Every Drop Fills the Ocean

      Comments Off on Every Drop Fills the Ocean

I usually write picture books and short fiction. I love the short form.

Even if I rewrite and edit the same picture book manuscript or young fiction story about 25 to 30 times, the structure of the story and the word count is all still manageable in my head. The main difference is what I write and what I leave out. Because picture books are going to be illustrated, I don’t normally describe the characters or the setting. I start very close to the action and frame the story in 12 scenes.

But it’s been one of my long-standing aspirations to write something longer, that is similar to me telling an oral story to an audience, something for older children because my nephews are growing up and soon they’ll grow out of my picture books.

But like a novice athlete who cannot dream of lifting 100 kgs on Day 1, I must work towards that. I need to build the stamina to work on the same project for many weeks, months and perhaps years. I need to build the strength to fail and restart, to fall and get up again.

So when I got the opportunity to write a 40k book of retelling stories, I grabbed it. Well, I hummed and hawed for a bit. I worried whether I can maintain my patience and interest for that long. I worried that I can’t keep up the voice of my telling for that many words.

This is when my project manager training kicked in. When there is a large project that spans weeks my job as a project manager was to break it down into chunks and set achievable goals. So I went ahead and agreed to do the project.

The 45,000 words of stories was divided into roughly 19-20 stories. Each story was going to range from 2000 to 3000 words. I gave myself the target of writing 3 stories a week – which is a lot given that’s around 9000 words and I normally don’t write that much.

I sequenced the stories in such a way that there are two familiar ones that I can retell with backup research and a new story from the list that I need to learn more about. That gave me the mystery of discovering a new story and working out how to tell it.

As I wrote each day, I ticked off the list, kept track of the word count to boost my morale and was relieved that although I was coming to the same book the next day, it will be a new story to tell.

And little by little, my document grew. On schedule and on time, in two months’ time I had finished my book of 45000 words. It took me another week to edit and I let it rest for a bit. Then I read the whole thing again, this time loudly, editing it as I read it and I was done.

I wanted to share this with everyone because when as writers we start a new project, it’s always intimidating. It’s the slog that counts. Adding to the word count, working on the research, editing it without giving up on the project will get us there. Whether it’s a contracted project or a passion project, setting realistic goals will help us create a first draft that can then be edited.

But remember the goals must be realistic. If you have a 9-5 day job for 5 days a week, setting a 1000 word goal for every day might or might not be realistic. Set goals that work but also be consistent. Like going to the gym – the goal cannot be to go once a month as it will not serve the purpose. So if you want to finish a book, then the goal must be incremental and consistent. Also when you’re just starting out and balancing multiple life roles, it’s important to expect realistic things from yourself. Getting 10 minutes every day for yourself is a valid goal, expecting to go away for a whole day every week might not be. It needs to be specific to you. When I worked full-time, I set weekly goals of 4 hours that I usually met by getting up early or writing during the weekends.

Inhabiting the soul of a weight-lifter.

Anyway, back to my book of 45k words, it’s done now. It’s been edited, copyedited, and being illustrated now. Soon it’ll be time for the cover reveal and I can proudly say I’ve achieved one of my goals.