It’s just after mid year (EOFY I would have labeled it in a former life) and one Big Year – that of the jogging obsession – is, I reckon, swimming with head above water.
But the other, far more crucial Big Year – the writing one – has hit an underwater shoal. In truth, it was a flawed, if deliberately over-ambitious aspiration for 2016. Imagine the fear in confronting the primary work target for one’s year! I’ve taken the overwhelming step of turning one Big Year into two Big Years. Now to ensuring delivery . . .
I only have three weeks until an extended hiking trip, so reassessment is vital. If I knew how to shift existential purpose with a casual pen, well, I would. But it’s difficult. And so it should be. The work begins . . .
I’ve been trying not to think much about my aim to conduct a Cranes Big Year, twelve calendar months during which I seek, see, photograph and write about all the crane species of the world across every continent. This is a very different “big year” to jogging more, or writing more productively, or devoting time to activism. The “cranes” notion is an unbidden one, coming from deep inside. In some sense, the cranes have spoken to me.
Well, a sixty-year-old needs to schedule the more physical years earlier rather than later, so I’ve been avoiding cranes. But take a look at this photo of brolgas at the Western Treatment Plant! David Adam, a member of Victorian Birders, has captured a familial scene I’ve never witnessed. As soon as I saw this shot, I knew the Cranes Big Year must be bumped up in the queue. David, thanks!
You run four times a week, every week. It’s familiar, right? So you can decide on any given day whether to run slower or faster, right? Well, it doesn’t work that way.
Sunday’s jog was like punching through molasses, horrid and slow from the beginning. The next day seemed no different but when Strava gave me the first kilometer split, I realized I was travelling fast, very fast for me. Off I went. This morning, running early after a rainy night, I felt just as good as two days ago, and anticipated a similarly sweet Strava call, but no, I was slow again. A different slow – hey, I felt fine – but slow indeed. The three days’ average paces (minutes/km) were 6:21, 6:11 and 6:22. We’re talking a difference of 300 meters!
So . . . if you’re an athlete, I guess you can fine tune fast or slow days. For the bulk of us thudding around the streets, running remains a mystery. The best you can do, it seems to me, is to take the slow days with the fast.
Lit Hub, the interesting website for readers, has decided to do for recent books what Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic does for films, i.e. aggregate and average public reviews. It surveys a wide range of publications, and whenever a new book gains enough critical mass for three or more reviews, Book Marks pronounces an A/B/C average rating and sums up critical responses. The Book Marks website is vibrant and attractive, and there is some benefit to being able to quickly ascertain a book’s reception. But I’m not partial to Rotten T and doubt if I’ll use this site. Just as a parcel of Amazon reviews can be superficially worth examining, but always ends up as confusing because you just don’t know where the reviewers are coming from, I believe in following individuals, critics with consistent outlooks and standards.
A few years down the track, I intend to do a Reading Big Year, reading some three or four books a week for all fifty-two weeks of the year. Should I review them all? The idea is most attractive, if scary.
There are so many ways to organize a day, especially if you’re willing to rise before everyone else. Distractions abound. I decided to try a different way of structuring time. As soon as I’m up in the morning, I will write uninterrupted until noon. I call this the AM Brick Wall, a barrier cutting everything else off. No newspaper, no email, no Facebook, no SMS. Let’s see how this idea fares.
My left foot: recurring twinges of near lameness in that outer edge under the ankle . . . occasional arch soreness . . . two months old . . . random recurrence during jog . . . random recurrence sitting at a desk . . . time to visit a physio, someone cognisant with regular exercise, someone who won’t prescribe useless rest.
Ten years. First half year. Two big years halfway through. Progress?
Jogging Big Year: big thumbs up.
Writing Big Year: big thumbs down
Am I disappointed that my core goal for 2016, to complete a draft manuscript, has turned to ashes? Am I disappointed that what I said would take one year will take two?
Of course I’m stricken. Or rather, I was stricken. But aiming high and failing can bring rewards. I aimed for something I can’t deliver. But now I see what I can aspire to deliver. If shipping the book takes two years, not one, but I’m at last confident, deep down, of getting there, then I can sigh with relief, pick up pen, and get to it.
There’s nothing like butcher’s paper for making sense of bafflement. Dates, chapters, commitments, family . . . mix them and see. The second half of 2016 has only 11 clear weeks for writing. The original goal – finish Reactor – is impossible. 2017 can focus more on Big Year writing: I’ll stay put for 43 weeks. Then I can aim to spend 3-4 weeks on drafting each of Chapters 5 to 20, plus finish Chapter 2 to 4 in the next 5 weeks.
All of which translates to two new Writing Big Years:
- 2016 Writing Big Year: draft Chapters 1 to 8, covering 1942 to 1969. Let me call this Volume I: The Years of Promise.
- 2017 Writing Big Year: draft Chapters 9 to 20 and be done. Let me call this two volumes, one for each half of the year: Volume II: The Years of Doom (1970 to 1985) and Volume III: The Schism Years (1986 to now).
Why break the book up into three volumes? To sharpen focus: finish something! Also, I might even move to publish the book in parts.
(Please note: all the above names, of the book and of the “volumes” are just working titles, I’m sure the eventual titles will be completely different.)
As with any management or motivational tool, how we plan and monitor a Big Year is all-important. One of the major issues confronting me at the start of the writing big year was that I’d gathered, and was continuing to assemble, too much research information. Every attempt to write something engaging had gone nowhere. I needed a new mindset, so I boldly said: no more research, use your brain to cut through the thickets of information, and just write the damned book. Enter the 2016 Big Year: by December 31, through reckless courage and bold thinking, write a draft of all 20 chapters.
Of course I knew that would be tough, if only because prior arrangements, some clean-up work in January, and overseas visitors, etc., meant that 2016 at-desk time will only amount to just over six months. I worked out that all I had to draft each chapter was a week and a half. So be it, I yelled, and got cracking.
At the Big Year halfway mark, Chapter 1 is drafted and Chapters 2-4 are “nearly there.” I’ve spent some three weeks on Chapters 3 and 4, and eight weeks (yes, eight, not one and a half) on Chapter 2. A disaster.
But much good came from this half-year push. I now have a “plotting process” that winnows the piles of research and provides a blueprint for drafting. The analyse-then-plot-then-draft process grows clearer and quicker each time. For the first time in years, I can see the end of it all.
But how to rescue the Big Year? Or should it be abandoned? I grab some butcher’s paper and “think tank.”