A Missed Deadline, A Hard Look

I drafted this post one week ago. One week ago, I conceded that I would not be able to complete the first draft of my novel-in-the-works by January 1st. Originally, the tone of this post was somber and slow. I wrote it late at night and it read like a bummer. So I scrapped it entirely and rewrote it in light of reflection. Here’s what I’ve got.

____

I kicked ass this month. From December 1st to December 21st, I was getting 4-5 hours of sleep because I was writing into the early hours of the night. Through these 21 days, I was ill and amidst Finals season. Nonetheless, in face of the phlegm, the sleep deprivation, and the Latin (blast you, Latin!), I was happy, driven, and willing to work into the early hours. I made bounds. Picture an artist splattering paint onto a canvas with a stupid grin on his face. That kind of progress. “Oui oui. Zees is amour!” (Do I have any followers from France? I know I have Canadians and Aussies and Brits and Turks, but where are the Frenchmen at?!)

On December 22nd, I boarded a plane for California. (I don’t believe I’ve yet mentioned that I lived in the Golden State for four years. To quote Dave Matthews, “I got people here.”) This may sound familiar to you because I wrote a post the following day about how I wrote five hours on the plane.

Upon arriving, I gave my situation some thought. I hadn’t reached the home stretch of the story. I hadn’t set myself up for a knockout on January 1st. Thus, I decided that it would make the most sense to put the writing aside so I could fully enjoy my time with friends and family. I’ve made some writing progress in spare moments, but I’ve largely put the novel-in-the-works to the side for the duration of the trip. My efforts have been focused on one chapter, which begins, “It was a horse-faced lady wearing a housewife’s apron who pointed the boys to Carmengrove.” 

So I’m here in Cali for a couple more days before I fly back to Jersey (where we say cawfee and wahta). Once I return, I’ll be back into writing mode. But things need to change. I made a strong effort to write consistently for the better part of December, but I hadn’t exercised that level of resolve prior. I wrote, no doubt about it, but I didn’t make it a point to write every day with such ferocity. I’ve taken this week to reflect and evaluate what I can do moving forward to blaze the trails of ink. It’s taken a hearty dose of honesty to reach some of these determinations, but I’m a believer that honesty is better than any alternative. Here goes.

For the sake of organization, I’ve pinpointed changes that need to be made in terms of both addition and omission.

Addition

Let’s start with addition. I asked myself, what am I lacking that I need?

  • A Writing Environment

My buddy Aurelius has been a huge supporter of my writing journey. He’s given me a book on publishing, talked shop with me, and asked for updates as to my progress. When I recently told him I didn’t expect to meet my deadline, he presented me with the “environment over effort argument,” something articulated by James Clear. Aurelius summed it up as follows:

It’s this idea that personal willpower is an imperfect basis for important habits. It’s better to construct an environment that facilitates the habit and to immerse yourself in it. Stephen King writes in a barn that just has a desk and a window in it.

Aurelius has a point. I am driven. (Sure, I talk, but I talk because I’m sharing my journey with you. There’s work to show for the talk. You can see my progress updated weekly on my Projects page and I dedicate a post a month to my progress alone.)

Still, my drive is not infallible (My Latin grade is evidence of that. Blast you, Latin!). I need an environment which facilitates the drive. In other words, I need to make my life easier. When I return to Jersey, I’m going to scout my house and find the best area where I can write with minimal external distraction and maximum convenience. I’ll need an outlet nearby for my laptop charger and a nice chair. Of course, I can scrap all that if I build a writing barn. If anybody would like to loan me money for a writing barn, you can email me at jjazarauthor@gmail.com.

So that’s the first thing: I’ll need a writing spot. If floating around helped me to write, I would float around, but it doesn’t. Thanks, Aurelius.

  • A Set Writing Time

My status as a student prevents me from designating an hour-based time block to my writing. I can’t declare 8 PM a writing time because sudden assignments and due dates prevent me from operating that way. It just won’t happen. Still, I recognize that I need structure. I need a routine to facilitate and focus my drive.

I’ve determined that I write best at night, when there are no longer any non-writing obligations for me to fulfill. Therefore, I will make it a point to work in the nighttime in my to-be-determined writing environment. Sometimes I’m beat by the time I take care of everything I have to do, but if I wrote 21 days straight in the early hours while sick and after preparing for finals, I think I can manage to implement this dynamic of a set time and place.

  • Exercise

For years, I’ve been on and off with working out. Recently, I’ve been off. I’m healthy, thank God, but I’m not where I want to be. Working out boosts the mood and keeps me sharp. If I want to write this first draft and beyond, I’m going to need to be in top shape.

The addition in this case is straightforward: my university has a decked-out gym. I’ve resolved to use it as soon as I return from break. This semester, I have classes four days a week. I will make it a point to go to the gym every day before I leave campus.

A healthy writer is a happy writer.

  • Focus on Demand

Writers know the joyous feeling of flow. Sometimes, we are able to reach a happy place and write without stopping, without hesitation. It’s a beautiful thing. When the ocean of bliss subsides, we notice the clock and sit dumbfounded. “I was writing for that long?” I want to reach that sweet spot as often as possible.

Tam al’Thor of the Wheel of Time series taught his son Rand al’Thor how to enter “the Void,” a state of extreme focus. I long for the Void, yet I don’t know how to grasp it. As of now, the Void falls into my lap whenever it pleases. I want the Void to fall into my lap whenever please. Well, the Void or a leggy lady. One of the two.

If anybody has any insight into focus and concentration methods, particularly as they pertain to writing, I would be delighted if you would share them.

Omission

I asked myself, what do I have which I do not need?

  • YouTube

80% of my YouTube consumption is related to politics (didn’t you hear that the U.S. is having quite an interesting time with politics and things?). I’ve always been one to keep informed, but YouTube is a time-drain.

Solution: My dad will keep me in the loop. He has a knack for picking out the truth through all of the smoke and mirrors. I’ll still be reading news for my Politics classes, but aside from that, I haven’t the time to bother with fiction peddled by the nightly news. I have fiction of my own to peddle.

  • BioShock

I know, I’m essentially broadcasting my age. I get it, I’m a young lad. But one cannot deny that BioShock Infinite is a freakin’ fantastic Xbox One game. To my credit, I haven’t touched the console this entire month, and I hardly play as it is. Still, it has to be declared: I cannot play BioShock Infinite until a more opportune time. The game is remarkable, but now is not the time.

  • Music Indecision

Before I settle into writing, I like to get music going. The problem is, it often takes me ages to search for the first song to play even though I have an extensive, nearly exclusively instrumental playlist. It needs to stop. This may sound like a small thing, but it’s a tiresome focus leech. I used to write to a loop of a couple of songs. Now I’m back to the basics!

  • Snapchat

My sisters give me crap for this on a daily basis. I just recently returned to Snapchat after a short, frankly pitiful stint years ago during which I actively bored myself using the app. The thing is, this time around, I’m having fun. Yeah, I raise the phone in front of my face to take stupid pictures that will be seen for 10 seconds or less. It’s stupid. I get it. It interrupts my writing. I get it. But keep in mind, I’m not conversing with the Snapchat ghost, I’m conversing with people. A couple of people, to be more specific. As I see it, that’s not a waste of time.

So, maybe I should excommunicate Snapshat from my life, but I’m not quite ready to do that. Depending on how the tides ebb and flow, I may or may not keep on with it. Time will tell.

  • Blogging

“*gasp* JJ, you’re leaving WordPress?!?!”

No, disembodied voice. I will do nothing of the sort. I’m here to stay.

“Darn.”

I appreciate that, disembodied voice. You always have my back.

I’m still going to post twice a week. I’m still going to read your blogs and respond to your comments. I’m still going to compulsively check my stats. The difference is, I won’t do any of this when it’s time to write. It’s always tempting to change tabs and check into the blog when writing gets tough, but I’m just going to have to fight it like how teenage indie-punk artists fight their parents: that is, with passionate angst.

___

In my first blog post, I acknowledged that there would be stumbles. I wrote, “As I brave the Road of Authorship, stumbling over every rock on the way, I invite you to walk alongside me so you can point and laugh and cheer as I fall on my ass and get back up again.”

Yeah, I fell on my ass, but much to my surprise, I haven’t disappointed myself. Rather, I’m optimistic. I have a sober plan and method ready to be implemented. I hope I haven’t disappointed any of you. Your encouragement, advice, and immensely kind words fueled me through this entire month. I cannot express my thanks adequately enough. Thank you. I hope you decide to stick with me as I continue this grand, exciting journey.

I promise to share a new, reasonable deadline by the end of this month.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

 

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33 thoughts on “A Missed Deadline, A Hard Look

  1. I know you’ve read this post of mine, but I talk about creating a writing environment in it and thought it would be easier to just copy the link: https://rqwoodward.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/how-to-write-40k-words-in-10-days/

    I love your additions! I think exercising (depending on what you are doing) is a great time to brainstorm and work through the next scenes of what you are writing. Hopefully it’ll help you get into the writing void that much quicker when you sit down to write at the end of the day! Though, I think the term “void” is a little funny. Haha, I can’t help but think of it with a negative connotation.

    I always have to give up video games when I am writing! I usually give up watching tv and movies too. It is always a choice, how to spend those free hours. I think it is easier to choose writing as your leisure hobby when you are enjoying what you are writing. When you are working through a tough spot or editing, choosing the writing project over video games or something else more relaxing is much tougher to do. I’ve had to make rules for myself about not checking social media sites while I’m writing too. It is way too easy to get distracted by them and waste time.

    I think you’re doing a great job for writing while still being a student! I gave up writing while I was finishing my degrees. It was too tempting and threatened to suck up all of my time. I was a history major with constant reading to do though. That you are able to do both is impressive 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a great post! I’m going to refresh myself on it before my flight back.

      The Void is a funny term, right? I think the connotation is that you’re so focused you see nothing but the object of your focus. For Rand al’Thor, it’s a flame.

      I’ve given up TV save for the occasional 24, which I’m rewatching with my sister, who’s new to the show. My to-watch movie list is halted as well, though I’ll watch a film with friends and family occasionally. Social media is an occasional bother, but I’ve been mostly good about the TV/movies/social media, thankfully! (Except for Snapchat, of course…)

      The school-writing balance thing is tough. I understand why you put writing to the side! I need to get better at balancing the two and finding a system that works, but I simply won’t be able to concede writing. Not at this stage, in the middle of something so exciting. As always, thank you for your valuable insights! I truly appreciate it. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That disembodied voice is a real cretin, isn’t it? I’m here to stay, much to its dismay. I think the goals are practical too. Reading back, I don’t think any one of them is a major challenge on its own. It’s locking into all of them which can make the real difference. I’m excited.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good post….So…some thoughts…Take or leave them…Don’t worry about deadlines, unless a publisher/agent is involved. In my experience, it’s more important to have a final product that ROCKS, than to meet a self-imposed deadline. So I would encourage you to relax on that point a bit, a bit. As for a writing “barn” or box or cell. It’s not a bad idea. And it’s best to have a writing space you can go to. As for me, I set apart my Sunday afternoons for writing and I always go to the same cafe. My cell phone is off, I can turn off the Internet and no one bothers me. All those distractions are SHUT DOWN and…I write. So, dedicated time and a simple dedicated space help me get it done. That’s it. Good luck with the novel!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your insights, Darius! I’ve heard both takes on the deadline bit, and I appreciate hearing yours. Currently, I’m in my first draft. If writing is a footrace, I’ve only just launched from the starting position. There is plenty to be done. I know myself: if the product isn’t as I want it to be, I won’t declare it finished. The thing about missing my deadline as opposed to a publisher’s is if I miss my deadline, it’s on me, and I know it’s on me. I can’t grumble about an outside party meddling with my “process.” It serves to keep me accountable, is all. I’ve noted your points, they provide an interesting take!

      And the writing space idea is pretty cool, right? For you, the cafe is a space where you can unplug and focus in on the work. You go there on a routine day at a routine time. That’s awesome. I looking forward to locking into such a routine. I’ll keep everyone posted, of course!

      Thank you for your well wishes, I appreciate you stopping by!

      Like

      1. I too think the same. Ever since I started blogging almost five years ago, my confidence has grown in my work. Though there are times when I’m surprised by the reaction to my work.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You seem to have a pretty solid grasp on matters and know what you want and need. That is admirable. I am old enough that I should have the same, but often find I need to “focus and get it figured out”. I probably would have a meltdown if you left wordpress.. just saying 😉

    I would also like to point out that I do not personally believe or accept that one can ever have enough or too much BioShock. Just saying.

    I wish you the very best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m going to use this post for reference to keep me accountable for sure. This is the most organized plan of attack I could come up with.
      As for BioShock…yeah, I know :/ . I’m hurting myself with that one. Is writing worth abstaining from that masterpiece of a game? That is the question… 😉
      Thank you for the well wishes!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sombre and slow to kicking ass. Nice turn-around. Clearly, there are two sides to every coin, and perspective.

    Thanks for the phlegm imagery. (I hope you’re feeling better.)

    Followers from France — well, my kids took French Immersion, and I know a bit. I was taught Parisian French rather sparingly as a second language at school; the rest is osmosis. Though that hardly qualifies as being from France. I’m also staring straight into a 3′ X 4′ Café des Amis canvas of a French restaurant.

    I like the environment quote. Either you have to have an inner drive like a wild horse — irrepressible (either by desire or by being bottled too long) — or you need environment. One is bound to work. You can also look for triggers. Depending on what I need to write, for me they are music (in the dark, eyes closed, active listening), housework, a drive, a coffee shop or other place people frequent, reading books or blogs, or just hanging out with my computer in the living room. By the way, if you build a writing barn in Jersey, you’re going to need heat. That could get expensive.

    Writing at night “when there are no longer any non-writing obligations for me to fulfill.” That’s exactly it. No end point, no other obligations. That’s how I wrote my novel. You describe the sweet spot of writing like a runner’s high.

    In terms of focus and concentration with regard to writing, I don’t have much insight for you because writing is the one thing I can do with absolute immersion for the longest of times. It’s important for it to be viewed as something you love, not a chore, something you escape *to*. Some days will naturally be more productive than others. The number one thing to get me going is to reread a portion of my w.i.p. up to the point from which I wish to continue, or read notes on scenes I want to write. Just reading stuff over gets you into the mode. Then you can take off and soar.

    Happy writing. (By the way, things always take longer than you think, so be kind to yourself, relax, and have fun.) I look forward to your posts.

    Geez, that’s a long comment. Shut me up already.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t bear reading what I had originally written, so I scrapped it all. I’d like to keep things positive around here. Otherwise, I’m a raincloud on the day of every reader who stops by. I definitely don’t want that!

      I apologize for the imagery. It’s such an ugly word I don’t want to repeat it. I am feeling better, thankfully!

      One of my few regrets in high school was choosing to take Spanish over French. I enjoy loads of French music and I find French culture and cuisine to be fascinating. I intend to visit France some day!

      Aurelius hit the nail right on the head, didn’t he? I figure inner drive paired with a proper environment can work wonders. I think you’re right when you say I have to look for triggers. Transitioning from non-writing mode to writing mode can be helped by a particular thing or action. Oh, and thus far, I’ve raised 18 cents, so I think a heated barn is doable.

      Writing at night has always worked best for me. I’ve had productive mornings and afternoons, but when the moon is out, the gloves are off.

      I’ve found that rereading what I’ve written prior to the blinking cursor helps me to reattune myself to what’s going on within the story, so I find that method to be great! Great tip! I know there’s no shortcut (I’m not looking for one), but boy, wouldn’t it be great if we could be 100% 100% of the time…

      Thank you for your insight, your support, and your encouragement. Happy writing to you as well. I appreciate any comment, no matter the length. Your thoughts are particularly valuable, so thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was joking about the phlegm imagery. My mother was a doctor and I have medical interests.

        I love French culture and language as well. My kids have all been to France, but I haven’t managed it yet. I took a year of Spanish in school. The combination of French and Spanish helped me speak Italian in Rome. My only regret is that, as a science student, I didn’t have room to take German, even for just one year. Having zero German background is a disability in life.

        So on the topic of Latin, Italian, and French (and phlegm), you might enjoy this:

        1. Why is English spelling so weird?
        Explains the origins of “island,” “colonel,” “ough,” and Greek, Latin, and French influences on English. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhqr-GNNgGo
        (I love this video because it answers the “s” in island and why “colonel” is pronounced the way it is–things that have been driving me crazy for the better part of 45 years.)

        2. Ricky Ricardo tries to grasp the English language: O-U-G-H
        From I Love Lucy. Funny. (Because I’m old enough to have watched the show as a child!)

        The 6 sounds of “ough”:
        /oo/ through
        /o/ thought
        /oe/ though
        /ow/ bough
        /off/ cough
        /uff/ enough

        I’m a literacy (and math) teacher at a clinic for dyslexia and other learning disabilities, plus I like languages, so these things kind of take front and centre for me. (Center, if you wish.)

        Thanks for your kind comments.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Interesting stuff! Thank you for sharing! That I Love Lucy clip is hilarious. Taking Latin for a semester was an eye-opening experience for me, as I noticed its influence on words and expressions we have in English, Spanish, and other languages outside the Romance family. Language is a fascinating thing!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is an admirable set of goals! I think a key consideration is balance so that you don’t burn yourself out. And it’s great when you look back over a piece and are able to change it from a negative to a positive perspective – an optimistic outlook is half the battle. All the best with your writing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, balance is key! If I’m going to complete a full-length novel, I need to run the race at a steady pace so I don’t burn myself out. I agree, positivity is essential. Thank you for your well wishes!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ahh I’m with you on Youtube being a brain drain- I watch way too many political videos myself- I keep planning on doing a cull but somehow I never manage it! I really should though… And I always have to make sure I set aside time for exercise- it’s easy for us writers to just think “nah- not today- I’m in the middle of an epic scene” but then like you said, a healthy writer is a happy writer. I get what you mean about music- I think I tend to stick to specific playlists so I don’t mess around with that too much.
    In general, it’s important to know we all miss deadlines- even in the ideal world of barn-dwelling authors, you get the occasional George R R Martin waiting months to write on his dinosaur computer (apparently that’s why there’s no sign of Winds of Winter) It’s always tough to find the balance in life- but the trick is to not give up! It’s one of those things where you’ve just got to grit your teeth and get on with it I’m afraid- but it’s worth it in the end! Good luck with all of this! Sounds like you have a solid plan!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha great point about Georgie, that slowpoke!

      Thank you for stopping by and reading this post. I know it was a long one, but I needed to share it, integral as it is to this journey. Your support is ALWAYS appreciated 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So… I just realized for whatever reason, your posts do not show up in my reader, which is super disappointing. I was waiting to see how your deadline with the first draft went and when I didn’t see any posts, I went looking for you and realized, NONE of your posts are showing up. C’est la vie, I suppose, I’ll have to remember for the future 😉

    But… this was a great post, and I’m really glad to see you’re keeping things in perspective. You have sooo much time. When I was in college, I was sure I would be published by the time I graduated. This did not happen, but you know what? It turned out to be for the best, because in hindsight, I really don’t think I was ready to publish (not saying you’re not, I’m just floating this). I know it’s cliche, but cliches become that way by being true, so I’m going to say, “Everything happens for a reason.” You’re not sitting on your haunches, waiting for it to happen, you’re working toward it, and I truly believe that when you work toward your goals, things really do fall into line… eventually.

    All that aside, yes, definitely you need a room of your own (Virginia Woolf agrees), though I will have to say a big good luck to that focus on demand thing! If you figure it out, please share! Happy New Year!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aimee, I greatly appreciate your heartfelt comment. I don’t know why my posts aren’t showing up for you. I’ll take a look under the hood to see if I could figure it out. I find it cool that you made an effort to stop by regardless!

      Thank you for sharing that bit about your writing endeavors in college. It resonated with me. Publication is a cool thing on the horizon, but my goal right now is to have a stellar story under my belt so I can charge for that horizon! An early step to that horizon is cranking out this first draft!

      I’ve just arrived back home. When I lock down that space of my own, I’m going to take a beautiful picture of it and share it. Thank you again for stopping by and offering your thoughts. Happy New Year to you as well!

      Like

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  9. Wow. A writing barn. I didn’t know that, but I’m not that surprised by it though. We’re talking about Stephen King after all! 100% agree with taking care of your health by hitting the gym. I believe the gym will help that everything in your body circulate even better and help oxygenate that brain of yours = an even better engine that will pour out ideas for you! Ahaahha at your use of SnapChat! Come on, mate! Delete the bugger! Definitely liked this post. I do wish you the best of luck in your writing. Hopefully putting school + your writing together won’t be a pain in the ass! 😀

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: January Writing Update and My New Deadline – J.J. Azar

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