Yesterday was the last day of the mini-marathon, and I ended up with a total of 10,400 words over 5 days. I’m pretty damn pleased with myself, and also fragged. I envy those writers who can churn out the pages in great chunks, but I am not one of them. Which is why I don’t do Nano.
I was reading Owl and Sparrow’s blog (the post on beer, actually) and she mentioned something that struck a chord with me. She said:
Lately, I’ve been able to absorb myself into the story and get some good work done. The only problem with this is my tendency to stop after I get a decent chunk of words written (the 1000-1500 word range, usually). I tell myself, “That’s good enough for one day!” and while it is, I could probably spend at least another hour or so getting a bit more than that accomplished. Probably lots more, actually.
Rather than gum up her comment trail with a long response, I decided to muse on the topic here, where I can be long-winded and opinionated in peace.
I am the same. My daily comfortable wordcount at the moment is 1,000; I push myself to 1,200 but no more. Some days I get lucky and hit 1,600, but those days are rare. By doing the 2,000 words/day marathon, I’ve proved I can pump out the words if I push it.
Experience from this marathon and my previous participation in Nick Enlowe’s Novel Push Initiatives (I hope to run one, once I hear back from Nick) has taught me a few things about daily wordcounts.
I firmly believe that everyone has a ‘comfort zone’, a wordcount they can reach daily without struggling in any way, and that daily comfort zone varies depending on the story, on where you’re at, on how in tune you are with the characters. It may be 100 words/day, 200, 500, 1,000, or higher if you’re one of the lucky ones.
In other words, it’s variable. But notice I didn’t say anything about varying with the stresses of your life?
I’ve learned, from application, that even when I’m flat out, I can hit my daily wordcount if I sit down in front of the paper. Even when I’m tired or stressed, if I sit down with my cup of tea and pick up the pen, the words will come. Some days they spill out faster than I can write; some days they dribble out and the pen moves very slowly indeed. But they come when they are called.
(This may not be a revelation to other writers, but it was to me.)
Like Owl and Sparrow, I reach my comfort level and stop. I stop not because I’ve reached the wordcount, but because the scenes in my head come to an end. They’re like waves; inspiration rushes in, I write, then the water slides back over the sand and I’m empty. To do this 2,000 words/day marathon, I had to write in two sessions, then stop and let the creative well refill by doing other things.
The concern I have with pushing past your daily comfort zone, whatever it is, is that you can drain the well. If you keep pushing and pushing faster than it can refill, you’ll reach a day when there are no waves to rush in; the sand is dry and the page is empty. Then the writer says they’re ‘blocked’, and they fuss, and stress, and the momentum is gone, and possibly the enthusiasm for the project. They spend time and energy on looking for the problem, when perhaps what is most needed is just a rest.
That’s not always the case; there are other reasons for writer’s block. But think of all the times you rushed through the beginning, throwing out pages and pages of prose, only to come to a thundering halt after 10k, or 20k, or 30k words. The story feels flat, it gets put down and forgotten. The well is empty.
Writing, like any other project, requires long term commitment and sustainability. What you can comfortably produce varies for each person, but you need to pace yourself. Part of that is finding out how much you can draw from the well each day, and still have something left in there for tomorrow.
That’s my opinion on the subject, anyway. Now it’s your turn. Does this ring true for you, or do you think I’m talking through my hat? What’s your comfort zone daily wordcount? Do you push yourself, and for how long? Do you find your inspiration comes in waves, or is it a steady flow like a stream?