As I mentioned before, I decided not to cling to a daily word count too tight because it seemed to become an obstacle to my writing rather than a help. I used to write 1000 words/ day, and at a specific time, for several months, but a restrictive schedule doesn’t seem to suit me.
Therefore, I let myself write whenever I can and as little as I want (that’s not the same as to take a vacation from writing). It’s still early to make great conclusions, but so far a bit of pattern emerges.
What I have written since then:
As you see, I hardly ever missed the set mark (200 was editing/translating day, and Saturday is a day off, in theory), despite letting myself a free run. I guess my stubbornness has its say in it, because not once during this time, late in the evening, I had this thought: “Okay, today I won’t write 1000 words.” Then I would get really pissed off with… I’m not sure if it was myself I was pissed off with. Maybe just with the situation when what I can do wasn’t done. I don’t know.
Anyway, I would get mad, seat myself, and write till it’s around 1000 words. Sometimes it’s a little less, sometimes more, but in general, I would do it.
The problem was that when I started late I would finish very late, at one day staying till 4 am. This victory was kind of a Pyrrhic one because despite me being a night owl such routine wrecks my health. On the good side, this week let me see some regularities.
Also, I noticed that I didn’t count other kinds of writing for some reason. But why? When Dean Wesley Smith did his writing marathon, he counted even the emails he wrote. I, on the other hand, ignored not only short stories, but this blog. This blog post, for example, has more than 1000 words in it. Have they fallen from the sky? Have they written by the ghost of Pushkin? Nope. I wrote them, and I have to appreciate it. Undervaluing myself really hurts my word and self-esteem.
What I’ve learned so far
I am an incurable night owl. Left to myself, I will live and write in the afternoon and at night. It’s inconvenient because our world starts in the morning and owls have to adjust. As my daughter said, ‘If I wake up earlier, I have more time in the day.’ It sure feels like that, and I’m the last person to deny it. If I write in the morning, I have a head start so that if the evening goes wrong I have something done already.
At the same time, when I have to accommodate to an early morning schedule, it usually wrecks my sleep and makes me crabby for that particular day at least. I doubt it will ever change. I mean, we all attended school, and most of the jobs start early. If it were a matter of habit, owls wouldn’t have existed. But we do!
And after all, how does it matter when the words are written? They don’t have time stamps on them. (In the voice of Elizabeth Bennet from 1995’s adaptation) Readers will never know. So, it is better to write when I can, not when I want myself to write.
Way of Writing
I’m not a planner. That’s not to say that I don’t know a thing of what I will write on any particular day (see Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith)—I usually do. I have a bunch of scenes I can keep writing, sometimes as many as a dozen of them.
But as I start writing, a scene often turns very differently than I thought it would. I thought it would have poignant soul-openings and reconciliations—instead, the characters dig out old traumas and yell accusations into each other’s faces. (That’s what is happening right now in my WIP, an urban fantasy novel set in Japan, and I am slowing down to think it over, so the word count might be lower since now on).
I can’t say I mind—it’s a very interesting process, to learn about the characters as if they were real humans telling their stories. Stephen King in his book On Writing compares it to archeological work if I remember correctly. It’s just that my current project is too grand: it’s four-book story with tons of POV characters (also with first and third POV, and with some characters having only one POV-scene. It also requires tons of research because it is set in Japan).
I hate it. This is the largest roadblock in my writing. Forget about word counts and schedule, but when a story is done and I can’t put it in front of people’s eyes for months and years—it’s depressing.
I should start writing clean. I’m aware of the current obsession with rewriting hundreds of times until the story is ‘perfect’ (which is impossible) but that’s not for me. And it’s just a modern fad probably promoted by people selling writing workshops and courses. Preying on writers’ insecurities is very easy but shouldn’t be a norm.
Mood and health
I need to walk. Most people probably gain weight in winter, when it’s too cold to go outside, but I got ten extra pounds in spring when I stopped walking regularly (for various reasons).
It also helps with writing, tremendously.
- It clears my head;
- Ideas flow more easily into clear heads;
- It improves my mood;
- It makes me healthier (meaning less distraction for all kind of ailments).
I definitely have to put it back into my schedule, especially because it’s the only kind of exercise I tolerate. Also, I used to meditate. Where did it go?
And sleep. It really became a problem I have to address immediately.
Right now I have about 15 online-courses on writing and publishing to catch on (Udeny courses counting as one item) and lots of books to read on the same subject. I’m doing them bit by bit, one lecture at the time, but this too distracts me from writing. Yet it’s not the same kind of distraction as social media or Netflix, and some courses are very good (I will probably write about some of them in the future).
So, what to do with it?
- The solution for myself: stop trying to be a lark. Those stints of rising early are nice but not sustainable for me. So I will repeat them from time to time but won’t try to live in the morning. On the other hand, writing till 4 am sucks, despite my owling. It just doesn’t work in real life. So I have to find a middle ground: write in the first part of the day but not necessarily in early mornings. 10-11 am, perhaps? Another solution is to have a nap during the day. I always have trouble with this, I don’t know why, but now I begin to think it might be a good habit to develop.
- Keep tracking, ditch counting. As I mentioned before, I wrote a lot without any daily goals. I have also won three NaNoWriMos, the last one by writing 2000 words/day. (Gosh, I hope if I have to do one more, it will be really the last!). So, I will track what I write to make sure I’m making progress, but I will stop chastising myself for not writing a lot. Also, count every kind of writing and appreciate it.
- Ditch structure and write/edit/translate when I want to. Strict structure suffocates me, and switching tasks helps to keep fresh mind. Here too tracking should help not to feel like I don’t do anything when I did a lot of non-writing work: editing, blogging, building a mailing list, making covers, etc.
- Bring back walking! Since my writing life improves with walking, the deal is: If I am to chose between walking and writing at any given moment, I will opt for a walk. Writing will follow, and probably better one than if I sit at home and sulk on why it doesn’t come as good as I want. Also, resume meditation and pay attention to sleep. For example, if I am to chose between writing, walking, and sleeping, I should probably opt for a nap.
- Bring back the joy of writing! I’m not sure I like my language (in any of three languages I write), but I love to discover what’s next and learn about the characters. As Dean Wesley Smith reminds again, the trick of a long and productive career as a writer is to love writing, not having written. Need to pay attention to this too.
- Learn to write a clean first draft.
- Stop signing up for new courses and catch up with what I’ve got.
Wow! What a huge mass of discoveries and plans. I’m already overwhelmed. Joking. The main goal of all of this is to relax, enjoy writing more, and take care of myself.
So, I’m off for a walk. Or, even better, for a nap.