Let’s Get Ambitious

October 22, 2015

Just over a year ago I committed, mostly to myself, to “winning” National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Winning is simple–write 50,000 words toward the first draft of a novel, and you’re a winner. It felt audacious. Though I was already writing stories, I hadn’t written a novel and I certainly hadn’t written 50K words in 30 days.

But I did win, hitting the 50K goal about a week early.

It was a transformative experience. Making that commitment and choosing a specific goal gave me the focus I lacked in the first few months after quitting my job. With NaNoWriMo, I thought I had cracked the code to the level of productivity I needed and wanted, and I used that experience to come back to this blog with renewed intent, outlining specific goals for what I would do with Lost Caws as a writing vehicle.

Take a look at the goals in that “False Starts and Moving Parts” post I just linked to. At the bottom, I said I would:

  1. Write about whatever I want
  2. Publish two posts per week of any length
  3. Post them on Mondays and Thursdays

I don’t expect anyone to go back and check on this, but I can promise you I have met all three of those goals to the letter so far. I once wrote a post of only sixteen words to meet my deadline, but I’ve always made it. There’s never been more than two, but there have been exactly two each week, going live at some point on Mondays and Thursdays without fail.

The lesson? I need goals, targets, objectives. It’s clear I function best with something specific and concrete to structure my time and guide my focus.

Some Who Wander Are In Fact Lost, It Turns Out

But somewhere along the way–during the struggle with my novel in particular–I lost track of how important this was. My “analysis paralysis” returned, and I struggled to maintain the same level of productivity in my fiction writing as I had achieved with NaNoWriMo.

Enter the hiking book.

For as much as I enjoyed griping about how much work it became, it made me relearn the importance of having a clear-cut task, especially one on which others were depending. I still knew these things, but I was failing to put into practice.

Since finishing the first draft of the hiking book, I’ve had a bit of a hangover effect from being so deeply into that project. I’ve written and worked, but in a way that’s less focused than I want. That’s fine. It was expected. But I can’t run the risk of letting that spill over to a long-term malaise.

Getting Back on Track

It’s time to name the next set of goals to make sure I keep producing at the rate I know I can. As it happens, it’s almost time for NaNoWriMo 2015, and I want to participate again. I also have a number of other projects in various states, and I don’t really want to set them all aside for NaNo as I did a year ago.

Part of learning that I work best with clear objectives was also learning that I’m capable of more than I think I am. NaNo is a big undertaking, but I’ve done it before and I want to push myself.

So let’s get ambitious. Here’s my agenda from now through at least November with a few notes on what each goal means.

1. Wrap up whatever is necessary for Best Hikes Near Minneapolis and Saint Paul

I’m putting this task first because I have an actual contract commitment to finish this project while the ones that follow are my own. There will be work associated with this, but I am optimistic it won’t be terribly time-consuming. If the revisions are more substantial, they have to trump the rest even if I’d rather focus on other projects.

2. Outline and write the first 50k words of a draft for a new novel as part of NaNoWriMo 2015

Yes, this means a brand new novel and not the one I’ve worked on for the last year. I have several ideas that are in various states of readiness, but there are two likely candidates. One is a concept I outlined in parallel with The Witches of Nicollet Island last year and the other is something brand new. Picking one and finishing an outline is my biggest challenge for the rest of October.

3. Finish the ending of The Witches of Nicollet Island

I wrote over 100K words and still couldn’t find the ending I wanted. No more excuses. I’m going to write an ending regardless of how much change it requires for the rest of the story. The manuscript will be piecemeal, but at least it will be ready for the revision process it desperately needs anyway. Or maybe it’ll end up shoved in a drawer? That’s okay, too. I can live with knowing it’s not what I hoped it would be, but I don’t think I can live with not finishing it.

4. Continue with my existing goals for Lost Caws

Pretty straightforward. Even in the midst of all this other stuff, I’m still going to do two posts per week on Mondays and Thursdays. As with other times when I’ve had a lot going on, they might be short or silly, but the important thing is to keep doing them. Once I reach the one year mark, I’ll reevaluate and see what makes sense for the future.

5. An undisclosed–for now–collaboration project

I’m not ready to say much yet, but I’m working with REDACTED on a cool project that, if it comes together, will coincide with REDACTED. Much is still up in the air, but it’s something different from any other writing I’ve done and it’s been fun so far. I’ll tell more about REDACTED when I’m more certain of its future.

This…is a lot of stuff. I don’t know if I’ll realistically be able to stick to every last bit of it in November, but I want to be ambitious. I’m at a point where I’d rather stretch and fail than succeed at something safe and comfortable. Wish me luck.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Joe Baur (@BaurJoe) October 22, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    The collaboration sounds exciting. Is that the REDACTED you were telling me about, working with REDACTED on making a REDACTED? Hope that goes well… REDACTED.

    • Reply David October 22, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      Yeah it’s the REDACTED project we chatted about like last week or whatever. It’s only redacted because REDACTED hasn’t made it totally official, but I’m actively working on the redacted project, tentatively titled REDACTED.

  • Reply Molly Olson October 24, 2015 at 3:42 am

    Good luck!! Re: the ending of the Witches novel…maybe an ambiguous ending that would allow a sequel?!! It sounds like you have lots to work on, and NaNoWriMo is incredibly motivating. My friend does it too, and I think it is a great idea!

    • Reply David October 25, 2015 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks Molly! NaNo is a fun challenge. As far as the Witches novel, the “sequel” question has been the biggest part of my challenge. I want to leave the door open for continuing the story, but I still wanted some sort of satisfying resolution to the first story. The endings I’ve outlined so far have all been too “cliffhangery” for my taste. Basically they all felt like the first half of a story rather than a whole one.The good news is I think I might have finally found an ending that balances keeping the story alive while also making it feel like there’s at least some resolution. We’ll see!

    Tell me what you think, but be chill about it.