Staying on Track

There’s an ad on TV about financial planning/investing. I think it’s Fidelity that runs a green line down the sidewalk for its customers to follow. A man starts walking on the line, but then glimpses a fancy car in a dealer showroom window and pauses. The Fidelity adviser calls out to him to “stay on the line,” and with a smile, the man continues.

The ad’s well done. It’s simple, visual, and effective.

Writers need to stay on a line as well. When we’re working on a long, involved project such as a novel, it’s easy to get sidetracked. We think, no need to work on the book everyday; I have lots of time until my deadline.

But pulling off the project means the story stops. You may stop thinking about it. You may let another activity or project take over your energy and creative focus. In a week or a month or three months later, when you come back to your novel you find that it’s died. It’s withered like a shrub left unwatered.

Can you resurrect a dead project? Maybe. A good flogging of craft, skill, determination, and sheer cussedness may be enough to put life back into it. Even so, you’ll find that it’s not the same.

If you can’t revive it, what will you do? Shrug it off and tell yourself that it wasn’t much good anyway? Are you going to treat your next writing idea the same? And at what point will your imagination stop serving you ideas that you’re going to kill? Why bother?

A draft should be written from start to finish as constantly and as steadily as possible. Drafts of short stories preferably should be written in one sitting. Novels work best when you work on them daily. You may not get much written, or some days will see higher production of pages than others, but it’s the steadiness that counts. Our thoughts need to be in our story. It makes us absent-minded and forgetful of other things, but as long as we do no harm (don’t forget to feed a baby or pets and don’t run stop signs because we’re far away in the land of Mugu while we’re driving home) what does it matter if we forget to buy cheese or don’t listen to every word in our committee meeting?

I know that life interrupts us. A crisis occurs. A big work deadline looms. Someone tramples all over our writing time and leaves us fuming. These things happen. It happened to me this morning.

But we’re not always overpowered by such interruptions. Sometimes we let ourselves be interrupted. We aren’t ruthless enough in protecting our writing time. We’re tired of our book. We’re lonely. We’re convinced that we’re missing all the fun elsewhere.

Are we really? Or are we fooling ourselves?

If we’re tired, then we have to find a way to keep going. Writers build their stamina by pushing themselves to stay the course instead of wimping out.

If we’re lonely, then we need to make our characters more interesting.

If we’re yearning for diversions, then we need to improve the quality of our plot.

Your goal is the completion of your draft. Stay on the line until you get there.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Staying on Track

  1. Dear wise friend, thank you for this great post. I needed to hear it just now. I’m in a place of figuring out where I truly want to put my focus. It is a choice, every day, every moment.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful post. Like Curtis Ann, I needed to hear this. The universe is sending me lots of messages via bloggers today.

  3. Pingback: Victim of Mood « Curtiss Ann Matlock

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