July marks the sixth month anniversary of my Write Chain Challenge that I set for myself in December 2016. My challenge for myself was to write 200 words every day. Each day that you write, you add a “link” (proverbial or real, it’s up to you) to your chain. If you don’t write, your chain breaks and you have to start again. I can’t count how many times I heard from someone “just skip it and write extra the next day!” or “write double today so you can skip tomorrow!” but I refused to bend my principles on this. And I can proudly say that I’ve written at least 200 (sometimes more!) a day since December 1st. And in that time, I’ve added over 70,000 words to my WIP. By no means does this mean my manuscript is done. No, this was just the push I needed to complete my first draft. Believe me, there are still a lot of rough spots. Literally, the whole last fourth of the book needs so much work! But there are also a lot of really compelling and thought-provoking passages. At least, I hope they will be to the reader because they are to me! But in these past six months, I’ve learned some very valuable lessons in writing.
Excuse me while I sing a few bars of “We Know” from Hamilton . . . Okay. I’m back. The best thing about writing everyday, is that everyday I know that’s #1 on my “To-Do” list. I’m a total paper planner person and I look forward every December to picking up a whole new planner for the coming year and jotting down my goals: daily, weekly, monthly, short-term, long-term. I love turning my dreams into reality and goals help keep me on track. It’s important that my planners not only include the monthly chart, but also a weekly breakdown. In this year’s planner, I’ve recorded the number of words I’ve written that day in a little box on each day to help keep me accountable. Generally, writing is the last thing I do at night so I also keep an active Note going on my phone so that I can quickly jot down the word count and then I transpose it into my planner in the morning. I’m such an oddball when it comes to routine. Too much and I find myself burning out and bucking against against all rules and systems. But with certain things, I find I crave the habit. Writing is one such habit that energizes and revitalizes me. I always feel lighter and happier when I’ve completed my daily word count.
“Writer’s Block” is Non-Existent
And because I’m showing up everyday, the story continues to live on in my mind. Hemingway once said:
“The best way is always stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that everyday when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck.”
That’s really the best advice. And, with Hemingway, said in the simplest of terms. (Sidebar: has anyone seen Midnight in Paris? It’s one of my favorite movies to watch, at midnight preferably, and I think Corey Stoll is so amazing as Hemingway!) Of course, there are still days I clack away at the keys and that little voice goes, “this is straight shit, you know that right? Pure and utter shit. You should probably just delete it.” God, I hate that voice. It’s so annoying. And also, so, so wrong. But I roll my eyes and power through and tell that little voice to suck it. And then the words flow.
Perfectionism? What Perfectionism?
This was by far the most difficult lesson for me. I can easily get stuck on finding the exact right word for the exact right sentence in the exact right paragraph in the exact right time. It’s a vicious cycle. Everyday I have to tell myself that now is not the time. Now is the time to put words on pages. Now is the time to release this story from your heart and from your soul and from your mind. Later there will be time for editing and for finding just that right word. But now, just keep writing.
I Just Like to Learn . . . Learning’s My Favorite!
Another difficult lesson: distractions. Literally as I was writing this I was distracted with the TV, the fur babies, the Internet in general . . . But I digress. Typically, when I begin a new writing project, I try to spend some time researching the area, the historic aspects that stand out, the people I’m going to be writing about, and I begin collecting information in a novel notebook. But as I’m writing, I tend to let the story progress and give my characters the ability to tell their story. But along with that, the littlest things will crop up and I HAVE TO HAVE THE ANSWER RIGHT NOW! Recently, I was writing about a baby born in 1911 and I had to pause to look up when formula was created and entered the mainstream. Thankfully, with a 200 required word count for the day, it allows me the time to wander down the various rabbit holes of research that crop up without eating into too much of my writing time.
I’m Working Here!
And now, writing feels like a job. But it’s a job that I love. Before, I would write a few hundred words one day and then abandon my WIP for days or weeks or even months (sad face) and then return when the muse returned and I would write a few hundred words. Now that I have a daily goal, the muse is constantly around (I’m sure they’re quite sick of my shit at this point) and I’m working on my writing as if it were, well, work. Even though 200 words generally takes me no longer than 20 minutes, it still feels like I’m punching my time card when I reach for my laptop, and punching out again when I hit Save and close my computer and end my day.
But my favorite lesson? Discovering that with writing, I’ve yet to reach that burn out point. With other things I’ve tried I’ve burned out within six months. But writing? Hasn’t happened. And I hope I don’t jinx myself by putting that statement into the universe. You hear me, universe?! I refuse to burn out on writing! Like I said earlier, even though on a typical day, writing is the last thing I do, it always leaves me with a smile on my face. (Except for the handful of times I’ve had to kill characters but that’s another thing entirely. I think even then I have an evil little smile upon my face.) Writing keeps the creative spark strong in all other aspects of my life. And every night after I close my laptop, I’m excited and eager for the next day so that I can write again.