The Egg Nog Begins (Goals & Distractions Redux)

I had my first glass of egg nog last night, and there is a whole lotta November and December left. My original plan was to wait until Chanukah/Christmas week and have as much egg nog as I wanted, guilt-free. Oops.

And what does this have to do with writing? Oh– everything. I posted a while back about trying to do a post-election, anti-distraction media-detox. I had some pretty ambitious November writing goals, which I’ve met halfway, but I see the end of the month coming, and I won’t be meeting wordcount or patting myself on the back for staying off morning email. (Though I did stop searching news sites.) Part of the problem is that I’ve been doing some nonfiction research that tempts me online regularly; the other part of the problem is that I am in that place, in the fiction part of my writing life, where everything is risky and unknown, and that’s the time it’s so tempting to seek emotional reassurance every hour or two by “visiting” with others (however covertly) via email, blogs, etc.

It’s all about discipline, and I don’t have enough of it in terms of internet- or eggnog-avoidance. But I’m just going to keep trying, especially after Thanksgiving. Anyone who wants to post a December goal of any kind, jump right in.

In the meanwhile, I read a great writing-craft book this weekend, which I bought as a mood-booster to help fight the winter-and-recession blues. (It worked.) It’s called RON CARLSON WRITES A STORY, and I’ll do a longer post about it next, but first, a quote from Carlson about the perils of email. As soon as I finish typing this, I am going offline for a four-hour chunk of novel revision, I swear:

If you open your email, you are asking to let go of the day. I don’t want to belabor this obvious point, but we have welcomed this convenience right onto the very screens where we are writing stories,and email is not a friend to the writer.

If you decided to paint your house and took a day and prepped it, and then with your paint ready and a roller in your hand,you decided to knock down the hornet’s nest under the eave, you are going to spend the day killing hornets and being stung. Your house will not get painted, though you will have plenty of exercise. And when you go out tomorrow to paint, the hornet’s nest will there again within striking distance. The rule is that you should paint your house. Do a careful job and paint it all until you paint right up to the insects. Then you can knock at them, if you are so inclined.

9 thoughts on “The Egg Nog Begins (Goals & Distractions Redux)”

  1. yes, the internet is definitely the devil. and yet. on drags our tortured affair.

    also, discipline is overrated. i just can't figure out how to detach myself from stuff (read: i don't have the willpower). but regardless, 2008 has not been a total wash. you wouldn't believe all the garbage i've gotten done despite the number of hours i "waste" on my blog. granted, not all of the stuff i've gotten done has been very useful or relevant. but, for example, i made a fantastic chart on notebook paper of all the Law & Order SVU episodes i haven't seen yet so i can shade them in as they air. i also did some other stuff, too, though.

  2. It is such a trap. On one hand, the Internet is amazing for research. What probably used to require days and days at libraries and making phone calls, now takes seconds. Need a slang word for alcohol from the 1800s? Need to know how much a moose weighs? It’s all there, but then I get sidetracked by all the other interesting stuff nearby. Same with e-mail — it’s allowing me to send my revisions back and forth, but then I need to read all the other messages that come in, and of course respond to them.
    And here I am, at this Blog, writing this, instead of working on my novel.
    But Andromeda I do want to say thank you for keeping this up. It IS reassuring to feel like you’re part of some kind of community of writers, even if it is only through the computer. This can be such lonely work, and your blog makes it less so. As your working so diligently on your writing, and cutting back on the online time, please don’t cut out the blog. It’s become a daily for me!

  3. P.S. I will publicly join your December goal of writing diligence. I’m striving to finish my entire novel revision and send it back to my agent by the New Year. I love a good deadline:)

  4. It’s simple. Do as I do: live in a cabin without Internet (or cell phone) access, but with a laptop. When you’re done writing (in the morning) go into town to check your emails and socialize at the coffee shop.

    (Of course i realize it’s a luxuray not many people have.)

    Write on.

    Michael E.

  5. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Moonrat — I don't watch Law & Order, but I recently discovered DVDs of 30Rock. Love that Tina Fey.

    Eowyn — thank you for the support! I needed that! And cheers to your December goal. It's an excellent one. Wouldn't it be great to stand proud on New Year's Eve, knowing you revised your novel?

    Michael — Of course you're right. Here we are in Alaska. Should be easy to get an unwired cabin. It's all about choice. Nonetheless, I remain your wired, urban colleague.

    Anonymous (M)– Blog typos. Hate 'em. But it's supposed to be a casual format. That's my excuse anyway.

    Here's my own December goal: revising a second novel that was set aside for about 4 months. I hope I have the distance now to make it work. Definitely going to put in the hours. My birthday is Dec. 29, and boy I would love to have gotten a lot of work done by that day. Even if I don't finish by then, I aim to learn a lot from the process.

  6. When Ron Carlson gave a craft talk here several years ago, he offered the painting the house/hornet’s nest analogy, but – and I wrote it down – he worded it a little differently: “Paint the f—ing house.” It has become my all-time favorite motivational mantra.

    I agree, nonfiction research can offer all kinds of tempting tangents. Speaking of which, a question for anyone who cares to post/comment: when doing the early research for a book, do you try and do early writing as well, or wait until you feel like you have enough research under your belt to write a really good scene (that you won’t have to change because of additional research)? That’s my struggle these days, trying to complete research without letting the writing skills go all rusty in the meantime.

  7. As a “nature writer,” I actually benefit from living in an unwired cabin. It helps my mind to unlink from the hustle and bustle of cyber-culture. My research is usually already in place before I begin to write. (But the idea for a piece comes first.) I find (in nonfiction writing, at least)that, if I “wing it” and then do the research, I get easily tempted to add too much unneccessary material, because the facts all seem so strange and new. Conversely, if I do my research first, a new angle might present itself, which I then can accommodate in the writing. Of course, it’s easier to not “get rusty” if your form is a shorter one, like the essay. For longer projects, you could alternate research with writing a chapter, and then revise everything together and work on transitions.

  8. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Re: Karen’s research comment (sorry it took me so long to respond to this): With a booklength work, I don’t think you can wait until you’re done researching to write. You’ll never be done researching. (Nor will you use even 10 percent of what you HAVE researched.) A lot of background reading or experience will guide you only so far, and then you need to write to discover what the remaining gaps are.

    I was doing public readings of my first published novel and still coming across new factual historical items I wish I would have worked into the story. And yet — I also agree you can’t wait on all the research, because it often leads, shapes, and inspires the story. It’s not just a collection of tacked-on details.

    I sometimes think of doing research as scouting a whitewater river. You walk the bank a ways, gathering info on what you can foresee (which won’t be everything of course, and you wouldn’t want it to be). Then you get into the boat, where the current and a thousand other unexpected factors lead you to the next tricky stretch. When new risky patches or blank spots in your created universe appear, you’re forced out of the water. You climb out on the bank and scout again.

    In all writing, there’s an alternation of control and release, and I think the same with research — purposefully seek out info, then let imagination take you somewhere else, then seek out the next detailed facts you need, which will be different needs than you could anticipate just a week or month ago.

    That’s probably all hopelessly abstract.

    As with all things, even the most recognized novelists approach this issue a dozen different ways. I’ve heard some novelists say they refuse to pick up any factual materials once they start writing because they don’t want to lean too hard toward fact. As for me, I’m always trying to figure out what technology was like in a certain year, what foods would be eaten here or what songs were popular there, page by page.

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