Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Staying Flexible; or Keep On Keepin' On

The other day at work I needed to get in a bottom drawer of the file cabinet. I squatted down next to the drawer, pulled it out, grabbed the papers I needed and stood back up. Now this doesn't sound like much - unless you've taken a look at the pictures in the sidebar and you know I'm somewhere on the shady side of 40 (very shady!) and rather round. Not a lithe physical specimen.

One of my office mates expressed admiration for my ability to do what amounted to a deep-knee-bend and stand up without pulling myself up on a chair. At the time I told her it was someting I had always done, so I was always able to do it. As long as I don't stop doing deep knee bends, at least occasionally, I will still be able to do them.

So tonight, when I was trying to figure out why the writing was going so slow, I made the connection: I am doing something I haven't done before.

Up until now, I've written single books. I've done a book in nine or ten weeks while working a full-time job. It isn't impossible. But I have never had multiple books back-to-back. I've always been able to take a few weeks off, or work at a more leisurely pace, between books. Yes, I've always had another project waiting for attention, but I didn't have to keep up the 10-week pace.

Then a three-book series came along. When I set my deadlines I figured 10-weeks, plus an extra couple weeks in case of emergencies, one week for an already-planned vacation, and an extra week for the holidays. What I didn't plan for was the lack of experience at maintaining that 10-week pace.

It was like trying to run a steeplechase based on my experience doing knee bends. Same basic anatomy, totally different skill set.

Or to strerch the running metaphor a little farther, what I naively set up was three back-to-back sprints. What I needed was a marathon. I knew I could do an all-out assault on the manuscript as I sprinted to the deadline. I'd done that before. I didn't know how to pace myself for a long-haul and set my goals accordingly. I didn't know how to run that writing marathon.

I need to learn the marathon skill set, and I'm taking this lesson to heart so I can plan better in the future.

And I'm starting to train for the marathon that helps defines a long-term writing career. Even though I may write in sprints in the future, I am learning that different projects require different skill sets.

Just like knee bends and hurdles.