Tuesday, December 04, 2007

the q vs q question

My new strategy is to not worry about 1200 words. Not to resign to failure necessarily, but not to see word count as the goal.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set myself up for the same results. I get ambitious, get motivated, perform, and then retreat. This has happened so many times in my writing career that it galls me that I don’t learn from it.

The way I best serve my project is through continual engagement, meaning, giving myself to it every day—even if only for a half hour.

Strangely, I had a similar epiphany at my son’s parent-teacher conference the other day. The teacher was showing me sloppily executed work. The math pages were 75% wrong. The writing was crooked scrawl. We both know he can do better, so I asked the teacher to describe what was going on during these assignments. He hemmed and hawed and had no idea. So I presented a likely scenario, one informed by an ongoing discussion I’ve had with my son about the expectations in his classroom.

Carson did not take to reading quickly. He’s one of those reluctant readers: distracted, active, much more eager to actually do things rather than receive information passively. A normative third grade teacher’s nightmare, in other words. Carson has an IEP to help give him the extra attention needed to get him up to speed, and goes to a reading teacher four days a week. Consequently, he misses the directions for whatever work is being done in class. When he comes back a half hour later, he is told by his harried teacher to just “see what the other kids are doing and do that.” He is then expected to catch up and do all the work, and if the work isn’t done, he has to sit out recess until it is.

“It occurs to me,” I told the teacher, “that our goal is for Carson to do quality work with attention and focus. Is it really necessary that he fill out an entire math sheet, or write out a three-page journal? Are the numbers the important thing here, or can we alter the expectations to help motivate Carson to produce his best work?”

The teacher agreed to modify his expectations—we’ll see if he follows through. But recently I realized that those same guidelines might apply to me. Now I know that the whole “boot camp” idea is to realign priorities and get a work in progress to the finish line, but somehow the whip is missing the mark. I don’t just want to produce any old finished manuscript. I want to write a book I’m in love with. I want to care so much about my characters that I’m codependent on their behalf—just like in real relationships!

So, without further adieu, I'm shifting my focus to quality over quantity. I’m going to keep my word meter up on this blog, however. I like adding, turtle-like, the smear of daily paragraphs to its measure. And---I’m cautioning myself to avoid slipping into a “precious” feeling about my work. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be my best.

1 comment:

  1. Hemingway did what, 300 words a day?

    Do 400.

    No more. No less.

    No more, so you don't cheat the thought that's germinated over night. No less, so that the thought knows it has to be there.

    Do that for a while.

    1200 is too many, unless it's coming in fits of inspiration or your second draft.


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