an improvisational free-spirited guy, I certainly have a lot of internal rules...lol

Catherine Noble said...

Sounds like you've got your writing routine all figured out; I'm envious! :) I'm creating a schedule just now; I shall keep your "lesser writing" days suggestion in mind :)