Course Corrections

I recently read that the trajectory of the successful Apollo moon rocket was “off course” 90 percent of its flight–and yet…

It still reached the moon!

How did that happen?

  1. Scientists acknowledged the deviations from the expected path.
  2. They repeatedly made the necessary course corrections.
  3. They achieved an adequate (though not perfect) trajectory to the moon.

Scientists made a major breakthrough in space exploration by sticking to the mission in spite of numerous setbacks.

How’s Your Trajectory?

What does the moon mission have to do with writing? Well, I was looking at my 2013 yearly goals over the weekend, and like the Apollo mission, my trajectory is off course–and has been most of the year. Earlier I made enough course corrections to help, but over the summer (with the addition of two new grandbabies) my trajectory got way off!

In the past, my strategy for reaching goals has been to first make them, then get waaaay behind or detoured, then either (1) give up on the goal, or (2) make drastic course corrections to force myself back in line.

The drastic course corrections usually happened when I had a deadline with a publisher. For example, the original goal of “hitting the moon” might have been to write five pages per day for four months. Not hard. However, after procrastinating or just dealing with “life issues” for two months, I would panic, course correct my goals, and commit to writing ten pages per day to meet the deadline. That writing schedule worked until Day Four when an interruption kept me from the keyboard.

What’s the Answer?

Now, right there, an Apollo scientist would have re-figured the goal, spreading out that minor missed day of writing over the coming weeks. But I tended instead to let one day of failure slip into two or three. Denial is a great place to live–as long as you can stay there! But eventually panic sets in, and you are forced because of the deadline to re-figure your trajectory. By now, though, you have to write 15-20 pages per day. Every day. No days off.

Panic and adrenaline can manage it, to the detriment of your health and the quality of your writing. How much better off I would be if I followed the successful Apollo mission method instead.

Keeping Track

Here is where the idea of a spreadsheet would be a benefit. The very day you fall behind your goal, you could re-figure your daily word counts. One day’s lost writing, spread out over the coming weeks, would barely be noticed. Regaining your trajectory (your deadline) would take very little extra daily effort. And if, every single time you got off course, you re-figured and kept moving, you’d also hit your target.

We need to learn to be resilient. (I have been telling myself this all month.) Every time we have a setback or surprise, we need to recalculate. A setback requiring a course correction might come in the form of being sick yourself, having a child needing extra help, unexpected company arriving, you name it! Life is full of things that cause setbacks for writers. Any number of things can get you off your trajectory.

We may not be flying to the moon, but we can learn a lot from this successful Apollo mission that was off course most of its flight. We need to pay attention to our goals and our progress, be aware when we’re off course, and make those corrections quickly. This skill is a part of the successful–and sane–writer’s life.

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6 Responses to Course Corrections

  1. Alice says:

    After ten years of participating in NaNoWriMo, I’ve gotten pretty good at recalculating like this – during November. I have 30 days to write 50,000 words. If I miss a day, I never try to make it all up the next day – it would never work. But if I write an extra one or two hundred more words every day for the rest of the month, I often have enough to cover the shortfall. But I’ve also learned to NEVER miss two days in a row. That’s deadly. And getting a cushion on the days the writing is flowing makes up for the bad days.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t taken the lesson I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo and applied it to the rest of the year. That’s something I’ll need to look at in this coming year. When I set my goals for 2014, I have to be prepared to recalculate and not just give up.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Alice, you took the words right out of my mouth. After doing the NaNo challenge this year and hitting the 50,000, I realized that it was by doing just what you said–recalculating and keeping going. But like you, I hadn’t been doing that throughout the year. I don’t know why! It makes perfect sense. But I sabotaged myself a couple times last year by procrastinating, panicking, and then giving up on something. I intend to do things differently this year–as soon as I figure out what that will look like with the various kinds of writing I do.

  2. Liz says:

    Recalculating…. In a way it sounds like & seems like what the GPS lady does . So in a way we can be focused like “she” is even when we go off course. Now to find or create my writing GPS ;-)

    • kwpadmin says:

      Yes, Liz, exactly! I am still journaling with myself, trying to figure out how this might work on something besides calculating word counts (although that’s going to be important to me on a couple of projects due early in 2014.) I don’t have a GPS lady, but I could use one! :-)

  3. I do the recalculating fairly consistently when my deadline has been imposed by an editor, and I pride myself on either meeting my deadlines or getting the work in ahead of them. I want those editors to call me again. The problem comes when I’m working on my own writing. I have two projects that I really want to finish by mid-February. In the past that meant that getting a new freelance gig or dealing with some extra stress from the part-time day job or family would probably slide that deadline into March or even later. I was surprised to learn, from the latest writing challenge that I can actually be creative in the evenings. I’m hoping that an extra hour or so of work at night–which will still leave me some unwinding time–will be the solution to meeting my personal deadlines next year. I used to be very quick to throw up my hands and say that there just wasn’t enough time. That won’t be happening any more.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Heather, I have exactly the same issue. I’m on time or early with editor-imposed deadlines for the same reasons! I think I might need to try your idea of doing some writing in the evening–and still leave some unwinding time so I can sleep. My own personal novel writing has gone by the wayside too much, but those challenges this year have helped me a LOT too!

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