Neil and I are talking about turning this into a podcast, but we shall see. Right now it feels a bit less casual than we mean it to be, because of the big blocks of type. In any case, here is our second installment of the semi-regular Talking Cure.
William: So you were doing that big organizational purge/cleanup thing this week. How’d that go?
Jonathan: I’m not entirely done, but things are more or less under control, I’m hoping to finish this weekend and get my office actually cleaned and maybe even get my files under control. But one thing I did this week was stop that whole “I’ve got to do this first” mentality, and just make the time to write. So I did manage to get my chapter rewritten, like I’d planned, and even do some light rewriting on other parts of the novel.
William: That’s excellent. So by ‘get this done first’ you’re talking about focusing on getting a clean/organized desk before you begin, right?
Jonathan: It’s not just my desk, it’s everything — you have to understand that I have, including my home office, a total of four offices spread across the city. And they all have files, and then I have all these different projects on the go, because I work for three different places (sometimes five) and then am a writer also.
William: How in the hell do you have four offices? I get the idea of two. One at home and the university, but where are the other two coming from?
Jonathan: I have three university offices. Because I work for 3 departments at 2 universities.
William: I did not know that. That’s…I can see where that can get confusing. Is there an online/digital solution that could make this work easier?
Jonathan: Yes, I’ve started using software a bit more, especially my iPhone and apps. But there’s travel. And the main thing is really the time management — and just being aware of what I have to do, without all of it overwhelming me. I have so much to do, and it’s hard to get a handle on everything, let alone the paperwork. So I’ve had to read business writing on project management and so on, because essentially each of these jobs have all these subprojects involved, under a major project like “teach Introduction to Creative Writing” or “finish my novel.” If I don’t have a system for managing time or just my paperwork/stuff, then I think I have to do it all all the time, and I stress out.
William: Interesting. Have you heard about the Things app?
Jonathan: No, what’s that?
William: I was introduced to it through the Webcomics Weekly podcast, and basically it’s a way to, at a glance, keep track of what you’re working on from big projects to small ones. I wasn’t so busy as to need it, but the cartoonists who were using it swore by it and they’re running their own businesses in addition to being a creative.
Jonathan: I’ll have to take a look. I’ve got this program called “ToDo” which is a fancy to do list and syncs with online to do list apps, though I haven’t figured out how to sync it yet (in fact, that is something on my to do list!) — it works okay right now, but I haven’t really looked at alternatives.
William: Given where you’re at and what you’ve got going on, I understand where the ‘I’ve got to clean my table first’ comes from.
Jonathan: But you know what? It’s bullshit. Because it’s become a form of procrastination. So this week I focused on getting things organized WHILE working. And I did the chapter, which I put off last week, when I was not much busier.
William: I didn’t say it was bullshit, but you’ve got to admit, it’s a really easy trap for your brain to fall into. For me, my trap is always feeling like I’m behind. Just listening to you talk about revising a chapter sparked a similar thought just now.
Jonathan: But what’s behind? Who says where you should be at? As a writer, anyway. I know what you mean, though. I always feel like that. But why?
William: Well, I think there’s always a large disconnect between the three main forces in our creative life. 1) How we perceive the work of others, 2) How we perceive our work as we want it to be and 3) Where we actually are with our work and talent. I write much better in my head than i do on paper and when I read fiction, I perceive my ability to be similar to theirs, even though i can’t produce the same quality of work.
Jonathan: For me, the disconnect is so often between what you need to do (sit down and write) and what the world wants you to do (have already written). You don’t ever get paid to sit down and write. No one stands there with a clock and doles out an hourly wage. So there are no tangible rewards connected to the act itself. It all comes afterward or in some way that’s disconnected. So it’s hard to just focus on the act, which is much more abstract, than the result, a published page and two bucks or whatever.
William: The funny thing about that is I didn’t feel what I expected to feel when the book got published. It was nice, but the satisfaction is so separated from the act that generated it.
Jonathan: I see what you’re saying with reading fiction — although the best/worst is always reading something that knocks you off your high horse and makes you think, “Fuck, I could NEVER write this well!” It’s inspires and angers at once. Yes, the separation from the act and the results. I think that becomes part of a motivation problem when it comes to focusing on the act.
William: This last week I’ve changed my motivation and just focused on the daily word count and discovering the book as I go. It’s been a hell of a ride. A lot of really nice revelations.
Jonathan: I’m glad to hear you say that, because one of the apps I downloaded (it was free over the holidays, I don’t know about now) was called “WriteChain” and all does is sit there, and every time you write, you type in how many words you wrote, and it saves the session and lets you know if you’ve met your goal or not, etc. Really basic. So yeah, keeps you focused on the words. One word in front of another! I also started saving my chapters in distinct files. So I don’t open up the file and think, “fuck, 400 more pages to go or whatever,” but “only another 2 pages or so and I’m done this chapter.” It’s much easier to break it down, mentally. It’s easier to find things this way too, to jump ahead and back and edit or check something. So what are these revelations you mention?
William: I’ve blogged about most of them. The magic number word count of 2000, and the most important one which is just let the draft be the draft. I’ve hit 12K so far this week in terms of word count, and that’s nice and steady. And the chapter I just wrote is so poorly written. Oh my God, it’s embarrassing how bad it is. It’s made me remember something I’ve heard from all my professors in school, which is that I had decent ideas but my writing was pretty bad. I’m not ruling out that I might actually be a bad writer now. But hopefully my stories are good. It’s still early days, yet.
Jonathan: Regarding drafts, you know, I read this somewhere and it’s true: You can’t be afraid to write crap.
William: Yeah, I’m definitely writing some crap right now, but it’s crap that’s hopefully moving towards a good story. But that’s always been my preference. The story over the language. Which is something I might need to work on.
Jonathan: I wrote/rewrote about 7000 words, but this is pretty close to final draft. You can always tighten the language, but it’s hard to save a bad story, so it does make sense to prioritize like that.
William: All right, so we have a sizeable chunk right now. Should we leave it as it is and just do goals for the next week?
Jonathan: Sure — my goal is pretty basic, to run through my second chapter and polish that up. I’d also like to polish a short story (it is actually part of the novel)
William: I can’t make any chapter goals, but I’m hoping for 14-15K words and forward momentum on the story. I’m moving into unknown territory right now and I’m nervous that I’ll flag when things get tough.
Jonathan: Sounds good