Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Choosing Your Measuring Stick

By Margaret McGaffey Fisk
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 three years.

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 published.

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.