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Friday, March 10, 2017

Revision in Motion Stays in Motion

I've been working on one novel for a long time. That's not unusual, of course, but it does mean that every major milestone feels huge because it's so long in coming. I've told you about Untitled Icarus Novel* before, and I'll tell you about it again at some point because that's what I do.

I finished line editing this beast of a book. I printed it out (after a long, long round of structural revision, which is harder, in my opinion) and started slogging through each of my 80-some thousand words. But progress was slow, and the project just seemed too big. It killed my motivation--if I spend an hour on this project and barely put a dent in it, how many million hours is this going to take? I'm going to be in a nursing home before this is done.

So it effectively got put on hold for a few months. And, as they say, objects at rest stay at rest...

About three weeks ago, I decided to go for it. I wanted to finish this thing, but saying, "I'll work on this a random hour at a time whenever I have some free minutes," wasn't working. Instead, I set a goal of a chapter I day. I had 21 chapters left; that's only three weeks. A chapter takes me about 15-20 minutes. Easy, right?

Objects in motion stay in motion, guys. I finished in just over two weeks, and more importantly, I had a lot of fun doing it. And I learned something.

While the goal of one chapter per day helped me, it wasn't what kept me going. I had been thinking of it all wrong. I was thinking of this project as a goal to be completed, as a huge thing that I'd feel better about once it was done. This, as I learned, is a terrible way to run a project. And to run, well, life in general.

No, what helped was the change in thinking. When I started doing a chapter a day, with the expectation that I didn't need to feel pressured to do more. And when I did this, I started to enjoy it again, and suddenly I was editing for the fun of it. I would sometimes do two or three chapters because my momentum was taking me forward.

Breaking news: things are more enjoyable (and we're more motivated to do them) when we treat them like fun instead of work. And I'm applying this to life, not just writing. We spend so much time setting goals, but we don't stop to think about the process itself. Everything is endpoints. We set a goal so that we can set another goal.

I'm proposing that we chill on the goal-setting. Goals are important, but the way we're taught to set them, we lose focus on everything in between one goal and the next. Accomplishment becomes more important than learning along the way. I propose that we do things for the sake of doing them, not because they lead us to an endgame.

There are a few famous writers who have been quoted something along the lines of "I don't enjoy writing; I enjoy having written." Then why do it? There are careers that pay better, that are less emotionally taxing. Why waste your life writing when you don't actually enjoy the process?

Let's get away from this mentality. There's absolutely no reason to spend this much time on something you don't enjoy. Sure, it isn't always fun, but it should be something you love overall.

Please remember that there's more to writing--and to life--than your list of goals. Live in each present moment that comes along the way.

*Title is now The Icarus Legacy. We won't talk about how long it's taken me to get to this point.
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