Writers, What Are Your Goals This Week?

in Holly Tucker, Research and Writing


By Holly Tucker
(Editor, Wonders & Marvels)

Q: What if all of the writers out there talked shop here on Mondays?  What if we also each  jotted down our weekly writing goals in the comments?    

A:  Only great things!

Every Monday, I share my writing accountability goals by email with my writing group.  It occurs to me that much of what I write to them, I could also share publicly here.  In fact, it might even be a great way for the many writers who are regular W&M readers to get to know each other and to provide welcome encouragement and support.

Here, I’m in the process of working on my next book–which has required tons of work when it comes to structure.  My goal this week is think through a few missing narrative connections and to finish up the new chapter descriptions.  Next up after that will be to put the finishing touches on the sample chapter…with the goal of getting the proposal out by December 7.

Call me superstitious, but I won’t say much specific about the topic just yet–other than that the book will be the same type of deeply researched, nonfiction-that-reads-like-a-novel as Blood Work, this time with a focus on science in the French Revolution.

But what I can say right now is that book proposals are a lot of work.  I’m on my third, no fourth, iteration of this project.  The process was the same, in fact, for Blood Work.  Each version of the proposal brought me closer to where I needed to be.  But it was not until the fourth round of revisions that I knew that I had nailed it.

It’s been a long process–but I feel it in my gut that I’m almost there with this new one.  I just keep telling myself that every hour, every day spent hammering out the details now will make my work later much easier.  And from past experience, I know this to be entirely true.

Awhile back, I shared a bit about my research flow. More to come.  I’ll also write more in detail another time about how my writing days are structured (and I write every day…ok, ok, mostly every day). But the one thing that I consistently do at every stage of book writing is to READ.

I spend a bit of time each morning studying other narrative history books. My focus as I read depends on what is preoccupying me in regard to my own writing at that moment. Sometimes it’s voice. Sometimes it’s narrative detailing.  Other times, character development.

And when I’m trying to wrangle my own structure (like now), I outline other books so I can figure out what makes them so good. I just finished up plotting out Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook and, right now, I’m taking apart Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic.  Both are historical writers whom I respect very much and have the good fortune of meeting in person.  My own book will look very different than theirs, of course. But it is incredibly helpful to think through all the different (and successful) ways that other writers craft their nonfiction stories.

At every stage of my writing, I also read a lot about craft. Recently, I’ve been alternating between two books.  The first is StoryCraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction, by Jack Hart. The second, Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction by James Stewart.  Both have great sections on structure.  But Stewart’s is especially interesting because he walks his readers through his process for structuring several long-form articles, which are reprinted in the back of the book.  I think my writing group and I are going to read the articles together and take things apart on our own over the next couple of weeks.

A special gem of the week was David Dobbs’ excellent interview with Rebecca Skloot (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks).  David and Deborah Blum are leading a session on structure and longform nonfiction at the upcoming Science Online meeting.  You can bet I’ll bet there!

Looks like all of us, everywhere, battle the same beasts.  And why any writer who is serious about their craft will tell you this is damn hard work.

SO, what project are YOU working on and what do YOU want to accomplish this week?  Let’s see if we can create a supportive writerly community on Wonders & Marvels!

 

Image:  Amelita Galli-Curci types a letter (ca. 1920).  Library of Congress.

 

  • http://www.mark-patton.co.uk Mark Patton

    I’m moving from non-fiction to historical fiction, and recently attended a fantastic conference on the relationship between them at the Institute of Historical Research (Hilary Mantel and Rebecca Stott were key speakers). One of my craft guides at the moment is Marguerite Yourcenar’s essay on “Tone and Language in Historical Fiction.” Anyhow, I’m just finalising draft 14 of my novel, Undreamed Shores, set in the age of Stonehenge, and planning to make two or three submissions this week.

    • http://www.holly-tucker.com Holly Tucker

      hi Mark. Are you querying agents right now? 2-3 is it!

      By the way, I started a shared Google Doc for everyone to put links to writing resources of interest. If you have a link for Yourcenar (which I haven’t read before), please add! http://tinyurl.com/W-Mwriters

      • http://www.mark-patton.co.uk Mark Patton

        Hi Holly, Yes, I sent off one query earlier and am 75% through another. I think I’ll stick at 2. I’m pretty sure that Yourcenar’s article doesn’t exist online. It is in a compilation of her essays entitled That Mighty Sculptor, Time.

  • Dave Tschanz

    For what it’s worth — I’m in the process of completing an article on the Eradication of Malaria in Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia — one of the great stories of a corproarte – governmental partnership and a major public health achievement.  Its also the last week of the month so three newsletter ranging from 12-72 pages need to be finalized and published under my “editorial direction.”  Next week I’ll be working on an article on the coal miner wars in the US and working on a book I have in manuscript

    • http://www.holly-tucker.com Holly Tucker

      Hi Dave. Ok, a completed article and the newsletters it is! This is great–I have no business making any excuses if you guys are all hard at work too.

  • http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/superbug Maryn McKenna

    Lovely idea, Holly. My goal for the next few days is to pack, move and unpack my office without a complete breakdown. Once I get past the hell of moving, my goal is to institute my agent’s recent recommendation that I take myself on a “creativity date” once a week — get out from behind my desk, go somewhere different, stop churning copy and give myself a chance to think about my book project. 

    • http://www.holly-tucker.com Holly Tucker

      Hi Maryn. You have moved more than one person ever should! I love the idea of a “creativity date.” Your articles for Wired are always so good–I can’t imagine the amount of work you have to put into them. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/superbug/ No wonder you need to make it a goal to get out a little! Let us know how it goes this week?

    • Jessica Brockmole

      I love the idea of a “creativity date”!  It’s always amazing to me how just a change of venue can often be the ticket to a really productive plotting/writing session.

  • http://twitter.com/leahmariebrown Leah Brown

    I am trying to finish my sixth novel, about a spy on a mission to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte.  This WIP has been looming for years and I really want it completed this year.  Can’t wait to read your WIP!  It sounds fascinating!  (I am a bit biased in regards to the setting, as you know ;)

    • http://www.holly-tucker.com Holly Tucker

      Hi Leah. So what’s your goal for -this- week? Be specific. How many words? Or chapters? Or hours?

    • http://www.mark-patton.co.uk Mark Patton

      Hi Leah, I’m wondering whether you have read George Balleine’s “The Tragedy of Philippe d’Auvergne”? Depending on your dates, D’Auvergne might have been your protaganist’s boss, a sort of late 18th/early 19th Century “M.” Despite his name he was on the British, not the French side. He will feature in my novel, “Omphalos,” but that’s a long way in the future.

  • http://accomplishedyounglady.com BethDunn

    I love setting public goals and keeping myself accountable to them! (No seriously, I do.) I’ve been working on Book 3 in a trilogy, very early stage stuff, so my goals are to keep plugging away consistently each day, and produce a minimum of 1,000 new words on this project each day. It’s likely that I’ll be spending some more time revising Books 1 and 2 as well this week, but that will depend on a few factors external to MOI, as Miss Piggy would say. One of the key things I’ve learned about setting goals is to focus only on those things that involve no external dependencies — if I’m waiting on feedback before I can proceed, or need some vital document for research, I need to focus on something else for a while until that blocker has been removed. Otherwise I just tread water indefinitely, and I feel like I’ll never accomplish anything ever again. It takes me about two or three days of not-writing to reach this level of despondency. 

    • Holly Tucker

      Go Beth, W&M contributor extraordinaire!  (Here are some of her links BTW:  http://www.wondersandmarvels.com/category/beth-dunn-2)

      I love what you saying about reaching despondency.  For me, I can make excuses over and over again for about a week.  I tell myself that maybe I’m done writing.  That I don’t really need to write another book.  Then once I’ve hit maximum slothness, I can’t stand myself.  I -have- to get back to work.  So the only way I can battle that is by trying to write even just a little each day.  No miracle cure there:  isn’t that about what EVERYONE says?

  • http://accomplishedyounglady.com BethDunn

    I love setting public goals and keeping myself accountable to them! (No seriously, I do.) I’ve been working on Book 3 in a trilogy, very early stage stuff, so my goals are to keep plugging away consistently each day, and produce a minimum of 1,000 new words on this project each day. It’s likely that I’ll be spending some more time revising Books 1 and 2 as well this week, but that will depend on a few factors external to MOI, as Miss Piggy would say. One of the key things I’ve learned about setting goals is to focus only on those things that involve no external dependencies — if I’m waiting on feedback before I can proceed, or need some vital document for research, I need to focus on something else for a while until that blocker has been removed. Otherwise I just tread water indefinitely, and I feel like I’ll never accomplish anything ever again. It takes me about two or three days of not-writing to reach this level of despondency. 

  • http://www.historyinthemargins.com Pamela Toler

    Holly, great idea and just the kick in the pants I needed.  I’ve spent the last week trying to get my head back in the game.  I have three major projects in play at the moment:  I’m revising one not-quite-historical novel, in a first draft on an historical fantasy, and working on a book proposal.  My goals for the week are to finish revising chapter 19 (which is a beast, as were chapters 17 and 18),  write 5000 words on the draft, and struggle with the structure issues on the book proposal.

  • Tracy Barrett

    I just brought my heroine crashing down from an emotional high point to devastation; now I have to bring her to the next crisis (a complicated one) without ploddingly saying and then she did this and then she said that. I erase two sentences for every three I write–sometimes the reverse.

    • http://www.holly-tucker.com Holly Tucker

      Go Tracy! When I first read your comment, I thought: wow, sounds like a puppetmaster. But now I’m wondering who is the master and who is the puppet. I’ve heard some fiction writers say their characters tell them what they need to do. Is that the case for you? Or do you get to boss them around?
      Love all of your posts on W&M, by the way! http://www.wondersandmarvels.com/?s=tracy+barrett

  • http://twitter.com/MZiegler3 Michelle Ziegler

    I am at the very early stage of a book project. I still don’t have an angle to write a book so I’m doing some general research, doing some presentations on the topic and using my blogs as a annotated bibliography of sorts. This will be my first book and I have no idea how to write a proposal. Suggestions on a how-to for book proposals would be welcome. My general topic is the first plague pandemic in “Dark Age” northern Europe (6th-8th century) – basically Ireland, Britain, and Merovingian France.

    My goals for this week are to finish a paper I presented at Kalamazoo last May for a possible book chapter in a volume on history of med. collected studies. It is due this week. I also want to finish a blog post related to this paper.

    I work full time in a clinical laboratory so I won’t be able to post until evenings.

    My blogs are Heavenfield http://hefenfelth.wordpress.com (primarily medieval history) and Contagions http://contagions.wordpress.com (primarily science and history of science).

    Michelle Ziegler

    • http://www.holly-tucker.com Holly Tucker

      Hi Michelle. You might have a look at Susan Rabiner’s Thinking Like Your Editor when it comes to proposals. Lots of great food for thought. Looking forward to hearing how the papers turns out this week!

  • Adrienne Mayor

    My goal this week is to finish two sections about ancient Amazons. I hope to be able to condense down to the bedrock of what I want to say, why it needs to be said, and how I plan to proceed. The second section dispels popular and scholarly myths about women warriors, but without boring readers or offending specialists. And that entails trying to walk that tightrope between overestimating and underestimating one’s audience. 

    • http://www.holly-tucker.com Holly Tucker

      Amazons! Whohoo!

      By the way, one of my history of medicine students did a presentation today on her semester-long research on early-modern poisons. She opened her talk by mentioning your book, The Poison King. She said it inspired her to learn as much as she could about the legacy of Mithidrates.
      Also can’t wait for your next post on Wonders & Marvels. Loved the last one: http://www.wondersandmarvels.com/?s=adrienne+mayor

  • Jessica Brockmole

    Can we still pretend it’s Monday?  Because I can really use a little accountability motivation.

    I’d really love to hit my 30k mark on my WIP by the end of the week.  That’s about 4k away.  I always feel a little more relaxed once I pass 30k.  By that point, I’m usually deep enough into the story that I won’t get frustrated and set it aside.

    • http://www.holly-tucker.com Holly Tucker

      800 words a day. That’s just under 3 pages. You can do it!

  • http://esmeraldamac.wordpress.com/ Diane McIlmoyle

    Thanks for the recommendations – I’ve ordered one of those books. Great blog, btw :)

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