i quit my job to write books, laying best plans by The Faceless Pen

Sometimes the Goalposts Move Themselves

December 31, 2014

Sunset behind rugby goalposts


It’s a bitch, ain’t it? You planned on moving the ball 100 yards, and now you look up and the goalpost is at 150. Or a thousand. Or 65, and you overshot it 35 yards ago. Or the goalposts are gone entirely, like somebody packed up the whole stadium and took it home, and now here you are running around in the grass by yourself for no clear reason.

This is not to say you shouldn’t measure the current distance from yourself to the goalpost and plan accordingly. Far from it. But every now and then, someone will dig them up and move them, or the suckers will grow legs and walk off by themselves, or you’ll figure out that the reason you keep missing them is because you left your damn glasses at home. You have to be at least mentally ready for all of that, too.

Quick swerve here: One of the buzzwords that’s been hot shit for a few years on the ol’ entrepreneurship and business blogs is the “mastermind group.” This is any group of of people who are all working toward some particular purpose, and regularly sharing their knowledge, experiences, and resources with each other. You’ve undoubtedly been in one before, whether you called it a mastermind group or not, but it’s generally agreed among the people who analyze this sort of thing that they’re anywhere from “extremely helpful” to “indispensable” when you’re trying to achieve a big goal.

Mine consists of two close friends, also seriously working toward the dream of making a living through writing. Their code names for this blog will be Thorn and Drum. Both are women, one in her early thirties, one in her late twenties. Drum lives in a major U.S. city. Thorn lives within an hour of a city you’ve heard of, but you wouldn’t know it from looking out her window, or anywhere near her window.

We regularly talk about how we’re doing and what we’re planning in this whole writing thing, and because we’re different people, we each bring different strengths and perspectives to the table. What’s really nice about this is that because we’re friends and we’re unconditionally cheering each other on, we can feel safe and honest talking about the shitty and difficult and I-done-fucked-up parts of what we’re doing, too. And the parts where something you didn’t even see coming kicks you and your efforts in the face.

For example, Thorn was starting to feel like a failure because it’d seemed like ages since she had sat down to write or edit with any regularity. Reasoning that she must have got herself disorganized along the way, she installed an app on her phone to help her track what she was doing with her time. And doing so did show her where her goalposts had got off to…

Child care! After factoring in all the the stuff she did that was related to her offspring (and Thorn is by no means a helicopter mom, or the kind of mom who puts a kid in 4 different kinds of lessons before the kid can walk and talk) and sleeping, guess how many hours she had left in the week on average? Eleven. That’s for everything that isn’t direct child care, housekeeping related to child care (laundry, etc), or sleep. So the issue isn’t that she’s a bad/”bad” writer or poorly disciplined or any kind of failure — it’s that babies are A LOT OF FREAKING WORK!

Meanwhile, I’m working on a thing that’s way outside my usual comfort zone for both things I read and things I write, because I made a bet about it with Drum. The thing wasn’t supposed to take very long. I’d planned to write something halfway decent (or at least made up mostly of complete sentences), 50 pages max, and then puke it up onto Amazon, just to say I did it. Out of the gate, I was charging through page after page like it was nothing.

But even with a running start, the book seemed to be taking me way, way longer than I thought it would. I was working on it almost every day and yet somehow the damn thing was never done — it barely ever even felt closer to being done. And it wasn’t because I was having brilliant new ideas for continuing the story and kept adding on to it. It just all seemed to be moving at slug pace, even when I was writing thousands of words a day. Wow, did I think I was shit. What the hell kind of writer was I (and how the fuck did I think I’m going to make any money at this) if it takes me months to finish a 50-page novella?

At some point I felt like I’d been writing a lot of very long scenes, and decided to do a word count of each of the scenes written in the book so far, to see if any of the scenes were really a lot longer than any others. (Each scene in the book is saved in a separate file, right now.) After doing so, it wasn’t very hard to add up a word count. I also had my story outline open, and then I got gobsmacked by something that should have smacked my gobs weeks before:

I was already at 47 pages, and I was barely halfway through the outline.

The problem was never that I was a shit writer or not working hard enough when I did sit down to write. The problem was that I thought I’d planned a story that would take 50 pages to tell, tops, and it turned out to be a story that’ll need a little over 100 pages to tell.

I also realized that somewhere along the line, I’d started liking the story enough to want to make it a good story, not just a tolerably grammatical one. This naturally slows down your writing. It’s also going to add more editing time onto the end, for a really good editing pass instead of a skim. I’m now well, well past the original deadline for the bet, but Drum is pleased at what it’s become, so she’s cheering me on anyway.

There’s a hell of a lesson learned, for both me and Thorn. I thought the goalposts were only half as far away as they turned out to be. She thought she should have been running faster down the field, when the game’s actually been postponed. (Drum just thinks we’re great for playing at all, bless her crazy heart.)

Sometimes, even when you feel like you’re failing, you’re succeeding.

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