Hitting the beats

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day about how our lives are stalled cars on the highway of life. He seemed surprised that I was in the same position.

“What do you mean? You go running three times a week!”

The implication being, of course, that this means I am a functional adult. This is, in fact, completely untrue, but it got me thinking. I mean, on one hand it’s a marvellous illusion that if you have your life together in one area it must be together in other areas as well. Even on a personal level – I’ve mentioned it before – if you can run, the fact that you haven’t accomplished anything else of note seems less important. On the other hand, thought I, if you have one part of your life functioning, you can apply the same processes to other parts of your life.

I watch planner videos on Youtube. This is partly because they’re soothing, and partly to get ideas for my own. (I mean, I just love notebooks.) I found one about a planner-cum-journal that is focused on goals and how to break them down and achieve them. I’ve talked about that recently, the goal-setting and then the carrying-out, which is the part I am shit at. I thought, wow, that looks really good. That looks like it will hold your hand and lead you through it, and damnit I need that help. Buuuuut, it’s expensive. And the postage, ouch. So, I took what I could from the  images I’ve seen and worked from there.

Faithful Midori TN. Left: summarised quote from book. Right: breaking down a goal.
Faithful Midori TN. Left: summarised quote from book. Right: breaking down a goal.

You have to break it down. It’s easy with running, because there’s not much choice from a goal standpoint. What is my long-term running goal? I want to be able to run far. It’s not so much that I want to complete a marathon, I just like the idea of running a long, long way. It feels like freedom to me. But right now, I suck at running. I have to build up my strength and stamina. So, short term goals. My first one is to complete a 5k in under 35 minutes. Easy, right? It’s a very early, beginner-friendly goal. After that, I’d like to sign up for an actual 5k race, and complete it in a good (for me) time. Then? 10k. When I get within sight of managing to run 10 kilometres, I’ll start to think of what my next goal will be. I think probably a half-marathon.

So, how do I achieve those goals? In the past I’ve had goals that were not so much goals as the process of how to achieve them. Which sounds good, because that’s achievable, right? But you’re not aiming for anything, and you can’t see yourself improve. You just manage it or you don’t. Maybe my goal was “run two to three times a week”. Sometimes I did it, and sometimes I didn’t. And that’s why I never really got anywhere with running. I’d stop for months at a time, and when you stop an activity like that it’s hard to get yourself back into the habit again. This time around, I had a goal from early on: that sub-35min 5k. In order to achieve it, I want to be running three times a week. Now I can’t always manage that for whatever reason, but it’s not a pass/fail thing. Even if I only get out once this week, I’m still maintaining the work I’ve done so far. “Yoga three times a week” is not a goal. Being able to do the splits is a goal; practice is how you get there.

Having set some goals and made some decisions on how to get there, I felt inspired. NaNoWriMo is but days away and I haven’t done even close to the amount of preparation and note-taking (and forum-based procrastination) that I’ve usually done by this point. This year I’m finally hammering out that novel that’s been lingering at the edges of consciousness for most of this year and that I completely fucked up last year. I need to ensure I don’t lose my grip on what I’m doing again this year and get sidetracked by revolutions.

So I plotted.

I know, I know. Release your grip on those pearls, friends. I know. But it had to be done.

I’ve had trouble with this in the past mostly because I need an idea before I can plot it. I like to start with themes and scenes, with images, rather than with actual plot points. Sometimes this is fine, and the novel gets written and all is well. Sometimes this leads me into trouble instead, and I write the wrong novel entirely. This one needed to be plotted. So I sat down and Saved the Cat.

“Beat sheets” appeal to me, because I like rhythm. If I can see little snapshots along the way, little beats that need to be hit at the right time, I feel like that’s something I can do. I went through and set out my opening image, my catalyst, my finale. Like rest stops on the journey that is my novel; I have no idea how I’m going to get between them, but that’s fine. I know the direction I’m going. I also need more characters, but I figure they’ll turn up somewhere along the way. That’s the exciting part, the discovery. It’s important, if I’m plotting, to still have that. To be surprised by my novel along the way. To let my characters find out things about themselves. That’s the mad, exuberant fun of writing, and what NaNoWriMo means to me.



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