I had an a-ha moment this morning. Turns out I’ve been measuring my writing progress by word count alone. Not the actual words I’ve written each day – that might have been more helpful. But by the running word count of my WIP. And because I’m editing the front end of it at the moment the word count isn’t changing dramatically. In fact some days it actually decreases. So as far as goal setting goes, it’s been pretty demoralising.
But the truth smacked me upside the head this morning: Editing is writing too, and I just need to set better goals for this season.
So how do I measure my progress while I’m editing?
1. Do I need a goal?
Turns out I do. As the word count stagnated, I was starting to feel like a fake. Am I the person who talks about writing, but doesn’t actually write? Well the piles of notebooks, scribbled ideas and post-it notes suggested something was indeed happening, so it looked like the goal needed a revamp before I psyched myself out of the book altogether.
2. What’s the point of editing?
Editing occurs in layers, and we all peel that onion differently. There are a number of reasons why I’m editing right now:
On a practical level it’s the school holidays (one more week to go) and editing is more suited to the short and rare periods of quiet time available in this house. I’ve also written the first movement of the book, so I’ve stopped at a natural break in the story. It seems like a good place to take stock and evaluate. Plus the plot will hang together better if I iron out some of the kinks now.
I’m also telling the story from five different points of view. Although it’s common enough in fantasy, it’s hard to pull off – and I want to be sure each POV is necessary and that their voices blend smoothly. I know some people enjoy reading it and others find it jarring – but I need to be confident going in to the next phase that each one is working. I could just push ahead, but I’d rather not write a whole storyline if it’s destined for my dead file.
3. What does it look like?
I must have read a lot of motivational books over the years, because I know the best goals are identifiable and measurable. So right now my goal is to do chapter edits. I take one chapter at a time, summarise the action, note down any glaring mistakes for later attention and see how the chapter works as a unit. Does it have a sense of progression (is anything really happening)? Does it have a hook? Does it flow? I’m writing a brief summary for each chapter and using these to evaluate the overall story arc.
It’s also easy to measure, because like a word count I can easily mark off my progress by the number of chapters completed. A quick look back, and I’ve already identified some issues that will strengthen the story when I do the first big rewrite. Later on these goals will change as I focus on character voice and dialogue, cleaning up the grammar and loose writing.
4. A Record of Industry.
Actually I’ve done quite well recently. (If you knew my children and the whirlwind of activity that goes on in our house, you’d wonder I ever got anything done at all. Distracted much? You have no idea…)
In order to keep motivated on this very long journey I’m trying to keep a record of how far I’ve come. This blog is part of that – and I am so grateful for all of you who share this journey with me.
I’ve also picked up a Mslexia Writer’s Diary (after reading about it on the lovely Kate Frost’s blog) which is full of writing tips and competition dates (UK). I use it solely to record my writing committments or achievements; whether I’m posting on this blog or There and Draft Again, giving critiques for others or keeping a record of writing or editing sessions. Looking back, I have been very committed.
The best piece of writing advice I ever received was to write every day. Sometimes that’s going to look like long stretches of prose, but there will be times when it’s working out ideas and doing the hard editing yards. I’m not too bothered what form that takes now – because I know it’s still writing.
How about you? How do you keep motivated in different seasons of writing (editing, drafting)?