Managing expectations

I remember being better at this.

Warming up for exercise

Now that I’m not doing weekly flash fiction posts, I’ve slumped back into old bad writing habits. Or just the one bad habit really: doing anything but attending to my work-in-progress. I’ve been pretty good at sitting down at the keyboard, but the next step – writing coherent sentences that describe the setting, illustrate the characters and advance the plot – is a bit more of a challenge.

What I keep forgetting is to manage my expectations. I’ve been used to being able to meet a weekly word target without having to struggle. The structure of the Friday deadline was easy to work with, and I got into a rhythm I could maintain with minimal hiccups.

Abandoning that routine has thrown me for a loop. Over the last two years I’ve become used to being able to hit the ground running and pour out a few hundred words of usable writing in a half hour sprint session. I’ve developed my writer brain to be able to hit a handful of story beats and deliver a conclusion (more or less) in a thousand words. When I decided to go back to longer-form writing, I didn’t think to take into account how specific was that conditioning.

It’s like getting into physical shape (or so I’m told). You can’t just exclusively do squats or quad curls or one-handed push-ups and call yourself fit. It needs balance. All you might care about is sculpting your shapely calves or washboard abs, but you need other muscles working in support of them. If your foundations aren’t up to scratch, expect uncomfortable cramps and worse.

(All right, I’ve tortured that analogy enough. I think my subconscious might be trying to remind me that I’m also kind of out of shape).

This will probably be of value to absolutely nobody else, but I plan to resume doing regular check-ins on or near the weekends, self-reporting on my progress. Brisbane writer Peter M Ball has just such a project – The Sunday Circle – in which he asks and answers (and invites other writers to do likewise) three questions: What are you working on this week? What’s inspiring you right now? What action do you really need to take?

I’m not committing to use that format every time I do a check-in, but it seems like a great place to start, so here goes:

What am I working on this week? I’ve started writing a new fantasy short story about a contest two very different types of magical bards. I’m frustrated by how slowly it’s going, but I think I need to trust myself that I’ll find its groove soon.

What’s inspiring me right now? Over the last couple of weeks, I binge-watched the first season of the “weird not-really-superheroes” live-action Doom Patrol, which is largely adapted from the Grant Morrison/Richard Case comic series I loved when it came out (gulp!) thirty years ago. The show taps the same vein of disorienting strangeness that drew me to the comic. In terms of inspiration, it’s a useful illustration of how plot and setting logic can be tossed into a tornado and still be anchored by consistent emotional character arcs.

What action do I really need to take? I really need to finish drafting this story. So the action I need to take is to keep working on rebuilding towards a daily writing habit. Small steps.

Speaking of small steps, I also need to get in shape, I guess.

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2 Responses to Managing expectations

  1. petermball says:

    I kept thinking of your flash challenge while reading Tales of the City a few weeks back, thinking about the ways Maupin’s back-page-of-a-newspaper-vignette-driven structure could be adapted to a SF-idea. It’s very much a novel of flash vignettes, and it might be worth checking out as a way of transforming the flash habits into something else.

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