I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. When I started this year, I had a rough goal I wanted to hit: six new pages in the notebook a day, on average, so I would have time to do other things. Some of those things were writing related – redrafting, managing email, blogging here – and some just in terms of having a life. Doing my laundry regularly would be a welcome change.
Six pages a day, on average. It might not sound like much, but it adds up to nine notebooks worth of writing a year, which in turns adds up to four novel drafts and change.
I was happy with that goal in January.
Forty-six days later, it has fallen by the wayside.
Not because I’m having trouble hitting the six pages, but because I am suffering from scope creep. I spent last week trying to hit ten pages every day, on average. Ten pages, because if I can manage that, I will finish off the notebook I’m using by the end of the month. Which, in turn, means I will be crazy close to the end of the novel draft a month ahead of schedule.
I don’t need to be doing this. It’s counter-productive, when you look at the reasons I wanted to slow down at the start of the year. But it’s an incredibly easy thing to slip into because there are no edges to creative work, beyond working on it and finished it. Chasing the end of a novel draft, no matter what, feels like the most productive thing I can be doing at any given time, regardless of whether it truly is.
I think this is one of the things I like about the notebooks: every page is a clearly defined milestone along the way. The six-pages I do ever day get broken up into stages that are easily visible and there is a clear sigh I have achieved it. They have edges that are visible and recognisable, even if they are arbitrary. I can see the advancement, flick through it and enjoy the sense of achievement.
Editing and redrafting on the computer doesn’t have the same satisfaction. Even when I create a check-list of things that need doing, similar to the weekly chart on the top of this post, there is an arbitrariness to the advancement that feels unsatisfying.
And this, in general, is the problem with creative work.
It begins and it ends, but everything between is an poorly defined mess of wanting to do better. You always feel like you should be doing more, working harder. It’s why I will feel better about the six pages I write on a Thursday, which is an extraordinarily busy day with a lot of commitments, than I will on a write-club day where I clear twenty pages of new words. One feels like I’ve been working hard within the time constraints, the other feels like I’ve been slacking off.
A productive day at the word-mines is an easy thing to chase down. A satisfying day at the word mines is much harder.
So, creative types, a question for you: when do you know you’ve had a good day creating art? When can you sit back, at the end of the day, and think yeah, I kicked all the ass today? More importantly, how often does that shift when you’re not paying attention?
What are the edges of your work?