Goals are a nice way to feel guilty

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve set myself a weekly word count goal in order to bang out a first draft of my PhD novel and exegesis. Ah what a sweet idea that was! Monday morning I went off to my office on campus, sat down at my desk and tapped away at the keys. One key in particular was used heavily… the backspace key. I made a little not in my phone as to my feelings regarding writing that day:

blank page, where to start, feedback

Tuesday’s little note was not much better:

don’t want to get out of bed and write, too confused about how to write, self doubt, feel vulnerable in the story

By Friday things hadn’t improved. My frustration made it’s way to Twitter:

Trying to write but the words aren’t coming :-/

At least I’d used a capital letter for that one.

My goal of 3,000 words minimum for the week fell well short when I only produced a mere 1,200, some of which were drawn from previous material. The week wasn’t a total bust, I did send an abstract off to a conference happening later this year in Sweden (fingers crossed I get accepted) and I also caught up on Ice T’s Final Level Podcastย (I really like Ice T), so at least I was able to tick two boxes on my to do list.

What I think has thrown me this week is I’ve let other voices into my head. Last week I attended an academic writing retreat put on by my University. It was only a two day retreat (overnight) which means it’s a fairly tiring. During the retreat I work-shopped an exert of my fiction with some of my fellow creative writing PhD peers. We had done this the previous year as well. There was nothing wrong with my friends advice, they raised some great points and they are all talented and skilled writers. The problem with work-shopping the fiction is simply that it’s not ready.

For the last year I’ve been writing fragments. I hadn’t nailed down a plot, I was just trying to develop the character. She’s not ready yet, I don’t know her well enough and I’m not 100% clear on her story… I’m possibly only 60%… if that. Thus far I’ve written approximately 16,000 of the 70,000 words for the novel. This 16,000 is unedited and very, very drafty. I’ve been writing to find the voice, to meet the support characters and to try to get inside my protagonists head! Therefore work-shopping some of this under-cooked work has been the equivalent of a romantic interest meeting your friends too early – I’m now looking at him (the novel) in a different way.

It is not just my friends feedback that’s now swimming around in my head but also one of my supervisors, a collection of other PhD students and academic staff and a non-academic friend who is worried that my writing is getting me down. This is my first attempt at novel writing and at least in my mind, there’s a fair bit riding on it. For my the PhD novel is not only about proving your abilities to an examiner, your peers and your discipline it also about proving those abilities to yourself. One of the roughest parts of the PhD is attempting to keep your own expectations in check. The PhD is three to four years of a lot of self-doubt and self-imposed pressure hopefully resulting in a wondrous glow of self-satisfaction at the end (don’t crush my dreams).

All is not lost. I had a bad writing week. It happens. On Friday I also came across a blog post by MM Fink on Women Writer’s, Women[‘s] Books (which has lot’s of great posts).ย Dear me on a bad writing day, is a great pep talk. I’ve since printed it out and posted it on the notice board above my desk. Two key points really hit home with me:

You cannot please everyone

Yes! What a valid reminder. Why I have high hopes for my work ultimately the purpose of writing this story (I say story because the novel its self has the purpose of being a PhD novel, the story contained within that novel could have been anything… the story I’ve chosen to tell is deeply personal) is primarily for my own benefit. I’m writing about personal experiences and difficult emotions and they are mine! The story may be fictionalized but I’m the one in control, I’m the once choosing what to conceal, what to reveal and what to feel! Readability can be addressed in the second draft. Right now what I need and what I want to focus on is getting that messy, gross, chunk of work that is the first draft, done.

The story would not have picked you if you couldn’t write it

Not one morsel of feedback has been to abandon my story, it’s been how I approach the story and how I tell the story. None of my peers and neither of my supervisors have urged me away from writing this story. Therefore, why am I letting their voices keep me from writing? While it may feel like it’s external voices jamming up my writing, ultimately it’s my own. I’m hesitant not because I don’t want to tell the story and hey, yeah, I might not know exactly how the story will unfold. What’s getting in the way is that nasty old menace that is self-doubt.

Boo! That self-doubt character is annoying, but it’s probably going to be hanging around in the background, lurking, waiting, loitering. Therefore the plan for next week is to ignore the word count and to not write for anyone else. Sounds simple enough. I’ll let you know how I go.

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3 thoughts on “Goals are a nice way to feel guilty

  1. Belinda, The process and struggles as you’ve described them in this post sound so similar what I have been experiencing with my novel-in-progress. Esp, the 60% paragraph. When WWWB http://booksbywomen.org/ posted my letter http://booksbywomen.org/dear-me-aon-a-bad-writing-day-by-mm-finck/, I was in a very bad place with my novel. That letter was 100% authentic. I really wrote it to myself. I owed them an article and on impulse, sent it, and asked if they thought other people would like it. You know how that went. ๐Ÿ™‚ I heart WWWB.

    I took the next day off. On the next one, I sat in the middle of my room, on the carpet, with a notebook and pencil. I asked myself: “What is making my novel not work?” I realized that it was two things – wrong narrators, wrong format. It wasn’t my story – it was my storytelling – that was off. I had to start all over. Thousands of words – poof! (This was *after* months of development, btw!)

    On the other side of that epiphany and 8 solid chapters in, I realize now that all that writing I trashed was not wasted effort. It was just inaccurately named. What I thought was my novel was really character sketching. It brought me better understanding of my characters and their interpersonal connections. Even if I had chosen the right POVs and format the first time, what came out still wouldn’t have been as good without writing the trash first.

    For some reason this novel is the hardest one to write. I am always drawn dark, complex plots, so it can’t be that that makes this one different. I think it is me. I am even more ambitious than before about what I want this one to draw from the reader and do. It is taking more self-correction (aka, panic and doubt prior to knowing the fix) as I write, but isn’t that terrific?! We can and WILL fix. We are capable. Our stories belong to us. We should revel in our ambition. Its why the story chose us. It’s why what we wrote will be the best thing we’ve ever written.

    Hope this isn’t too much of a reply. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you so much for including my article. I’m so glad that it resonated with you. Best of Luck!!!

    ~MM

    1. Oh my! Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I’ve heard other writers say each novel gets harder to write as the expectations continually change with experience. Perhaps much like physical activity (running, weights training, dancing) a resistance needs to be built. I’m beginning to realise that (much as you have stated) I’ve been training so far and training conditions are different to race day. *Sorry for all the fitness metaphors – I’m in my workout clothes about to head to the gym.*
      I think tomorrow I will try some different storytelling approaches and see what works. Thank you for your encouragement. I look forward to reading more of your writing and writing on writing.

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