Sunday, July 3, 2011

Write-A-Thon Update plus Thoughts on Writing Speed and Momentum

So far today I wrote 1100+ words, and I'm not done for the night.

It took me approximately 2 hours to write those words, in a concentrated session at MacDonalds. No distractions, all prepped up and ready to go, just writing. That may not be my maximum writing rate, but I wasn't slacking or blocked.

I bring this up because there is a bit of a debate going on at Dean Wesley Smith's blog. He has written an excellent series of posts running some math comparing what different daily goals can do for you. His post about how you too can write Four Novels A Year is a little more heavy on the numbers than my post on the same subject a while ago: Produtivity, Dreaming About What You Can Accomplish.

Most of the commentors agree with the point of the math on Dean's post, but an awful lot of people get stuck on his estimate of how much you can write in an hour. He uses 750-1000 words as an example.

"But I don't write that fast!" says a few people. (And obviously, I don't either.)

But that's not the point. He's using that as an example. The point is that you plug in your own numbers and you see what you can achieve if you stop screwing around. What could you accomplish if you add one hour a day to your writing schedule? Or a half hour? Or a two hour session once a week?

What if every time you bumped into someone who was wrong on the internet, you didn't pause to argue with them, but instead spent that effort on writing? What if you used the time you spend tagging and schmoozing and checking your analytics on writing instead? What about the time you watch cable news, or one of those endless cable TV reality shows which play in cycles for hours (you know the ones "The Most Dangerous Designer Auction Finds")?

Going to your kid's school play? Worth it. Watching a new episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives? Well, okay that's worth it too. But how many of those other activities are actually worth the time not writing? Especially if you think those "marketing" activities are necessary... Guess what? They aren't. You can do those later, after you've written more, when you have a shot at making more money off your writing because you have a lot of books out there.

But back to the subject of productivity and my own writing speed....

Yesterday I had a migraine. I was sick, blind and stupid. And yet it was the most productive writing day I've had in this Write-a-thon so far. Was it because being sick, blind and stupid is somehow good for creativity? No. Good lord, no.

The reason I did well was because of momentum.

I'm working on a project which was on hold for a while. It's 2/3 done (I think) and a mess of notes and different versions. I can't just sit down and write missing parts, because frankly, I don't remember what is missing. Did I actually write down that scene I thought of when driving to work in February? Or did I just think it?

Plus I have been in the habit of blogging and writing stuff for work, not real writing, so for the first few days of the dare, I found it really hard to wrap my mind around the W.I.P., but really easy to think about other non-fictiony sorts of things.

I had no momentum.

After a few days of tearing my hair out (including one day I didn't write any fiction at all, and another in which I wrote on some other story) I finally got things in order, and got my habits back in place. And once I'd done that, I could write even though I had a migraine.

Now, here's the secret lesson. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion. It takes energy to try to get an object at rest into motion -- but once you've got it in motion, it's easier. At least if you don't stop.

And here's the second secret lesson: when a BIG object is at rest, it is not only harder to get into motion, but if you try to get it into motion at full speed, what happens? You spin your wheels.

So if you have a large project (like a novel), and your writing speed is not that fast, and your writing habits aren't all that well established, then the key is to start slow and steady. You MUST keep it up. If you don't want to stall out, you have to keep going.

One thing you can do to get your writing speed and endurance up is to write shorter fiction. It doesn't matter if you are not a natural short fiction writer, or if you don't like short stories. You don't have to read them. You just have to write them. There is no better exercise for building up your skills and endurance than something you can finish in a sitting or two sittings or even five.

Anyway, tonight, I have another writing session yet to do, and I have a choice. I could burn forward with my momentum and far exceed my daily goal, or I could go for that long haul, and just write a little more, and instead do a little more prep work so I don't run out of fuel and lose the momentum I have.

I'm going for the second choice. It gives me a margin for error. If I'm better prepared, with a better idea of where the story is and what it needs next, then I can have a good writing session no matter what else happens. Even if there is an idiot on the internet. Or we make a day trip to Zingermans tomorrow. (Zingermans? Worth it. Let's just get that clear.)

Tomorrow I also have a the next cover illustration post, when I'll be looking at some more classic posters and cover art (and even some clip art) to get some inspiration for my color choices and overall look.

See you in the funny papers.

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