Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Achievement Index

Yesterday, I finished the first draft of a novel for upper primary readers (or middle grade) - it came in at around 44,000 words, more than I expected, and has a couple of subplots that may need to be pruned, not to mention a character that started as one kind of person and morphed into another. Sometimes characters do that. This is the novel I started for NaNo, and had to abandon due to a very busy time working in Hong Kong, followed by an even busier time catching up when I got back (gee, thanks for making me submit the same student results three times - don't you just love antiquated data systems?).

But over the Christmas/NY break, the period when we all set goals and have high hopes for the new year, I simply committed to writing more. Writing regularly. And have recently found a website and blog of a guy who both makes me laugh and gives me some good ideas. Now Craig Harper is a motivational speaker but is also a personal trainer (and got his start in business as such) - he's also a funny writer who gets his message across, with warnings about irreverence and rudeness. He's not actually that rude - he just tells it as he sees it. Anyway, something I got from Craig's posts was the idea of an achievement diary.

We tend to whip ourselves over what we don't achieve. I set myself 2000 words today and I didn't achieve it. Whack! That's a recipe for depression. So I went up to my local KMart and found a simple diary for simply noting where I was and what I'd managed to get through each day. And also my energy level (because I have major iron problems and have to keep track). In my new diary, I record what I wrote, what I worked on (plotting, planning, thinking, dreaming, notes, ideas - they all count in a writer's life) and whether I have done the two other things that help me as a writer - meditation and walking.

Why meditation? Because I'm a perfectionist and AR and get really tense over minor issues. After years of meditation in a very On-Off way, I'm giving it a real go this year to help my stress levels. Why walking? Because I hate jogging, and I don't have time for the gym right now. So those two things help my writing.

But today, I didn't write at all. I dug a trench. Hmmm, yes, a real one. But because I've been writing regularly and reading writing books and thinking about writing a lot, I couldn't help but view my trench digging like a writer. Set the scene: local council requires entrance to property to have a culvert (in simple terms, the ditch/drain needs a pipe in it for water flow). Gateway looks fine, ditch currently shallow, two people with shovel, spade and mattock should manage.

We talk a lot in fiction about raising the stakes. First stake: excavation must be finished today so when large pipes are delivered next week, they can go straight into the hole. First complication: shallow ditch conceals ROCK. A variable kind of rock. At one end, we have compacted clay, but for more than half the ditch, we have the original road bed made up of compacted quarry rock and gravel set like concrete. We attack it. We chip, hack, dig, shovel - we are not getting very far. Second complication (raising the stakes): it rains. Initially, it drizzles, then it decides to pour for a a while. Dirt turns to mud. Rock stays pretty much as rock.

Further complications include: neighbour (whose driveway we are entering from) coming down to inspect our progress (but without offers of assistance, despite his ownership of tractor and blade); more rain; bigger rocks; our physical capacities deteriorating by the minute. I wish I could say a lightning bolt hit the ditch and blasted it out for us. I wish I could say the earth grew softer and easier to remove. This is not fiction. None of this happened.

But I did feel quite proud of our efforts. We excavated, by hand, a four metre trench, in the rain, and managed to crack quite a few jokes along the way. Why not lighten the load with some fun? I remarked on trying to imagine what it was like being on a chain gang (maybe I can use that one day), but mostly I thought about how different this was from sitting at a computer, making up a story. Instead of spending my hours inside my head, trying to be anyone except myself, I spent several hours totally inside my aching, tiring body, feeling every ache and pain, splattered with mud, soaked to the skin. I may never recover, but now it's over, it was great!


Kristi Holl said...

I commend you, Sherryl! Both for the progress diary (a terrific idea) and for digging a ditch. I loved the digging/plotting comparisons. That's so true--especially about finding rock and chipping away at it. Nothing--writing OR digging ditches--gets done if we give up.

Sherryl said...

Progress diary yesterday said: No meditation, no walking, no writing. Dug one ditch!
Today is back to the routine, and I need the walk to try to iron out the stiff, sore muscles (muscles I didn't know I had!).