Habits and Challenges

I’ve been blog-stalking Peter M. Ball for basically forever at this point. And for just as long, I’ve read his conversations around organising and understanding your writing habits, and figured that was something for people way, way smarter than me.

It’s been easy to shit all over that idea that writers can actually own their writing habits, and take charge of their writing. After all, we’re meant to be chasing that ever elusive muse, right? If you’re not waiting for inspiration to rain down upon you like glitter, you’re not really a writer, right??

Writers, like all creatives, have some bullshit ideas hidden in the nooks and crannies of their career goals, both in terms of the art and business of being creative, and in terms of our personal ability to rise to the challenges that show up. I am rife with silly ideas (did you notice that bit about me not being smart enough, because hi, that’s a RIDICULOUS idea). And Peter is 100% right when he says the best way to write more, and better, is to get those stupid ideas out of your gorram skull. Like Van Gogh saying ‘If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced’, but with more of a ‘sit your ass down and write, dammit’ vibe. 

Peter M. Ball is the snarky, grumpy as hell older brother I never knew I needed, and if you don’t read his blog, you really, really, really need to. NEED. TO.

So, here’s the thing: this year, I’ve decided to actually try Peter’s suggestion of setting actual, achievable goals, monitoring how much I write each day, and how long it’s taken me to get it done.The glorious Matthew J. Hellscream and Melanie Edmonds both pointed me towards the word trackers they use- pay as you like arty, gorgeous spreadsheets by Svenja Gosen. And while, let’s be honest, I struggled to choose between the Black Widow, Winter Soldier, and Peggy Carter art, I finally settled on some girl power, and got the hell to work. I’m still getting the hang of this monitoring business, but so far? Wow. The shift in my focus and motivation has been staggering.

Remember: up until this point, I’ve been a sporadic writer of fiction, with massive goals and no sense that I’m anywhere near achieving them. There’s a reason I talk about my writing in terms of gamboling about like a hyperactive bunny.

My 2017 challenge is 2k a day. I know I can hit that target if I try, without it being too painful- I hit almost that amount daily during Nanowrimo, so kicking it up a few hundred extra words daily isn’t that big a deal. It’s a low-ball number for me, given the numbers I can hit during The Rabbit Hole (which makes me feel guilty because most of my friends average about 1k daily, and I’m still learning how to not feel guilty about shit like that).

And what I’m realising is that the more I sit my ass in a chair and write, the less time it takes to reach that 2k. There’s some room to wiggle here- if I’m having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, then it’s like pulling teeth that have been cemented into place. Same if I’m overtired, not feeling well, or working on transcription work. But when I’m writing fiction, and I’m in a good mental and physical space- boom. Done. I can churn out 2k in the hour and a bit before my flatmates get up of a morning, all the while playing with my ridiculously attention-seeking cat. And then, in the teensy spare moments of the day, I write a little bit more.

The more I do it, the easier it gets. I know writers say that a lot. But until now, I didn’t understand that it wasn’t just one if those shitty things people say because everyone else says it.

With 2k a day, the overall goal is 730,000 words. Which is, let’s be honest, a gorram terrifying number to see staring you down from the top of a tracking sheet. It’s not much better when you break it down to the monthly goals: the goal amount for January was 62,000 words.

But here’s the thing I honestly didn’t get until I started this challenge: it piles up, far quicker than I thought it would. And that’s true even though there’s been days this month where I haven’t written a damned thing. Even with those gaps, on the days I’ve written, I’ve yet to have a day where I’ve hit 2k exactly, and stopped. There’s always been a few hundred words more. Or a thousand. Or, y’know, way more.

Participating in The Rabbit Hole at my local writers centre threw 40k into the mix in three days. Even with a few days of not writing at all, I’ve well and truly kicked past that original goal. Yesterday, I decided that I was close enough to 90k that I might as well bump it up to there. Today, having blasted past that goal, I’ve decided to try for 100k.

Or, to put it another way: after one month of sitting my ass down and focusing, I’ve written more useful words in the span of a month than I did in the whole of 2016. That scares me a little.

Partly, it’s scary because holy shitballs, how much time have I wasted and how much more prolific would I have been with some gorram disclipine? Partly it’s because I know those are the kind of figures that will not be sustainable. I’m having fun now, and my brain (other than the Rabbit Hole days) hasn’t been exhausted by this effort, but I know these are not the numbers I’ll be pulling every month. Which is scary, because my brain needs constant reminders that this isn’t going to last and that’s totally, completely okay.

By the end of the month, I should be just shy of 1/7th of my way through my yearly goal. Which, wow. I don’t even know what to do with that information, right?

But, yes, basically, this is me:

james-spader-boston-legal-2

 

 

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