Redoing the mental accounting

So I'm trying to finish up my book. The manuscript is due in a little less than a month, and I'm trying to get the last little bits filled in, the references checked, and so on. It's tedious, hard work. I also don't really have much in the way of an advance (basically, the publisher pays the author $X amount in future royalties up front; the first $X of royalties goes to the publisher instead of the author. After that, the royalties goes to the author. It's basically a gamble on the part of the publisher as to how much money they think the book will earn. I'm working with an academic publisher who operates under a royalties only system. No advance, but once the royalties start rolling in, they're all mine.), which means I have to keep up my regular writing stuff, too.

So I devise daily tasks for myself, like finish Chapter 10, email so-and-so, etc. The most common task, however, is "Write XX words." I like numbers. I like tasks that are easily definable and clear-cut. Things like "work on references" are awfully vague, and I never know how much work is required to be able to check that SOB off my list. On the one hand, discrete goals like writing, say, 1500 words are easier to accomplish because they are so concrete.

On the other hand, 1500 words don't always come magically flowing off my fingers. Sometimes I get stuck, sometimes I spend several hours chasing down a single study that I need to make my point (PubMed is a contact sport...really...), sometimes I have other paying writing jobs that act as a giant time suck. My carefully scripted goal of 1500 (or 1000 or 2000 or 500) goes caput.

That happened on Saturday. I did several lengthy interviews during the day, which were all duly checked off. But I still primarily measure my progress in words per day, which was definitely lacking. I really meant to get more done in the evening, but I got in a groove cleaning my place and then some trashy TV came on, which made me keep cleaning so I could justify my occasionally questionable taste in television programs. As it happened, time passed and here I was at bedtime with hardly any progress made on my book.

I was beating myself up in my head for being lazy and not making progress and I was a crap writer so what business did I have trying to finish a book--a book for crap's sake! But then I started thinking. My interviews gave me a LOT of good material, and I can't really write without doing interviews. I got some cleaning out of the way, which was a good thing.

The problem was that my accounting methods weren't actually factoring in the other important work I was doing. It had become just about the numbers, when in fact, the numbers only tell part of the story of book progress.

I suppose this story says a lot about my focus on numbers and on details at the expense of the big picture. No doubt it does. But this focus isn't necessarily written in stone, either. I might gravitate to it rather naturally, but I also need to work on recognizing the problems I encounter when I do this and work on bringing my vision back to be more holistic.


Emily said...

That's an interesting observation about the differents ways in which you/we rely on numbers to set goals or make sense of things. It caused me to think of other areas og my life in which I rely on numbers.

I was so hoping you would interview me for your book. I just love your past books! I understand that you don't have time for everyone though, but I'm still here if you need me!


hm said...

Aw. You are darling, you know that? Just darling.

And, don't forget the accomplishments completely UNrelated to your book- keeping up your blog, the edbites fb page- plus, as you mentioned, cleaning your place.

A person's head can get "too full"- and if I interviewed a bunch of people, my head would get awfully full- by evening, I would have NO mental energy left to process all the words in there concisely. It makes all the sense in the world that you'd need time to clean and veg in front of the tv, and give your brain a break.

Sounds to me like your body sort of went on autopilot to meet your need to get away from the words- but then your brain didn't appreciate what your body was doing for you, and called you names for it. Sigh.

Your brain was wrong. :) You're a GREAT writer and not lazy at all. Interviews are hard work.

You will get it done in time. You will be ok. Great job recognizing that success isn't always measured numerically. :)

ex ana said...

Imagine: How many readers are waiting for your next book?

Cammy said...

I do *exactly* the same thing with checklists and word counts. Really glad you were able to reframe how the day went to see how much you had accomplished. Interviews can be really exhausting! And material-gathering is a necessary evil sometimes, but it all moves the process forward.

I absolutely can't wait to read your book, by the way, looking forward to it!

Anonymous said...

I've always hated that claim. I don't even bother with makeup! How belittling towards ED sufferer's.

Anonymous said...

Carrie, I love what I have seen of your blog so far, I just came across it today as I was doing some research.

I too have struggled with an eating disorder which lasted for nearly 7 years and have been in a state of solid recovery for 4 years. I have recently started my own blog:
and through it I have received many personal messages as to the actual steps that I took to overcome my eating disorder which seems to really be helping which is amazing.

Anyway, I thought I would reach out and introduce myself in the hopes that you may find something that I write interesting and helpful on your recovery journey. Feel free to message me privately as well if you wish.


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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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