Choosing Your Measuring Stick
Copyright © 2009 by
Margaret McGaffey Fisk, All Rights Reserved
When I first found Forward
Motion, I was ending a multi-year period in which writing had been the
lowest priority and most neglected item in my life. I knew I wanted to
change that, but besides writing on a new novel at a snail's pace, I had
no idea how.
FM offered dares,
challenges, and a billion ways to focus me, to get me back into the joy
of producing, and producing a lot.
Sadly, this led to a problem
I hadn't even considered.
I dove into it head first,
learning all sorts of new things about what I was capable of and how
much I could manage. I had always known that writing was a major part
of my life for all that I had tried to deny it, and so looked around at
the other focused, driven authors on the site. These, I decided, would
be my goal posts. These were authors behaving toward writing as I
thought every "real" author should, and therefore as I, myself, should
be able to, given the chance.
While in concept, the idea
had merit, the writers I chose were none other than Lazette Gifford and
Sheila Viehl, two wonderful authors who have an unnatural ability to
produce at an inhuman rate. Most people have heard of the need to write
a million words of crap as training? Zette consistently hits one
million publication-related words per year while Sheila has put out
upwards of four complete novels (that's written and edited) a year and
mentioned a word count rate of up to seventy-two hundred words in an
hour using voice recognition.
For the first three years at
Forward Motion, I wildly signed up for every possible challenge, pushed
myself to the limit, wrote novels and short stories in great masses, and
managed between six hundred thousand and six hundred and fifty thousand
words a year. Unbelievably, that signaled failure, not success. My
goal had been to be like Sheila and Zette, with Zette's one million
words a year as a concrete measuring tape.
So I went back and studied
the bimonthly dares for another push and discovered they covered not
only word count, but editing and submitting. I had already submitted
short stories and even novels before, and had continued sending short
stories out, but now I had a goal.
But to submit, I had to
edit. And if I was going to be editing, I wouldn't be able to get to
those word count goals I had unsuccessfully strived for over the past
While I did feel
disappointed that I would never manage to match Zette's million words, I
needed the reminder offered by the other dare categories which focuses
on productivity for a purpose. It was all very well to enjoy producing
at phenomenal (if not good enough) rates, but I was doing this to get
The realization caused me to
rock back on my heels and take another look. After all, what good was I
doing in producing three to five full-length novels a year if they just
sat there as first drafts? I had worked my tail off to produce them, I
could tell the improvement in my writing without even looking hard, but
ultimately I had moved not one iota closer to the real goal, that of
publication. This was an especially hard wake-up call for my novels
because I had actually backslid from what I'd been managing in those old
days of creeping along at speeds of almost nothing to produce one novel
in a minimum of two years. Those novels had all been tested on the
market (without success) while my newer novels, that I could tell were
better, just sat there.
So I did a reassessment,
signed up for some of the editing and submitting dares, and figured out
where my natural productivity lies. It's not at even six hundred
thousand, surprise, surprise, though I am a quick producer. But that
isn't what matters. What matters is that I set goals I can achieve if I
focus, and that I make the effort to evaluate myself not against other
writers, but with my own goals in mind.
Without a community of
writers all producing at a variety of levels and a variety of successes,
without having those impossible examples to shoot for, and miss, and
without the reminder of an ultimate goal both in the dares and in
watching Forward Motion members make the transition, I might never have
realized the key to goal setting. I might still be choosing
unachievable standards instead of completing complicated edits and
ushering solid manuscripts out the door.
With the visibility of
different processes and a variety of examples, I was able to discover
what method works for me, not over the course of another ten years but
within a few short ones. Thanks to being driven not just to produce,
but to grow as a writer, I can look at stories written even two years
ago and see how I have improved. Who knows where I'd be if I hadn't
found Forward Motion all those years past, but I can almost guarantee
that Shadows of the Sun, which is now making the rounds of
agents, would still be a novel synopsis masquerading as a short story,
and I would still be telling myself I didn't have the skill or ability
to tackle the full tale.