Writing, Editing and um… Cleaning Up The Mess.

clock“There’s a blog post in there somewhere,” said my writing partner, A, after a lengthy and funny conversation about time management, drafting and editing.

Of course she’s right; she’s always right.

The whole discussion started because we both receive the daily email from a group of female writers called “The Girlfriends Book Club.” Some of the entries are truly great –ranging from tips on publication, traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, and various other topics including the work/family balance thing.  And then some of the posts are mediocre. But I’m always glad I get them and have the choice to read and learn, or to press the delete button.

The post that really struck A and me was by a woman named Maria Geraci, who discussed her “Secret Time Management Weapon.”  Well what woman wouldn’t want to know about a weapon for managing time??  Geraci, like most writers, has a “day job” – one that she loves. She says that writing completes her as a person, but nursing is part of who she is.  She is lucky to be able to juggle both careers, and she doesn’t take that for granted.  The big piece of advice Geraci offers is that there is value in the fifteen-minute pocket of time.  If you have 15-minutes, she says, you can write one sentence or maybe edit two. Even that little bit counts as progress. It’s all how you take advantage of the increments of time you’re given.

Much of what A and I do with and for each other follows this principle.  With writing, there are no bosses to answer to – no one cares if we spend one hour or one minute on the writing. So we hold each other accountable. Weekly, we each set goals and check in with each other pretty much every day to see if we’ve met the goals or not.  There’s accountability to each other which makes goal setting worthwhile, but we don’t have penalties for each other if goals aren’t met.  Both of us are able to follow this system because one personality trait that we share is how hard we are on ourselves.  Not meeting the goal of the day causes both of us to engage in more self-flagellation than we could ever envision inflicting on each other.

Time management is something A and I also discuss ad nauseum because I am a teacher in my “other” life and she is very active in Japanese/English translation, as well as journalism and other writing-related pursuits, including a recently debuted text book.  We both have kids. So our time is precious and valuable to us and our families.

What was funny about the conversation however, is the different tack we take for writing.  A is a wonderful writer, but she is also a crackerjack editor.  She can labor over a sentence until its perfect, with the result being these beautiful sentences that flow magically into each other to weave a story or article.  I, on the other hand, can spew out 1000 words in an hour without blinking – sometimes more, but when the story is done, so am I.  I don’t mean to denigrate my own writing or anything, but let’s face it: editing and revising are not my strong suits.  I would rather write a great story and hate taking the time to really refine it for the public.  A would like to refine and refine and refine – though she has great ideas, getting them out of her head isn’t always so simple for her.

What that means for time management is that she needs to spend her chunks of time committed to initial writing and I need to schedule dedicated time for editing and revising.  A different type of time management for both of us.

“Yeah,” says A, “Maybe we should pair up.  You puke out the mass and I clean up the mess!”

And this is why I love her.

Fifteen minute chunks of time.  We’re trying it – without the blowing of chunks, of course.  But hey, if you can’t have fun when you’re writing and holding each other accountable, then what’s the point??

Knowing Thyself

This week my accountability partner and I have had a few discussions about the ways we write.  I don’t mean writing how-to’s as much as environmental how-to’s.  For example, I write in the mornings.  I love having a mug of coffee next to me as the sun is just peeking up over the horizon.  For my partner, it’s not so much about time of day, but freeing herself from distractions.  She mentioned that she was having a formatting issue with a project and that once it was fixed, it fueled her fire and she was able to write well on everything for the rest of the day.  She works best with regularity and predictability.

My partner, A, and I have coined these funky distractions “incomings” – meaning these things that happen in regular life that can hit like a bomb: A phone call from a mother-in-law; a kid saying that he needs two dozen cookies for class – tomorrow; a sore throat.  These things happen in life but they do not have to be catastrophic for the writing schedule.  In the past, if something happened that threw off my schedule for an hour, I had trouble getting back on and much of the day ended up wasted.  These days, however, I’ve learned what it is that derails me so badly and how I can adjust myself to cope with the “incoming” and then get back to my intended work.  It’s just something that I’m learning about myself .  I’ve always known that I have trouble with flexibility – I’m not all that flexible.  But I had no idea the ways it extended into my writing.  I’m able to overcome my inflexibility in other areas of my life and now I’m working on doing that for my writing, too.  Being self-aware has truly helped with my writing life.

Oh, of course these things don’t work every time; every person is  a work in progress.  I try; I fail; and I try again.  It’s all a process.  But it’s part of creating a writing life, and it’s a process of getting to know who I am as a writer, and sometimes why I am who I am as a writer.  All of this is undertaken with the intent of improving my writing.

I have a feeling it’s a journey of a lifetime.

When Slack is Necessary

It’s been a tough week.  A long week.  And it’s only Thursday.  I won’t bore you with the details, but I had to call three different airlines yesterday to rearrange and/or cancel some flights.  I can hear you groaning! Everyone these days groans at the thought of  calling airlines.  It took me more than 4 hours to do everything I had to do.  So that was it – my writing time went right out the window yesterday.

Here’s where my accountability partner came into play.  She had also had a day’s worth of interruptions.  She was productive, but in a different way than she initially intended, much like I was.  So we had the talk about forgiveness and slack.

We don’t want to be in a position of cutting each other too much slack because then it’s easy not to strive to reach set goals.  The fire to reach those goals will become extinguished if we don’t keep pushing each other to reach them.  However, days like yesterday will happen – to both of us.  It’s really funny that it happened to both of us on the same day, actually.  Days where we intend to meet the goals but just can’t – it’s going to happen.

The key is to be kind enough to each other so that we don’t feel resentment when pushed, but to continue to stand firm on deals and deadlines.  It seems to be a delicate balance that we’re still working out three weeks into it.  I have a feeling that like any relationship, this one will take care and nurturing and exploration.

We have discovered that December is a tough month.  Obligations spring up out of nowhere.  Kids come in with demands for four dozen cookies by the following morning.  Decorations, and dinners, and parties abound. Somehow we are going to have to scale our expectations of each other to match the expectations of our families and the rest of the people in our lives – and still be true to our own hearts – still be true to our own writing.

So yesterday we told each other that it was okay to be unproductive for the day.  Today we will make up for it.  That’s how we’re managing the relationship – alterations of slack and demand.  In any relationship this is a difficult task – when to demand performance and when to let the other person slide.  But its’ a journey – and my writing is better for it.

Accountability Partnership in Writing

This week I met with a new friend to set up what we’re calling an accountability partnership. A (she asked that I keep her identity private) is a writer, a columnist, who is looking to write fiction.  I met her at the recent Japan Writers’ Workshop and we had lunch together there.  At that lunch, I was musing about something said by Lauren Shannon, conference presenter, writer, caterer, political activist, and all around superwoman about accountability.  It was Lauren who discussed writing in groups versus alone, making each writer accountable to the others in the group.  It resonated with me.

So weeks later, A and I met to set up such a partnership – a true accountability partnership for our writing.  Both A and I are pretty regimented about the way we work.  We want to be able to set aside dedicated time for it and dedicated space as well.  We want to be accountable to each other daily for both a writing goal and a time commitment.  We want to plan each week of goals and time in advance.

We set up a schedule for this first week where she is going to work for 90 minutes and produce 500 words per day and I am going to work for one hour a day and hopefully by the end of the week, produce a re-worked outline for the first draft of a novel I’ve completed which needs major editing.   That was our discussion on Monday morning.

Monday and Tuesday went beautifully.  Not only did we do the work and send each other an email at night, but we both felt more motivated and on top of tasks that needed doing besides these dedicated writing tasks.  For example, I knew I had to get in my hour, so I made sure to get to the post office nice and early before I got distracted by other things.  In addition, I know I’ll have a lot to do on Thursday, so I’ve worked out a schedule for myself for the day to squeeze in the hour first thing in the morning.  As for A, she is so amazing that she didn’t even let a call from her sister, which took 90 minutes, deter her from her daily goal, and she said normally a derailment like that would have put her off for the whole day.  But knowing she was accountable to me forced her to keep to her word.

Today is day three of said partnership.  I see great potential in it for not only writing, but keeping promises to myself and organizing my days.  What a great value.

Certainly I will keep you apprised our progress, but right now I think we can expect great things!