Tag Archives: Dedication

Now What?

The anatomy of a NaNoWriMo journey and what lies beyond

It’s somewhat convenient that December 1st falls on a Sunday this year as it allows me the opportunity to provide a post-NaNoWriMo analysis while it’s still fresh in my mind.

For starters, I won!

Not everyone did, however, but that’s okay. Unlike those techie jerks on Linux forums who berate and belittle those who don’t “get it” I am equally as proud of everyone who tried and didn’t make it to the 50,000 word mark as I am those who did. There were some truly inspirational stories this year to be sure, not the least of which is Cate, a high school girl in Ottawa who wrote 16,000 words on the last day to claim victory. Now that’s impressive on so many levels.

Cate’s Graph. Check out days 10, 12, 19 and 30!

What it takes for one person to meet the target is different for everyone. Notice I used the phrase “meet the target” instead of the word “success”? That’s because success is different for everyone as well. Success for me was getting 50,000 words written on a new novel while tying up a few loose ends on the novel I started last year. Yes, it was considered “done” but there were a couple gaps that needed filling and I wasn’t happy with it as it was. Not happy enough to say that I had finally written my first book, at least.

Regardless of what the measure of success is, if you were simply trying to hit a target (50,000 words or some other number) or if you were trying to polish off that long forgotten manuscript, or if you were simply trying to see what you were realistically capable of stringing together in the time you weren’t being a mom/dad/student/employee/vampire/zombie/werewolf/wizard/husband/wife/friend/hobbit/daughter/son; there are a few things that you’ll need if you’re going to pull it off:

  1. Desire
  2. Commitment
  3. Support

Much like any other journey, it starts with desire. Desire to see something, see someone, accomplish something, make a difference… In a nutshell, you have to want to get off your ass in the first place (or in the case of writing, sit your ass down).

Just starting isn’t enough, though. You have to continue. You must persist. You have to be more than dedicated. You have to be committed. You have to be a pig. Say what?! This is a common analogy in the Agile software development world. Think of your journey as breakfast. Who would you rather be, the chicken or the pig? The chicken is dedicated. The chicken will wake up every morning with the sun and give you an egg. The pig, however, the pig is committed. The pig quite literally has skin in the game. The pig is committed, and you need to be as well (if not as you go then quite possibly – though in a different sense – after).

Finally, you need support. I wrote back in January that while writing seems like a solitary practice it’s actually not. It requires interaction and support from a variety of people. Surrounding yourself with people that understand and appreciate what you’re trying to accomplish is absolutely necessary. A support network of people who have a genuine interest in what you’re doing is absolutely invaluable. This year I leaned heavily on my wife, kids, and a couple Facebook groups of like-minded crazy people and it was absolutely instrumental to my success.

So now what?

If your novel is done, take some time off and distance yourself from it. Stat revisions and edits in the new year sometime. If it’s not done then set a schedule and finish it. Me? Well, I’m shelving the novel that’s complete, hitting pause on the 60% of one I just wrote, and trying my hand at writing a screenplay. After the screenplay is done then this year’s novel will be finished and then I’ll start revising novel #1.

Whatever’s next up on your agenda, I wish you all the best with it. I can’t help you with the first two items on the list but I can definitely help you with the third one. Find me here, or on Facebook or Twitter anytime, and I wish you all good writing.

~ Andrew

The Great Distraction

I am not giving you parenting advice. I’m going to repeat that just so I don’t get a mass of overly defensive wingnut parents ripping me a new one on my blog or on Reddit: I am NOT telling anyone how they should raise their child. Okay, now that we have that out of the way I’d like to share an observation about something I have noticed over the years:

There are some people out there who are remarkably good at keeping children distracted.

I was thinking about this at swimming lessons with the kids last week. Neither child was in an area of the pool that I could see particularly well so I’m on my iPhone just jotting down ideas for future writing and waiting for one of my kids to come into view (my kids are a little older so I’m not sitting with my face pressed to the glass and quiet clapping / waving / thumbs upping at every fart bubble they produce).

A small child, probably 3 or 4 years old was bored out of her mind waiting for her older brother to finish his swim lesson. The viewing area was absolutely packed with parents and this child was clearly seconds away from pitching a fit of epic proportions. I mean this kid was about to seriously explode. I’ve seen that look before. Every parent has. My first instinct was to plug my ears and duck.

Then, an amazing thing happened. The older woman wrangling the child, cool as a cucumber, pulled a pencil and random scrap of paper out of her purse, handed them to the child and said, “Hey sweetie, can you help Nana? I need lines drawn all over this piece of paper. It’s really important. Can you draw lines all over this for me?”

I’ll be damned if the kid didn’t just sit down right there in the middle of the floor and start scribbling all over the piece of paper. She did this for a solid ten minutes, every so often looking up and showing her work to Nana, who would smile and pat her on the head and say something like “Wonderful! Keep going! You’re such a good helper.”

Based on my observations at swimming, and throughout the last decade of hanging out in places where there are a ton of small children (Gymboree, the library, various parks & playgrounds, the mall) I have identified the two main groups of people that are insanely good at keeping a restless child sufficiently distracted: teachers and grandmothers.

That’s not to say that there aren’t a whole host of other people out there who are capable of keeping a child occupied for a few minutes when you need them to, it’s just that this is a particular skill that you’re either professionally trained in, or have honed over decades on your own.

The rest of us, well let’s just say that many have difficulty channelling it into anything productive. What not enough people realize that you’re exercising the same muscle group in procrastinating as you are in keeping a child occupied.

Even fewer realize that it’s the same skill you need to get some ideas down on a page and start writing. If being wrong looks a lot like being right, then distraction looks a lot like discipline. This is what sets successful writers apart from all the rest of us. It isn’t a particularly new concept, but it is one that you can easily grasp by comparing the kid that wants to pitch a fit with the ominous blank page staring you in the face:

Stop Kid From Pitching Fit
Write Something
Kid is bored!
I am lazy!
Distract the kid
Distract your mind (huh, what?)
Find something, anything, to get the kid’s mind off of whatever boring non-event you’ve dragged them to
Find something, anything, to get your mind focused on whatever writing you need to accomplish 
Why It Works:
You have given the child a purpose. Kids like accomplishing things: “Look what I did!” They also like pleasing grownups: “I helped Nana!”
Why It Works:
You have given your distraction a purpose. You like accomplishing things. You also like pleasing yourself… er… never mind

It’s surprising how simple this is to accomplish. Here’s a quote from Henry Ford:

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”

You see, it’s all about the end goal. A while back I made my goal “idea generation”. With this in mind I watched two consecutive hours of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee but the whole time I had the goal of “idea generation” at the front of my mind. Watching creative people interact in a humorous way got my creative juices flowing. By the end of it I had blog topics mapped out for the rest of the year.

Distract with the right intent and you’ve turned procrastination into dedication.

Apply the same logic to whatever you need for your work in progress. If you need a crime to occur then go to the internet and read about some of the best unsolved capers. If you need a way to kill someone, go to YouTube and search “epic fail”. The list goes on and on. Just make sure that you’ve got your WIP handy and ready to go. Soon, you’ll find that you’re not paying as much attention to your distractions. You probably won’t even notice it’s happening, but what you will notice is that you’ve got a nice messy page filled with words, and you’ll feel good about that.

You can even work in a little reward system. For me, once I had my ideas all jotted down I flipped to some Louis C.K. stand-up for nothing but a cheap laugh. You can make the reward whatever you want, just don’t make the reward the goal. The goal is to get your work done. The goal is the main course and the reward is just the nice little treat at the end of your meal. Besides, everyone knows that if you listen to Nana she might just have a treat for you hiding in her purse.

~ Andrew

Thanks to http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ for the use of the following images: