Monday, May 30, 2011

Ready? Set? WRITE! - 4 Easy Ways to Boost Your Word Count

The hardest part of writing, for me, is making myself to do it. 

It's not that I'm not inspired. It's not that I have nothing to say. It's not that I don't know what to say. It's just the sheer difficulty in carving out a time slot of uninterrupted writing time.

I have no problem setting clear writing-time boundaries when I'm on deadline for a client. I can work without stopping for hours on end when it's someone else's project on the line. But when it's my own stuff -- particularly my own spec stuff -- the dynamic changes. Working on my own stuff is such a guilty pleasure, it's easy for me to start believing that I should be doing something "more productive."

I can have three blissful, unscheduled hours stretching ahead of me. I'll think: Great! I'll get so dang much accomplished! I'll finish the next few chapters and really make progress on the work in progress. 

But instead of writing several thousand words and emerging three hours later flushed with writerly victory, what too often happens is this:

Hour 1

-- I'll just throw a load of laundry in the wash. It won't take much time. That way, I can be productive and not feel too badly about taking time out of the day just to write.

-- While I'm at it, I might as well feed the dogs.  And water them.  And let them outside. That way, they won't be bothering me when I'm in the middle of my magnum opus.

--  Good Lord, just look at this dog hair! People are going to think I live in squalor. I can't write knowing this is wafting about. It won't take long to clean up the worst of it.

-- Where's the dustpan? And the broom? It can't be that long since I used them. (Frantic search ensues.)

-- Ah! There they are, over by the pop cans I need to return. After I clean up the dogs' area, I need to remember to...

-- Let dogs in.

-- ...I need to remember to put the cans by the front door so I don't forget to take them in the next time I go to the grocery store. In fact, I'll do that right now.

-- EEeew! Is that a tick!? Whew, no. Thank heavens. But it IS tick season. Blasted blood suckers. I better check each dog thoroughly, just to be safe.

-- The washer's stopped. Is it broken? Oh -- the cycle's finished. Already! Where did the time go? Well, while I'm here, I might as well put the clothes in the dryer...

Hour 2

-- At least I'm out of the basement! Only 2 hours left to work, but that's still plenty of time to get stuff done. 

-- Holy cow: 37 emails?! I just cleaned out my inbox this morning. Maybe there's something important in there. I should take a look...

-- OK. All set. Ready to write.

-- (Six sentences later.) For my work in progress, I need to know what movies were showing in August, 1985. I'll just jump online. This won't take long...

Hour 3

-- SWEET VIDALIA ONIONS, look at the time!

-- My coffee is cold. Can't create without coffee. It won't take long to brew a fresh pot.

-- While it's brewing, I'll just jump on Twitter and see what I've missed...

-- Ok, coffee's ready. Now I'll get back to-- Look at those dishes in the sink. It'll only take a few minutes to wash them up.  Then the place will look like someone lives here who cares.

-- Coffee's good. Wish I had coffee cake to go with it. It wouldn't take long to-- NO! Dagnabbit, no! I'm not going to bake anything. I'm going to write!

-- (Six sentences later.) Look at the time! I better start supper now, if we're going to eat at a decent time...

Maybe I'm all alone in this. Maybe I'm the only one who combats the demon of Writer's Guilt. I certainly hope so. But if not, allow me to share 4 simple ways to curb the imp and unleash the words to fill the blank page.
Inside every hour is a caged wordcount desperate for freedom.

1.) Write or Die. As the inimitable Dr. Wicked himself explains, Write or Die "encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you’re fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences." These consequences are severe enough to make it more worth your while to plow ahead with your writing than, say, take the laundry from the dryer and begin folding your socks.

2.) #Wordmongering. If you're on Twitter, this hashtag can provide an excellent kick in the seat of your creative pants. Simply give those who follow the hashtag the heads up. Then, beginning at the top of the hour, write like the wind!  At the end of 30 minutes, tally up your word count and post it. Do what you like for the next half hour, then start  again. The  #wordmongering tweeple are some of the greatest cheerleaders on the planet. They celebrate all successes (no matter how small), provide great camaraderie, and encourage progress.

3.) Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.  If working on your spec script or novel seems self-indulgent, a great incentive can be to put yourself on deadline as if you were working for a client. Saying you need to write 3 pages a day, or 1000 words a day, or a chapter a week is one thing. But it ups the ante if you commit to paying a penalty if you don't make your goal. A great tactic is choosing a worthy charity (Heifer, International and First Book are some of my personal favorites) and donating $10 for every day you don't make your writing word count goal. That way, even if you don't write, everyone wins!

4.) Find an Accountability Partner. You are not alone. The world is swimming with other writers who want to finish their projects.  Find one and make a pact. If you're both starting from scratch, commit to finishing a full-length project in a given time. You might allot 6 months to finish a novel. Or 1 month for a novella. Or 3 months for a screenplay. Come up with a time frame that's both challenging and doable. Set mid-range "reality checks" every week or month. If you're not on track via word- or page count at each reality check, you owe your accountability partner something tangible ( gift certificates work really well, I find).

These are my favorite incentive-based ways for forced productivity! What did I miss? Share your tips for boosting word count. Meanwhile, I've got to go let the dogs out...


Paula Tavolaro said...

The only thing different in my guilt trip doing useful things instead of writing my stuff is that I have to add my kids to the equation... "prepare dinner for when they come back", "hang the pictures on their walls, why haven't I done that yet", and so on. The dog, the coffee, the washing machine, the emails. So far apart, we are all human after all, the same mold all over the world...

Lindsey said...

"SWEET VIDALIA ONIONS" is such a great line! Made me laugh out loud. Thanks for the tips on ways to get back on track. I'll definitely check out that twitter hashtag!

Ami Hendrickson said...

Ah, the humanity! I didn't include my kid in the Great 3-Hour Time Piddling because when she's around, my writing time is suddenly condensed into 3-minute segments. (Which I can piddle away just as readily... ~sigh~)
Still, it's great to know we're all in this together.

Ah, I have made someone laugh today. My time on the planet was not meaningless. :)

Keep on keeping on!