I finished chapter eight of the novel that I've been working on for... Oh? Way. Too. Fucking. Long. And you want to know how I'm even comfortable asserting that I'm done with the initial draft of Chapter 8? I wrote an entire scene from Chapter 9 without saying "wow, I need another scene in Chapter 8 so that the story works out." Because I've finished Chapter 8 at least three times, but this time I'm pretty sure. There are a couple of interesting, or at least quasi interesting factors that I think are worth some attention.
For starters, I made some progress on the novel. I know that I don't have endless time to write fiction, and in addition to a day job that requires a bunch of my time and brain cycles, I write the blog, and work on other side projects: fiction, programming related things, the Cyborg Institute, dancing, singing, and occasionally sleeping. These are all projects that are important to me, and I think create value for me (and I hope in their own ways, you as well) so I don't want to sound as if I'm complaining about being too busy and overextended (perhaps I am), but as a result I think I'm being pragmatic to accept a slower pace of development.
At the same time, damn I need to finish this thing. It's good, I'm finally back in a place where I don't hate the story, but at the same time I'm very aware that I've learned a lot.
And perhaps that's the problem with taking so long to finish novels. Not so much that writing is a race, but if you aren't able to pull it off in a reasonable period of time, say 12 months, or so by the time you get to the end, you know so much more about the way you work about how to put together stories, and how to write, that creating a cohesive work becomes an actual challenge. At least for me, the thing I probably want more than anything right now, is a chance to work on other fiction projects, to take the lessons that I've learned from writing this story and apply them to writing other projects. I have a great idea for a new story laying around in a text file, but I'm not touching it yet.
The two most important things about being a writer, as far as I'm concerned, are actually writing things (done!) and finishing things (at which I think I get a middling B). So just starting new projects at whim, isn't exactly an option either. So in light of all this, what's my strategy? Fairly simple...
I've set a recurring task in my org system to write 100 words a day on the novel. Just 100 words. And if I know it's not going to happen I can mark the task as "skipped" or do it "late." But the truth is that 100 words is the kind of thing I can do in only a few moments, so it's not only a regular reminder to write, but also an eminently reasonable goal. Not only do 100 word segments add up (in a way that 0 word segments never do,) but the real trick is that in my mind I'm not trying to write very much, just enough to get started. If I don't, at least I've made a little progress. If I do, then all the better.
In addition to the regular writing task for the fiction project, I've also started keeping a journal using this method. I've also created a recurring tasks for keeping the journal, and I find this method tends to have a positive effect on my productivity. To-do lists are great for remembering and prioritizing tasks when you have a lot of balls up in the air, but they often fail at tracking real life in a reasonable way. The journal provides a good way to keep track of, and recognize the importance of all the things that we spend time doing, but that don't often have an opportunity to be captured into the to-do list before they get done. I think of it as a sort of inverse-to-do list.
It doesn't always work, of course. There are days when I don't get to either one of these tasks, and there are some days where I catch up on one or the other of them. But it's a good practice, and I focus on the things that are important: actually producing something and then also building and maintaining a habit.
Because I don't know how else things get done. Not that I'd be unwilling to listen if you have a better solution. See you in comments...