Saturday, September 11, 2010

Win the Day

I’m reading Drew Brees’s book Coming Back Stronger, which he wrote with Chris Fabry. For those of you who don’t know, Brees is the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, and of the first Saints team to ever win a Super Bowl. I’m a big Saints fan, and although I don’t often say that I “admire” human beings, I do have a level of admiration for what Brees has accomplished. He came back from both a knee injury in high school and a shoulder injury in the pros that could easily have ended his career. And he came back, not merely to play well, but to play exceptionally well at the highest level of his profession.

I’m always relating the stuff I’m reading to my own chosen profession, which is writing. Brees’s book is no exception. One thing the quarterback said early in the book really resonated with me. It’s something I’ve thought about often enough but hadn’t really put into effective words. When Brees started rehabbing his shoulder, a process that required an average of about 9 hours of work a day, he got some advice from a friend. His friend told him to focus only on “winning the day.” Brees knew it would take at least 8 months of rehab to regain most of the strength and flexibility in his shoulder, and he came to understand that he simply could not manage if he tried to consider that long period all at once. He could only think about what he was going to do “that” day, what he was going to do to “win” that day.

One could easily argue that life is like that, too. I know that writing certainly is. Novels, and even most stories, are like Brees’s months of rehab. Writing a “novel” is an impossible dream, a somewhat preposterous dream. No one sits down and writes a novel. What you write instead is a page, a scene, a chapter. Getting too far ahead of the immediate needs of the manuscript can be deadly to one’s progress.

I think is why many writers swear by an outline. The outline sets up the “steps” they’ll have to take to finish a book. And once that blueprint is there they can focus on one step at a time until the whole is completed. Such a plan makes the impossible, possible. Now, I don’t do a detailed outline myself for novels, but I do develop a rough outline of what is going to happen in my books at least a few chapters ahead. I’ve discovered that there’s a pattern I follow in every book. I get an idea and run with it for a few chapters. Then I hit a wall. Then I’ll figure out what’s going to happen a little further along and I race along for another few chapters before hitting another wall. The reason is that when I reach the end of my “few chapters plan,” I’m now faced with the monumental task of writing the whole book instead of having it broken down into manageable steps. I can’t “win” the novel. I can’t “win” 8 months of time at once. I can win today’s pages, today’s scene. I’ll let the rest take care of itself. Until I get there. I also know that I can even “lose” a few days. As long as I consistently win most of them.

So, what’s your idea of “winning a day?”

22 comments:

David J. West said...

I think my idea of winningthe day is when I can sit down and put down a couple thousand words-and still end up keeping most of them later.

Deka Black said...

My idea? Do something good. My goal? 1000 words/day. But sometimes is not posiible for whatever the reason is.

So,, to me, winning the day is do something makes me feel "Guy, you've done good today, your characters are really satisfied!"

G said...

When I was working on my last two projects, "winning the day" for me was pounding out at least 750 words each time I sat down.

Now "winning the day" for me is if I can pick up the plot again and not vapor lock.

Uggh.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I have the same work pattern. Write, hit block, plan a few chapters, write.

For me winning the day is to just get a few words of writing, editing or mental plot planning.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sounds like a good book. I have great admiration for Brees as a quarterback and a person. And that's sound advice - just one step at a time.

Charles Gramlich said...

David J. West, yes, being able to keep yesterday's words today is definitely a win.

Deka, it's like much else, I certainly know it when I see it.

G., true, the nature of a win changes. AS Brees points out in his book too.

Jewel, that pattern works for me. I'm almost afraid to try plotting out a whole book ahead of time, afraid I'll completly lose interst.

Alex, He is definitely a man who puts his effort where his mouth is.

Ron Scheer said...

Akin to the AA adage, "One Day at a Time." It cuts a long-term goal down to manageable steps.

As for your pattern of write-block-regroup-write, there's cognitive evidence of this as the way expert writers of all kinds write. They write up a storm, then hit the wall, re-read what they've written, and then write some more. Repeating as needed.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ron, I hope that means I'm on the right track. or should I say "write" track!

Jess said...

I write about like you do -- I get the idea and run with it, then stop to regroup with an outline.

As for winning the day: when I crawl into bed each night and think about the day I've lived, and when I wake up the next morning and realize I have new opportunities.

As usual, excellent post. Remember this Win the Day stuff when you're asked to speak at conferences, etc.
Good stuff, and I have you down as a possible speaker for the summer of 2011. :)

Steve Malley said...

Hm, been a while since I thought about 'winning' the day. Mostly these days, I just try to stay on my feet til the end of the round.

Maybe it's time I thought about winning again... :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Jess, I'm hoping to visit too. It would certainly be interesting.

Steve Malley, I usually feel that way about the end of the semester, but after some rest I'm back to more positive thinking.

Charles Gramlich said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
laughingwolf said...

very well said, charles... some days i'm the writer, others, not even in the tale :O

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, thanks. I appreciate you stopping by.

Jodi MacArthur said...

Rehabbing nine hours a day. Amazing. And look what he was able to go on and do. Great essay here, Charles. I can relate to your writing processes. I write without an outline and tend to hit those 'walls' you speak of. When I do, sometimes I nibble on other things like writing poetry or trying to write a genre I've never taken on before. Often when I distract my mind, the perfect next scene or character lets me know its ready to go. Love your idea on how 'winning the day' can apply to a writer. Writing everyday is def a workout & challenge, but the little success along the way to the big win make it all worth it. Great stuff here.

Lana Gramlich said...

Good advice, hon.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, thanks so much for visiting and commenting. Good points. We seem to be on the same writing wavelength.

Lana, thanks for dropping by sweetness.

Carole said...

I needed to read this today. Or yesterday. But to win the day does not sound so bad. Not so bad at all. And the Saints did a good job on Sunday.

Charles Gramlich said...

Carole, yes they did. Their defense looked particularly good.

Liane Spicer said...

Excellent advice which I'm trying to take myself. Wanting to win the novel (among other things) is such a heavy weight it can paralyze me. But winning the day... That's doable.

How do I win the day? When I make a list of the things I need to get done that day and cross at least some items out before I go to bed.

Farrah Rochon said...

Excellent post. I don't read much nonfiction, but Drew Brees's books is one that's on my list.

I love the idea of "winning the day". Like many others have stated, for me, "winning the day" is simply to get through the daily writing goals I've set for myself.

Charles Gramlich said...

Liane Spicer, I do such lists too, and at the top I put "make a list," then I can cross that one off right away and feel I've acomplished something. :)


Farrah Rochon, I tend to read about 1 third nonfic to 2 thirds fiction. It seems to work for me. This was a good book for those of us from the New Orleans area.