Writers write. Every day.

250 words a day

You’ll hear this over and over again as you struggle to find time, inspiration, motivation, and energy to write.  Writing is a practice, just like piano, or golf, or yoga.  The more you do it, the better you get, and, with writing in particular, I think the goal for most people is to write every day.  Most people don’t have the time.  I don’t have that excuse.

So what is my excuse, on the days I don’t write?  Inspiration, most of the time, or lack thereof.  I’ve mentioned several times (most recently in yesterday’s Sum Sunday) that I have various works in progress that need to be finished and edited, yet I can’t seem to figure out how.  Maybe it’s truly a “writer’s block” type issue.  Maybe I’m just too lazy to sit down and figure it out.  Maybe I’m just not meant to really be a writer.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that most of the time, those days that I don’t write, it’s because I’m so stymied by the creative process, so unutterably unable to come up with a complete sentence, that it’s easier (and more fun) to clean the toilet and mop the floor.  Yes – I said those things were more fun than writing.

Sure, motivation has also been an issue for me.  To combat that, I tried using The Magic Spreadsheet.  I had heard about it on one of the podcasts I listen to, “I Should Be Writing.”  It’s a tool that tracks your writing progress (based on how many words you wrote in a day) and awards an increasing number of points based on how many days in a row you’ve written.  There are people who love the spreadsheet, it’s helped them write more often, even helped them finish books.  I’m not sure, though, if it’s for me.

Let me be clear:  I think that if you have an idea and you want to sit down and pound out 100,000 words and have a finished product, The Magic Spreadsheet is a great tool.  Seeing your word count go up every day, seeing the points you gain, simply by writing a measly 250 words a day – that’s very motivational.

Where I feel the Spreadsheet fails, at least for me, is in the brainstorming and editing process.  Sure, if I’m writing a story out, I can bang out 250 words (or more) a day.  But what about the days when you’re doing research?  Brainstorming?  World-building?  Going through things in your head and trying to determine how to proceed?  And what about after it’s written, when you’re removing more words than you’re putting in, when you change 50 words in one scene, 20 words in another, and 5 in another?  Tracking words become cumbersome.  Editing, at least for me, is not something I can sit down and do a half an hour of.  It’s full immersion, it’s notes and highlighters and hair pulling and cursing and “Shit it’s been five hours and I’m still nowhere with this piece of crap book!”  So I might do a couple of days of editing, then take a couple of days off.  Boom – my chain on the Magic Spreadsheet is broken.

I think time off can be beneficial.  Yes, writing every day is important.  And sometimes, taking some time off is just as important.  The problem, of course, is that most people “take a day off” and suddenly it’s been a month or more since they’ve written.  That’s me, in the past, certainly.

Oddly enough, as I was thinking about this post and what I would write, I realized the most recent “I Should Be Writing” podcast deals with the Spreadsheet, eight months after it’s inception.  As Mur states in the podcast, why not try it.  What’s the harm?  It’s simply a tool, you’re on your honor, and if it gets you to write, then great!  And I totally agree with all of that.  She also touches on the fact that when you’re between projects, it gets really hard to focus and come up with something to write.

I’ve always been about trying different things until it works for me.  In my past jobs, I’ve created several processes that ended up being adopted by other people.  I take something, tweak it, tweak it again, tweak it again, until it works for me.  The Magic Spreadsheet is one of those things that I intend to build on.  I know I should keep better track of my writing than I have in the past, keep track of word count to make me feel better about the whole thing, mark down what else is going on in the writing process for the days I’m not writing.  I know I should be writing (almost) every day.  I don’t know – they’re working on a website for the Magic Spreadsheet (it’s currently a shared worksheet in Google Docs), and I’m interested to see the functionality there, so I might still use it.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.  Because that’s what’s important.

What I wrote this week:

  • (On Thursday, I decided to keep better track of what I’m writing.  What story am I working on, how many words did I write, am I plotting, thinking about things in my head, editing, etc.  So, this week is a little scattered, but next week I’m going to try to log my writing every day.  This is mostly for my benefit, but I hope that putting it into the public domain, I’ll be more likely to ensure I actually get some writing done.)
  • On Tuesday, I wrote out (longhand, 568 words) a new story opening idea for Again (working title).  My main problem with this story is that my main character is way to laid back, easy going, and patient.  She’s worked through all her flaws (and yes, she has indeed worked through them all – that’s part of her characterization).  She needs a flaw, and I’m at a loss as to what it should be, other than “too patient.”  I also need something to glue the two main characters together, other than simply “magnetic attraction” and fate.  Otherwise, why don’t they either simply get together or go their separate ways?  So I changed him to a professor and had her take a class…except, for purposes of the story, she can only audit a class, so again, it’s not like she needs to keep going to class.  (This is one of those stories making me bang my head against a wall.)
  • Wednesday:  I typed up what I wrote Tuesday, but was still against a brick wall with that story.  Several weeks ago (I think while Stephen’s parents were here) I had this idea that I wrote down on a scrap piece of paper.  Well, Wednesday, I picked it up, and the story started talking to me.  I did a rough synopsis, then wrote down a few random thoughts throughout the night (Stephen laughed as I frantically searched for my notebook while trying not to lose the thoughts in my head).  The story is set in the near-ish future, not quite dystopian, but probably a tad bit.  Can’t say too much about it now, other than the working title:  Memory Thieves.
  • Thursday:  I did quite a bit of brainstorming on Memory Thieves, coming up with the three main characters, doing some plotting, writing some rough scene ideas, doing a little bit of world-building in my head.  I’m loving the story right now, it’s really playing out in my head.  Happy writer today.  🙂
  • Friday:  Ah, the joys of young writing, like the joys of young love.  That carefree, easy, idealized love for the story that seems to be perfect.  Yep, I’m in the throws of it.  I sat down and wrote about 1300 words today.  The words were just there.  Such a lovely feeling.
  • Saturday:  Just did some brainstorming, and Pinning on Pinterest, trying to see what my characters might look like.
  • Sunday:  Lots of world building today – what the world is like 200 years from now, technology, how people live, etc.  It’s kind of fun, making up a whole world – and no one will be able to tell me I’m wrong about something.  😉
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Categories: On Writing, The Writing Process, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Writers write. Every day.

  1. anonymous

    How about you pick a flaw at random and write about that?
    If it works, its works. If it doesn’t, you’ll get a better feel of what it should be like.

    In terms of the problem of “auditing a class”, it would seem as though you’re trying to nail down both ends – the big picture and the small details. Pick one, float the other somewhere near your idea and and let it land “naturally” there. That said, pick the one that lets you work the way that comes more naturally to you, so that you don’t have constantly fight your instincts and draw your energy away from the writing.
    (BTW, I have a half-assed idea for the “auditing” problem, but I won’t tell you until you’ve tried my suggestion.)

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