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Miranda: Getting my #%^&* together

It’s been a long time since I last posted a personal entry. Regular readers of this blog will know that I spent the last two months under an intense pile of client projects and had little bandwidth to do anything else. I have finally — and gratefully — emerged from under the mountain. I should now be able to get all of my work done on my two full workdays each week plus an hour or two of client e-mail and quick projects on the other three weekdays.

It’s time to take a little inventory and get back to my two main priorities: family life and finishing my nonfiction book.

The Current Condition

What’s my current landscape? We’ve settled into some kind of new routine and I’ve adapted to my preschooler’s pickup schedule. I have to leave every day at 11:30 to get him — but my husband takes him to school, so I don’t have to do both legs. The pickup takes 45 minutes in total, which does eat into my two workdays. But I try to use some of that car time for phone calls.

All five kids are in good places at the moment; no real issues or crises. That said, the 5-month-old doesn’t yet sleep more than three or four hours at a stretch during the night, which obviously means that I’m a little tired, but I’m usually able to just deal with it. I do have to pay some attention to my oldest son’s college application process and all that that involves. Toilet training with the 3.5-year-old is not going well at all (in fact we’ve regressed) but my husband and I are launching a new strategy this weekend (putting him back in underwear and then totally laying off the pressure, rather than keeping him in pull-ups and laying on the pressure), which we’ll commit to for a month. But nothing is going on beyond the usual parenting agenda. In fact, the household is in a pretty happy place right now. My husband and I are in a great place and we’ve had a nice long run without blended family conflict. In fact, there have been some very positive developments on the domestic front.

I’m also trying to up my fitness level — running at least twice a week and hoping to get back to my 4-6 mile runs three to four times a week before too long. I’m making progress. Yesterday I had a terrific run and really felt strong the whole time.

Our house is still on the market, but showings are infrequent and I’m able to keep my perspective. I no longer agonize over what will happen if we stay and how much I want to move; things are workable where we are and I will just make the best of it. At some point I realized that I have to get on with it and not wait for the house issue to be resolved; in this economy it could easily take us another year or longer to sell.

The only other significant time drain at the moment is the election. We’re an avidly political family and I  have to get my evening fix of political shows on cable. I often multitask with the laptop during this time, but I do look forward to enjoying other schedule options post-election.

So, not much to complain about. Guess I’ll have to rely on Cathy’s 24 ways to avoid your manuscript if I need an excuse to procrastinate. But of course, I don’t need any more excuses. It’s time to finish the book and get on with my stew pot of other creative projects.

The Plan

My nonfiction proposal is being shopped by an agent, but as I’ve said here before, if we have no takers I will self-publish. I can’t let the manuscript languish while waiting to sell it. If I end up selling the thing when it’s already near completion, and the editor wants to make substantive changes (as would be expected with a nonfiction ms), I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Time to commit to the work with a concrete roadmap.

On Monday I made some calculations. My manuscript is currently 53K words long. I estimate that I need another 40K-50K to finish. Seeing as I’m working from a fairly comprehensive outline, the writing comes quickly when I’m actually writing (or, I should say, quickly for me — compared to writing fiction). I can probably count on writing 1,000 words in four hours. I’ll round that up to five hours just to have some margin for the remaining research, etc. Now comes the sticky part.

If I spend five hours a week on my book, I will finish the first draft in a year. If I double that and eke out 2,000 words a week, I will finish by the end of April. That’s a little more appetizing, wouldn’t you say?

Where am I going to get 10 hours a week? At first glance it’s hard to see, but I know it’s really a matter of priorities. How is it that I can be so committed to keeping this blog going, for example, but not show the same level of commitment with my manuscript? Since we started the weekly creativity contest, I’ve never missed posting the Wednesday winner post, even though it sometimes takes well more than an hour of work the night prior or early that morning. Tomorrow I will post our 20th Breakfast interview — a weekly project that sometimes takes three hours of work or more. But I would never miss that deadline, even if I’m up until well past midnight staging the post.

As my cousin Charlotte rightly pointed out over coffee on Tuesday, the blog involves a lot of other people, and I hold myself accountable. That’s why I am able to stay up late at night preparing a post when it wouldn’t occur to me to spend those same hours on my manuscript. True, I can also rationalize the time investment with the knowledge that the content of this blog as well as the creative social network it provides are both intrinsic parts of my book. I have no intention of cutting back on the blog, but I need to keep my eyes on the real goal: finishing my book.

While 5 hours a week seems do-able, the year-off finish line is a real party killer. A 6-month timeframe is much cheerier, but I don’t know if I’m going to have 10 hours for writing every week. I spent some time going back and forth, trying to decide which way I should commit. Charlotte suggested starting with the 5 hours for a few weeks to see how it goes, which was a practical suggestion, but seemed to rub my Superwoman instincts the wrong way (yes, I should know better). But I agreed with Charlotte in that I didn’t want to set myself up for failure by setting the bar to high.

It occurred to me that my son’s Montessori school has a schedule arrangement that I really like. Instead of having a straight pickup time (say, noon) we have a pickup window: 11:45 to noon. I have 15 minutes within which I can arrive and not be late. Every day, I appreciate that I can vary my arrival time within those 15 minutes and still be right on time. Why not apply the same forgiving structure to my ms goal? This “range” makes sense to me and allows me some wiggle room within a demanding and unpredictable schedule.

So, I have now committed to writing 5 to 10 hours every week. If I only manage 5, I have still succeeded. If I make it to 10 or more, I am simply moving that much more quickly toward my goal. I will be tracking time and wordcount to monitor my progress; adjustments will be made as needed. Each Sunday I will map out where those hours are going to come from, and add them to my Outlook calendar as I would any other appointment.

There it is. I have a plan, and I’m sticking to it. Gotta go — I have 2 hours of manuscript time to complete today. 🙂

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cathy #

    yay! now how ’bout more writing dates? that really helps me and now it’s thursday, and i’ve done no ms writing.

    this summer my plan was to finish my ms by the holidays, now i’m glad if i add 4 pages a week to it. if i plan it out like you, i think i would scare those pages right out of my intention!

    but then, if i keep my current pace, (which is thwarted this week with campaign volunteering and prepping for s’s annual iep mtg for next week – always stressful)
    at 4 pages a week, that’s 12.5 weeks which lands me in mid january, so i’m still not that far off from my original goal. i am pretty proud of myself after all, instead of beating myself up for such a minimal output. then there’s the polishing process which will prob take me into feb-march before i really start shopping the book.

    hey, it’s kinda nice to look at it this way! i’ve been winging it way too much lately. i was just thinking over the past 24 hours that i had my s*** together better when the boys were little and i was a single mom with 3 parttime jobs than i do now, married, at home, with plenty of support to be superwoman if i wanted to be.

    but i’m too pooped to think straight. miranda, i’m so happy for you that you get 3-4 hours of sleep in a row out of your littlest guy! and on potty training, regression is normal with new sib, my eldest would kill me for mentioning it, but he was 4 in pull-ups after s was born when he was 3yrs 4 mos. i almost had him completely out til the sibling regression.

    October 16, 2008
  2. Miranda, would using a treadmill for your run instead of running out in the world help you get a few more hours? How about Tivo-ing your TV favorites and watching them while you run? (Or would that be bad for the blood pressure? LOL)

    October 16, 2008
  3. Karen, I might use a treadmill if I had one, although I really enjoy the chance to be outdoors when I run. Granted, our window of good weather is about to end up here in New England. I also use the run as an opportunity to shut my brain off (a rare treat) and I don’t know if watching political news would be compatible. It’s also true that the evening cable binge is something that I enjoy with my husband and oldest son, and I wouldn’t want to give that up. However, having a treadmill would allow me to run when it’s dark out as well as when the weather it too wet and cold to appeal (although I do run in rain). Hmmm…Christmas list?

    Recording shows is a must, however–we record even just 15 minutes in advance, so that when we sit down to watch we don’t have to endure the commercials (I can’t STAND commercials).

    Cathy, you should be thrilled that you’re still so close to your original goal. Go for it! Let’s try for overlapping writing stints as much as possible.

    October 16, 2008
  4. Cathy #

    “5…5 dollar…5 dollar footloooong!” can’t get it out of my head to save my life. don’t even know what brand or anything the commercial is about, but i hear one note of that invasionary song, and i’m sunk!

    October 16, 2008
  5. lol…I really have a problem with that bearded dude who seems to have created about 43 different household inventions and sells them all with urgency, at the top of his voice…

    October 16, 2008
  6. Cathy #

    ah, the oxyclean guy!

    October 16, 2008
  7. Kristine #

    Miranda, I totally understand what you are saying. When I look at my current manuscript, at the rate I’m going now, it’s going to be close to the end of the year before I even have a rough draft done–and that’s if I write Every. Single. Day.

    It’s discouraging when I look at the big picture, so I try to focus on my small goals, which is so difficult when all I want to do is reach the end of this manuscript. It’s seems so far out of my reach right now.

    I also want to say that I appreciate all your time and effort on this blog. Being a part of this community has really helped me. And I love the Breakfast interviews. I look forward to them every week.

    Good luck, Miranda! I wish I could join you guys for your writing dates.

    October 16, 2008
  8. Cathy #

    kristine is right! much much much appreciation and thanks, miranda! i owe even considering my ms in the past 6 mos to you and the website!

    October 16, 2008
  9. you all amaze me, especially you, miranda. 5 kids, managing clients, facilitating this wonderful blog, and working on a ms. that superwoman curse is not easy to escape, is it? i tend to take on far too many projects and then tell myself i can do them all no matter what, knowing that i truly need to let something go….oftentimes i don’t want to let go for the some of the same reasons you mentioned about this blog. that “other people are depending on me” thing. yet, don’t we bring that on ourselves? i know, i do, but it does hook me. to me, you appear to be doing a fabulous job juggling it all and it sounds like you have a very workable plan. and with this blog, you have created a truly magical thing. 🙂 i’m hoping to post again soon!

    October 16, 2008
  10. Thanks, guys!

    Kelly, I am glad to report that I CAN draw the line on occasion — for example, I am completely uninvolved in any of my children’s schools — no PTA, no fundraising, no field trips. I gave that up when I had my fourth child. I just don’t have the time, and I don’t have babysitting coverage for the little ones that allows me to attend field trips or volunteer in the classrooms. When the two little ones are older, I’ll contribute that way again — but for now, that’s one time commitment that didn’t make the cut.

    October 17, 2008
  11. Miranda, I agree with your cousin Charlotte, who clearly understands that setting an unrealistic goal will lead to failure. If you know you can do the 5 hours, then by golly do the 5 hours. If you can do more, awesome. I think you’ll find as you get back to the writing and have more words on the page, you’ll want to find the additional time. So start small, get the machine going, and don’t think about the six months vs a year thing, because that’s just going to get in your way of getting started at all!

    There’s also a bit of psychology involved in committing to putting priority on your project. Somehow you have to convince yourself that it takes precedent over other things that scream for your time, and give yourself a little smack (that can be literal or figurative, depending on your proclivities) when you find yourself losing sight of that.

    October 17, 2008
  12. Charlotte #

    This sounds like an excellent plan. Built in flexibility to move up to 10hrs if desired! Perfect.

    Yes, Betsy, cousin Charlotte is very, very wise indeed on the subject of the setting of unrealistic goals leading to failure. You may be able to deduce from this that my two weeks of dedicated Boot Camp did not, strangely, result in a fully-fledged, completed, best-selling novel. Indeed, I think I have to abandon this totally unrealistic idea for now and get back to basics.

    Miranda, when I’m back in London I’ll be in touch to see when we can overlap time-wise for some virtual writing dates. Goodness knows what I’m going to write in them, but whatever it is it will be SHORT!

    October 18, 2008
  13. Betsy, retaining that sense of priority is probably 80% of the battle for me. I am hoping to use several tools to keep my priorities at the forefront.

    Charlotte, I learned a few vicarious lessons from your stint at Creative Boot Camp. Over the years, people have often said to me “you’re too hard on yourself” — but it never meant anything to me. My standards may have been high, but I never had any intention of settling for “less.” Now, however, I can see the gulf between someone’s very high expectations and the misplaced analysis that her output didn’t meet those expectations. I can see how the significant progress that Charlotte made during her 2.5 weeks State-side is important and valuable. Perhaps the results are not exactly what she wanted, but sometimes being too focused on intended outcome means missing the value of what cropped up instead. Being able to see Charlotte’s situation with a little objectivity teaches me about my own. I think this is all about trusting the creative process, even when it seems bleak.

    Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back — for being brave and showing up, for sitting there for hours, for every word written.

    October 19, 2008
  14. Pragmatically, I think setting goals like page counts makes sense only when you’re enmeshed in a project. If you haven’t even started and you’re setting a goal for completion, I can promise you this won’t work. Get going, get a feel for the project, get into a rhythm, fall in love with your project, and then you can start setting the goals: I want to write three draft pages at each session; I want my first draft completed by…; I want to write three times a week for three hours at a time. Especially until you get experience under your belt (I’m sure many published novelists can set a timeline for completing their next project, particularly in mass-market fictoin), to set the long goals is likely going to lead to frustration.

    I went on one writer’s retreat with the goal of starting something I would want to continue working on. I spent a week writing for several hours every day and did not come home with something that held me(Miranda—you read that stuff), though it had merit. That was disappointing, but I had to look at the other benefits of the retreat, such as the people I met and the books I read. The writing might even be good for all I know; I just wasn’t enthralled with it. Happens. I still wish that retreat had propelled me toward my next fiction writing project, but fiction seems to be eluding me for now, and I accept that given how much creative non-fiction I’m writing.

    October 20, 2008
  15. Cathy, ever since you posted about the “5…5 dollar…” commercial, I crack up every time I see it. And I hear it all day in my head. Even today, while taking a shower, I thought of it and laughed my head off again….

    October 25, 2008
  16. cathy #

    oh, snap! here it comes again, and i’m on my way to bed! just wanted to turn of computer but wound up here and ‘5…5 dollar’ aaahhhh! 😉

    October 25, 2008
  17. Charlotte #

    BETSY! Thank you so much. I came to have a quick look at this page before writing my miserable response to Miranda’s request for a post-Creative Boot Camp update. I find you’ve more or less written it for me here, together with the good advice. Thank you. I will try now to feel less miserable about it.

    I shall comfort myself with the rather spurious idea that all my creative guardian angels went trotting over to visit Miranda the minute I left, and realised they had found a much better subject!

    October 26, 2008

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