Somedays you don’t really feel like working on your novel/story/article/paper, and then while procrastinating online you’ll find this piece of advice: “write something every day. It doesn’t matter what you write, so long as you write”. Write a journal entry, a blog post, a tweet or Facebook status: everything counts.
But does everything count?
If you’ve ever done any writing before you know that there is writing, and then there is “writing”. Writing a journal entry or a blog post doesn’t require the same level of effort that writing a short story, a novel, an essay or article requires. When you tell yourself that they are the same, are you not cheating yourself a little?
Blog posts have value.
Journal entries have value.
But at the end of the day, when you look at the work that you’ve done, do you count them when you say, “I’ve written X stories, Y articles, and a novel?”
Today’s post is short, because I spent what little writing time I had pounding out 700 words for my novel, instead of 300 words here. I think I made the right choice. I think I made today count.
I didn’t feel like writing yesterday. I was out and about all day, and it was extremely hot and humid, so when I came home the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and write. I procrastinated, I started telling myself that it was OK to skip a day, since I wasn’t feeling that great, and that I could make up for that day tomorrow.
I know that voice very well now. It’s the same little lizard brain voice that tells me that I shouldn’t go running today because it is too hot/too cold/too wet/too humid/I’m tired/I’m feeling so-so. It’s hard to resist that voice, since it’s easier to watch TV or waste time on the internet than it is to write or run.
When it comes to running, I get out the door by just lacing my shoes, and reminding myself that I’ve yet to regret going out on a run.
I’ve never regretted going out on a run.
So yesterday I plunked my sorry ass by the computer and started typing. When the words came out slowly and painfully, I took out a pen and paper and did a quick draft of the scene that I’m working on. And then I typed it.
When the scene came out as mediocre (since I was writing for the sake of writing, not for the sake of writing well), I went back and rewrote it. “Sorry little lizard brain. If you are going to act up, this is only going to take longer,” I told myself.
I finished my session target (a little over 500 words) yesterday, and while it took my twice as long as usual, I sure as hell don’t regret doing it.
This post is a month old but I only just stumbled upon it: Fight, by Shawn Blanc.
Shawn talks about deciding what is important to you, and how you should make sure that you really are making that thing a priority. If you’ve read Merlin Mann’s 43Folders, listened to the early episodes of his Back to Work podcast, or have been following Seth Godin then a lot of what he’s saying won’t be new to you. But there is something powerful about the succinct way he puts some of these same old ideas into words:
What then if you lived like nobody else?
- Don’t spend hours each day watching television or scrolling through social networks.
- Don’t let your work life dominate over family time, personal values, or happiness.
- Don’t ignore the importance of investing over the long-run and planning for the future.
- Live as far below your means as is reasonable, and don’t derive your happiness or self-worth by the fanciness of the things you own.
- Don’t let laziness or busywork keep you from building something meaningful.
- Don’t assume you need a better tool in order to do better work.
It’s funny. Simply doing the opposite of what most people do can actually open up many opportunities for you to do meaningful work.
It’s not a long piece, I recommend giving it a read. And then getting back to writing.
So I just finished writing my first chapter, and it went quicker than I expected. I think that after 7 years of academic writing, I finally figured out how to get myself to write quicker. Of course, this would happen when it’s already too late to help me with any of my degrees, but what can you do? Writing isn’t easy, and there really is no magic formula. There is only trial and a lot of error.
I used to handwrite in long hand draft after draft, and only when I was semi-satisfied type it up and polish it. That was painfully slow, so I cut it down to just writing my “shitty first draft” in long hand with (fountain)pen and paper.
Behold the reams of paper required to produce just that rough draft:
This was not working.
My draft was over-polished for a rough first draft, and so it took too long to complete.
Once I completed it I didn’t feel like typing it up in Scrivener.
Once I typed it up, I often discovered that I had managed to go off on a tangent, or dig myself into a useless hole, so I had to rewrite half the paper again.
Again — this was not working.
I tried writing directly in Scrivener, but I think better when I use pen and paper. So cutting out the analogue part of my writing process just made me produce really mediocre papers which I had to work twice as hard on during the loathed editing and polishing phase.
The solution for me is just to do a handwritten quick draft of the overall piece , and then start writing in Scrivener. If I get stuck, or want to try out a few options, I just quick draft each one, and then continue typing along. So my writing method still combines analogue and digital, but the balance between them has changed. I spend less time planning, and planning, and planning, and more time just doing the writing and seeing what works.
After all, I can always go back and change it later.
I started using Scrivener during the late stages of my MA. If I would have known of it sooner, then believe me I would have used it throughout my BA and MA.
What is Scrivener?
It’s a writing application. A thumping good writing application.
But I have Word for that.
I thought Word was a writing application too, until I downloaded Scrivener’s free trial and gave it a spin. Word is great for word processing (i.e. formatting things, playing with fonts and tables and tables of content), it is a very poor writing app.
Why? Because it tempts you to play with the font and the paragraph formatting, and fiddle with footnotes and endnotes, etc. Scrivener is keyed towards the writing process itself.
To see what I mean, download Scrivener from here, and open a blank project (there are other great project formats there, but for now a blank project is all you need), create a new text file under “Draft”, and just start writing. If you are a distraction prone writer (who isn’t?), press on the full composition mode button on top (I dare you to have trouble finding it), and enjoy an all encompassing writing experience.
Notice the lack of font-and-margin-and-style buttons on top? That’s because Scrivener wants you to finish all of your writing (and your veggies), and play with formatting only during the compile phase, which happens after the text is finished.
You can do all your writing in a app that respects your writing process, and then chuck the whole thing easily to Word for formatting, or do the formatting during the compile phase and create Word documents or ebooks directly from Scrivener itself.
Try using a writing app for once – I’ll bet you’ll like it.
Earlier this year I won this little notebook by sheer chance from (wonderful) Pen Addict blog giveaway.
The notebook is a Word Standard Memorandum notebook and the cover is a Word Standard Memorandum cover in black. It’s tiny, and much longer than it is wide — so it’s not in any standard format. Inside it looks like this:
So you’ll notice that there isn’t very much writing room there. At first I wasn’t so sure what to do with it. It was too small to be useful as a planner, calendar or an exercise log (not that I didn’t try). But I liked the notebook too much to just let it languish on my desk.
So on a whim I started using it as a word count log. At the end of each day I write down how many words I’ve written, for which piece, and whether I am happy with my progress or not. On quick drafting days, I just note that I did some brainstorming and produced a quick draft. Since the notebook is so tiny, I use little smiley faces to note whether I made good progress that day or not.
Here is a sample page, filled in:
This new little habit has been a great boost for my confidence as a writer, and has boosted up my daily word count considerably. It introduced not only a way of viewing my progress, but also a gamification of kind into my writing.
If you are writing anything, whether it’s a seminar paper or a novel, I highly recommend that you keep a word journal to keep tabs of your progress during those long writing hours.