Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: Managing Chaos With Approximating Correct Behavior

I was a big believer in approximating correct behavior when my children were little. If they got anywhere near close to a behavior I was hoping for, instead of complaining about the near miss, I rewarded whatever they did. I took it as a win. My idea was that step-by-approximating-step, they would reach what I was shooting for. I can't recall how often that worked, but at least we avoided a lot of conflict.

Writers can manage some of the chaos in their lives by encouraging a similar attitude in themselves. Particularly in situations in which we've set up short-term objectives around a schedule, we have to be careful not to fall apart when (notice I didn't say if) the schedule can't be adhered to as we fantasized it would, when we can't reach the behavior we were hoping for.

Falling apart causes chaos. 

A Case In Point

Last month I took part in FlashNaNo2020. The plan/schedule for that was to write 30 flash stories in 30 days. I veered off into flash essays and memoirs, so I wasn't sticking to the plan for that right from week 2.

It also became clear at the end of the first week that I wasn't going to meet the planned, "correct behavior," writing 30 pieces of flash in 30 days. I had to put that correct behavior aside and accept that I was going to have to approximate it. The alternative to approximating correct behavior would have been to give in to the dread what-the-hell effect. "I'm obviously not going to hit the behavior I want, so what-the-hell? I might as well give up on this whole thing."

The what-the-hell effect is a lot like what passes for chaos at my house.

What Can Writers Gain From Approximating Correct Behavior?


Consider National Novel Writing Month. How many people actually complete a 50,000 word draft of a novel during National Novel Writing Month? Many of them probably realize early on that they're not going to make it. They can fall apart into the chaos of either struggling with work and personal commitments in order to continue trying for the correct behavior or or they can feel that they are incompetent failures. OR they can accept an approximation of correct behavior. In which case, they might come away with a 10- or 20-thousand start on a new writing project. That is a win they can run with in the future. Ask anyone who has written a book.
The pressure to meet your desired behavior on a traditional writing retreat (meaning writing goals) must be intense. You've put down some money to be there, you may be walking away from a day job or family to write. Fall apart on Saturday afternoon when things aren't going well? Or shoot for approximating correct behavior and go home with something instead of nothing?
As far as my FlashNaNo2020 experience is concerned, I ended up with 15 pieces of flash. I dipped into my writing journal for many of them, which was very gratifying. I'd wanted to do something with some of those thoughts for years. One of my writings from last month was published at a humor site last week. I rewrote one traditional short story as flash and am considering submitting it this month.

Between those 15 new stories/essays/memoirs (some of which need some more work) and the material  I produced at my flash workshop this past summer, I have quite a bit of new writing to submit. This is important, because I've read of a number of writers who manage to get 5 to 10 stories published in a year. They do that, though, by making huge numbers of submissions. You need content to submit in order to do that.

Descending into chaos when you can't maintain the correct behavior you think you need to write doesn't get you material to submit. Approximating correct can.


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