Here at Write or Consequences, we are now holding ourselves accountable to bi-monthly goals: Produce 20 pages, every two weeks, or get a pie in the face. A pie you bought and have to smash into your own face. And a video of that pie smashing will be put on our website for all your friends and family to see. Before we switched to a bi-monthly goal, we had six month goals with an ice-bucket dunking as the incentive. Videos of those dunkings are also on our website.
The six month goal didn’t work for me, as evidenced by the videos (yes, its plural – more than one) of me having a bucket of ice poured over my head. We set four of these six months goals. The first two I totally missed, then I received a medical dispensation when I had back surgery and for our final six month goal, still playing my health card, they let me set a goal of just turning something in, every time. That’s the only six month goal I actually achieved, and it taught me an important lesson. I do better with short-term consequences – give me six months and I can put it off and put it off and in the end, not get it done at all. A pie in the face every two weeks – oh Hell No!
Here’s the thing. I write by the seat-of-my-pants. That means I don’t plan anything! My stories are born because The Girls introduce me to a character, usually female, but not always. I start writing about this ‘person’. Her age, her hair color, her occupation. The more I write, the better I know her and the people who populate her world. By the time I’m fifty or so pages into a first draft, we are getting to be friends and at the half-way mark we are besties. I know what she thinks and feels and eats for breakfast. As she evolves, some of the early things I thought inevitably change, and that’s okay – it’s called second draft.
I spend the last half of the first draft working on the plot and getting to know the other people that have shown up in this world I’ve created. My first drafts are full of notes about things that need to be added to earlier chapters and thing that have changed and honestly, they start to look like a big hot mess.
And that’s why being forced to produce twenty pages every two weeks or smash my face into a pie is really working for me. I can’t stop to let my self be overwhelmed by the massive rewrites that will be required to turn this into something that resembles a book. Every two weeks, I turn in twenty new pages and listen to my critique partners – LISTEN TO MY CRITIQUE PARTNERS – yes, listen. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything they say (although I critique with some pretty smart women, so frequently I do agree with them).
However, listening doesn’t always mean change! It means hearing what isn’t working and editing it to smooth out the rough spots. Sometimes, critiques are spot on and help me understand exactly what went wrong. Other times, not so much. But, whether I agree or not, the important thing is that I understand that something I wrote did not appear on the page as I thought it did and whether the change they suggest is right or whether I realize it is something else entirely, my story becomes stronger.
A couple of weeks ago, I was flying high and writing hot. I handed in twenty pages that were going to knock their collective socks off. Only they all came back still wearing socks, damn it. My heroine was coming across as a spoiled, weak princess and I HATE spoiled, weak princesses!
But – and this is important, so pay attention – because I listened to what they were saying, I made the story better! NOW she has to work for what she gets, it isn’t all being handed to her by her rich parents. If I’m being honest – and what the hell, why not be honest – I’ll admit that after critique that night I pouted. They didn’t love my heroine the way I love my heroine.
Before our two week consequences was put into play, I could have pouted for a week or two or even longer. Only this time, I had two weeks to pout, get over myself and get another twenty pages ready OR smash my face into a pie. So I was forced to shorten the pout. After a day or two, I accepted that they were right, that the heroine I had written about was not very lovable. And, what’s worse, I was responsible for the lack of love. And with the realization came the power to change to her. Now. Right now, not in the second draft. My manuscript has a lot of “Things that Changed” notes, but I’m forging on, only now with a heroine who is working for what she has so that when all her dreams do come true – and we all know they will in the end, right? – readers are going to cheer for her and be happy she made it!
Write, critique, edit, repeat – it’s a formula that is working well for me. I hope you find your formula and are finding time to write.
Have you written today?
Terri Richison (writing as Terri Rich) lives in Clear Lake City, TX with her husband and a giant Great Dane (giant even by Great Dane standards). She is working on self-publishing women’s fiction and avoiding getting a pie in the face if she doesn’t produce pages for every critique session! PIES OR PAGES! Terri started telling stories almost as soon as she could talk – she learned everything she needed to know about storytelling at her grandmother’s knee. Craft however, is something she is still learning – those damn commas give me nightmares!