Sunday, November 20, 2011

long strong smooth strokes

SO . . . have you ever wound up with too much to do but you still had to do all of it?

I am in a position now where I need to write 3-4 books a year of varying lengths and of different genre types. One in the bunch may be nonfiction, the others will be fiction. Of the fiction titles, one may be literary fiction, the others will be popular fiction, usually historical fiction at this point.

It's one of those times where I am trying to create momentum so I'm doing all that I can the best way I know how. People have asked me, Well, how can you do all that and do it well?

I would not wish to write four books a year forever. But if contracts and opportunities come your way you're crazy not to seize them and try to make something happen. So you discipline yourself, focus, know when to take breaks, and above all else, make sure you enjoy yourself. Especially the final one. If you don't do that you won't last long as a n artist or writer - or anything else.

An image I keep in my head may help you when you have similar extraordinary demands on your time. I see myself as a long distance swimmer.

I might be doing laps. I might be swimming the English Channel or the Hoover Dam (do they let you swim that Dam?) but whatever I'm doing it's not a fast crawl - it's not a one minute race - it's the long, strong, smooth strokes of the long distance swimmer.

You just keep going. One stroke at a time. Measure your pace. Know when to come up for air. OK, now and then you may need to put on a burst of speed - but if you still have a long way to go you can't do that for long or you won't have the juice to go the distance. The best plan is the long, strong, smooth strokes. It's amazing how far you get when you do that and stick to it.

For instance, ten days ago I realized I wasn't getting very far with a manuscript. I was even avoiding the writing. How was I going to rejuvenate my interest in the work again and, coupled with that, actually get somewhere in time for the deadline?

I decided to focus and instead of doing 1500 words a day - a very slow pace - chose to up that to 3000. Day by day I swam the Channel between France and England. I doubled the distance I expected of myself on a daily swim and refused to do less. Of course there were interruptions and minor crises - I'm in real life, not a movie about a professional swimmer in the English Channel that is over in 2 hours. But interruptions or not, I got back in the writing water and began to swim again. And again.

Now, with those days behind me, I am one chapter shy of ten. Which means I'm one-third of the way through the book. A week ago I was hanging back from the work. Now I'm ready to go on Monday morning the 21st. A week ago I'd almost lost interest. Now I'm looking forward to the work - I want to write the next set of chapters. Since these are short devotional chapters 1500-2000 or 2500 words = one chapter. So 7-10 days from now I expect to be at chapter 15 or 16, maybe even 17 - halfway through the book. Not by a sudden flurry of over-the-top activity. Just by a sudden focus and very deliberate discipline on my part.

I still am a father to my son and daughter and help with homework or other issues. I still am a husband to my wife, talk things over with her, and help with the chores - cooking, cleaning, dealing with the weekly garbage, doing the laundry, hauling out the vacuum. I still walk my Alaskan Malamutes twice a day. I even take showers and eat.

But since I am now writing full-time I know I have a certain amount of distance to cover each day. When I cover it I feel that I am going to succeed and pull the book off. The more I feel that, the more interested I am in the book and the more excited I am about writing it and completing it. Sometimes when you don't get far enough in a reasonable amount of time you feel like the project isn't going to succeed and maybe it isn't worth investing your time in. You lose interest and eventually drop out and toss the whole thing. When you keep on top of it though, even if it's a long haul, you stay interested and focused and keen about what you're doing. You finish it. You win. You feel great.

And you know you can accomplish something else which may also require those long, strong, steady, smooth strokes of the long distance swimmer - or writer - or mother - or pastor - or lawyer - or nurse - or teacher - or student. . .

. . . or believer.

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