Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Uber Challenge

Jo Leigh has a challenge for writers who want to work on specific areas of their writing. Details are in her blog. I signed up when she posted on Romancing the Blog. The post about the Uber Challenge is dated December 28, 2005.

When I signed up, I hadn't decided what I wanted to work on this year, but I knew I'd figure it out before I had to start doing the challenge. I'd considered doing characters and how to make them real on the page, show their development, etc. But that's not my biggest challenge right now. My biggest challenge right now is regaining the discipline of writing regularly. I was writing regularly, nearly every day, not too long ago. Now I hardly ever write. I know it's at least partly caused by the depression from having lived with my emotionally abusive mother for a year and a half. I know it's partly because during the past two years we've only had three-month temp contracts, so we couldn't count on having income beyond that and make concrete plans to move into an apartment. That uncertainty wears on you. Yet, I'm not usually a depressed person. If a miracle occurs and we get back on our own, with enough money to live on, I'll be so not depressed. But this has affected my writing and I need to systematically try things to deal with it.

It's affected my writing in two ways. First, it makes me think too much about the possibility of earning real money from my writing. That makes me freeze up because I know the statistics on that one happening any time soon. Second, the worry affects the creativity. I don't write my best stuff when I've got worry sitting in the back of my brain. So, rather than try to write with the worry going on, I've let the writing go, hoping each time Paul gets another contract job that it will become a regular job and we can get past this stuff.

I realized that it's making me crazier to not write than to try to deal with this stuff. My hope is that the Uber Challenge will give me a structure and support for my plan. I have three things in my plan at the moment. I'll adjust it if these don't work well for me. The first thing is to get back to writing Morning Pages every day before I start working on my book. The second is to write every day Paul is working. The third is to be more disciplined about using the calendar on my computer to keep track of my writing plan, since I don't usually set word count or page count goals that are easy to keep track of.

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist's Way suggests that you handwrite, on 8-1/2"x11" paper, 3 pages of anything that comes into your head. You're supposed to do it first thing when you get up in the morning. The theory is that it gets all the junk out of your head and clears it so you can create. She calls that "doing Morning Pages". I've been doing it for a number of years, but during the holidays, I've gotten out of the habit. In the past, it's helped me deal with stress, which is why I picked it as one step in my plan.

I'm planning to write every day Paul works. It's dumb for me to plan to write when Paul's home. Those are the days when everything else has to happen, since I don't have transportation so that I could do some of it after I'm done writing. Paul's been working a lot of overtime, so if he goes in on Saturday, I'll just go ahead and use it as a writing day.

I need to have specific goals for those days. I plan to use my usual "finish this scene" type of goal for most days. But if I'm feeling too overwhelmed or worried or depressed, I have set a backup goal of 500 words. I know that building habits can be hard. I know that when you're building a habit that's long-term, you do slide into your old ways. So, it's important to have a backup plan to get back on track. My backup plan is to catch up on weekends and holidays. The possibility of having to give up some of my limited social time and hubby time is powerful motivation for me to follow my planned schedule. I'm unusual in that I'm an extroverted writer. I can hole up and get the work done, but I have to have things in my life that involve other people afterward or I get cranky.

I've been having a lot of trouble keeping track of what I need to do. Not just writing goals, but with my everyday life. For example, I don't have a desk to keep track of mail and business papers and that stuff. So it's hard to keep track of the few bills and letters and stuff I need to deal with. I lose track of what day it is, especially during the times Paul hasn't been working. I've decided that I need to use the calendar software I have and put everything in it that I have to do, including things like the phone number, if I need to make a phone call. I need to make doing the life stuff as simple as possible. I'm bad at updating software, so my writing goals and records will go on the calendar, too. If I set up an Excel file or something, one or the other won't get updated. But I think I can manage to keep one program up-to-date.

The last step of the plan is to evaluate it on a regular basis. I need to set a time every week to see which parts of the plan I'm following regularly, which, if any, I'm not, and tweak it, if I need to, in order to keep going. That's also the time I'll use to update the calendar for the next week.

That's my plan for the Uber Challenge. If anyone else is doing an Uber Challenge, I hope you finish the whole year and meet your goals. Asking yourself a few questions might help you to be more successful. Have you made a plan? Does it have a backup in it, in case you can't do the original plan? Do you have a way to evaluate your plan and see if it needs tweaking? Those are questions that have helped me in the past when I've worked toward long-term goals. Good luck to us all.