A Writer's Ramblings
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Writing tends to follow a cyclical pattern. Anybody who has been writing for a significant amount of time knows that it's difficult—or impossible—to sustain a very fast writing pace for a long period of time. Events like National Novel Writing Month can help motivate writers to knock out a large chunk of words very quickly, but at the end of that month, it's normal to feel like you just can't write any more words—to feel drained.
That's because writing takes energy! Just because we're sitting at our desks (or on our couch, in the woods, at the pool, whatever) doesn't mean that we're resting. Writing is mentally and emotionally exhausting. It's easy for us to see that in the short term—you finish a particularly emotional scene and slump back in your chair, totally drained—but sometimes we set unrealistic expectations for our long-term productivity. If scenes are able to drain us in that way, it stands to reason that we can expect periods of exhaustion over months and years.
I like to compare this natural pattern to the tide, so let's talk about what to expect during high tide and low tide—and how to be a productive writer while taking care of yourself and ensuring you don't burn out.
Writers—especially those working on their first books—tend to obsess over word count. Maybe that's because a manuscript's word count is one of its only truly objective elements. Character, plot, style, and voice are all difficult to define, and books change with each reader's response. But a manuscript that is 82,749 words is exactly that. So it makes sense that writers want to control this aspect that we can control, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Word count is important, especially for writers planning to pursue traditional publication, and understanding word count goals can make the drafting and editing processes more efficient. But sometimes focusing on word count can be a detriment. Let's discuss why word count is important, how to use your current and projected word count to your advantage, and when word count should be the last thing on your mind.
First drafts have exactly one job: to exist.
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The number one nemesis to any writer struggling to get that draft written is your inner editor. She's got a grating voice and constantly nags you about your grammar, your sentence structures, your plot development. "Change this. Fix that. Make it better."
One of my favorite writing quotes is from William Faulkner:
I only write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning.
I love this quote mainly because it emphasizes that waiting for inspiration is not the way to get things done. But it also promotes a common piece of advice in the writing world: Write every day.
Like much writing advice, the "write every day" mantra is often lauded as the be-all-end-all. And like most writing advice, that is simply not the case. Although I am a proponent of writing every day in many contexts, I do recognize that the advice is not perfect for every writer in every situation. Whether writing every day is a good idea depends on the individual and can change for each individual.
Although I generally find writing every day to seriously boost my productivity, there are times that I need to slow down or (gasp) take a break. So remembering that all writing advice has positives and negatives, let's take a moment to look at the pros and cons of writing every day so you can decide whether it's the best idea for you at this specific stage in your writing journey.
How far would you go?