Getting to 1000 words a day

There are flapping hoards of articles out there circling the internet with clever headlines that get your attention promising they know the tricks and tweaks to help writers learn about how to write.

First of all, writing is the wrong word for it.

To me, writing is a generic term, an all-encompassing term for putting ideas on a page and making them work nicely together to tell an engaging story. I believe that there are at least three other stages of writing that come before and after the drafting stage. And to me, it simply makes sense to me to divide these things up. My mind is like a martini glass, very shallow. Start dumping too many ideas in there at once, and they start splashing around, sloshing up and over the rim, dampening onlookers and passersby.

So when you hear about writers setting a word count for the day, I say what they’re really talking about is the drafting stage of writing. I consider drafting to be the part that consists of barfing words my keyboard. The end goal of this stage is to produce a draft, a rendition of the story being written that ranges in quality from crappy to outrageously feculent.

But I’ve found out in the last year of drafting my first novel1 is that the act of drafting is about two things:

  1. Getting there
  2. Staying there

Start with Getting There

Getting there is about the habit. Making the proverbial writing desk the only place to be at a certain time of day. And making it an action that does not require input from the brain at all. If the brain was consulted in this matter, it would recognize just how hard the work actually is and then resist, throwing up reasons not to be at the desk, reasons to be just about anywhere else. So it’s the body’s job. The body has to get itself there.

Find your special time

My special time of day comes at 5:45am. And is it not ideal. Not by a damn sight. And, between you and me, I only make it 80 or 85% of the time.  But, thing is, it’s the only time that I can consistently carve out quiet time to put two thoughts together. So I make it work.

The problem with getting there is that it’s never the easiest thing to do. My personal list of distractions is full of stuff that would be more fun to do than get up at 5:45 in the morning. Sleeping chief among them.

It will never be “fun”

They say that if forced to think about what to do from minute to minute, the first tendency for a human being (and maybe the second and fifth and twelfth) is to do the easiest, tastiest, and most immediately gratifying thing on the list and then spend the rest of the day on the couch groaning and rubbing his or her belly. Or his or her other parts.

It may be best to realize now that there’s always going to be something else that at any given moment sounds better or easier than sitting in front a half-done, terribly written, soul-drain of a manuscript.

So the big take-away here is that it is never going to be fun to sit down and write. Never. Ever. Never-ever.

Well, okay. It might be fun the first couple of times, or maybe when things flow and the mind hasn’t had time to realize just what unnatural acts are being performed with it. But that period ends quickly. And soon, it will begin to hurt.

Gotta want it

It is very important that it’s been determined that writing is what you really really want to be doing. Sometimes it’s hard to make that determination.

It helps to have a life that’s full to the gills and rife with things pulling at your attention. It clearly delineates what merits attention, and it becomes quite clear what things precious time is spent doing.

I’ve carved an awful lot of fat out of my life since having kids. And I’ve never been more prolific. And that goes for more than just writing. I get more stuff done now, when I have so very much less free time than ever before. The benefits of focus.

I’ve already said it, but here it is again: There will always be something more fun to do than sit down in a bad chair and attempt to wring brilliant ideas out of an unwilling brain, But all is not lost. For the brain is stupid. And gullible. And easily tricked by things like puppies, high-fructose corn syrup, and porn.

Mine especially.

But yours especially.

It’s about reducing friction, she said.

For a writer (or any maker of things), friction, or resistance as it’s sometimes called, is one of the fundamental interactions of nature, akin to electromagnetism and gravitation.

This friction is the irrational desire to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation fighting against the tiny squeaking voice chirping some nonsense about doing something that would instill a sense of pride or self-worth. Like, I don’t know, writing a novel?

And while friction is forever, like the tides, it is possible to lube up and fight it off for awhile. It can be overcome. With the proper amount of scientifically applied mind-jiggery.

It’s about forethought. Planning. Thinking ahead. Greasing the skids. Okay? It’s what sets us apart from the animals.  We can think ahead.  Try it.

What’s the best lube?

Set an alarm. When that alarm goes off, that’s the time when all else is set aside, the computer is turned on, and writing is done.

If there is a period of time during the day in which there is a predictable lull, pull out the laptop or the notebook, or the iPad and start to work.

If there is a time of day in which time is being regularly wasted, insert pen and paper.

Do this every day. Make it a habit. Make it something that does not require thought. Remove the possibility of doing anything other than write so that it is not a job that’s up to the part of the mind that is easily distracted by a Diet Coke or babies. It’s simply something that a body does when a certain bell is rung.

Then just sit down. And then write. This is the first step toward getting 1000 words in a day.

Just get there.


The War of Art


  1. Which clearly makes me an expert, yes? ↩
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