700 Words a Day Postmortem

A year ago last week, I set about a pretty grand design.  I wanted to write 700 word each day.  For a full year.  I didn’t know if I could do it.  I’d never imagined writing 255,000 words in succession.  Thanksgiving 2011 was my start and, now that it’s over, I thought I’d put down some thoughts on the experience.

The Data
First, I should go over the numbers themselves (those of you who find that kind of measurement boring can skip a bit further down).  I tend to like this kind of thing because when you can look at the data, you can see all kinds of things about your work when it’s done, and I can now say that empirically.  Total words written for the year; 102,380.  For those keeping score at home that well under half of the total goal.  Hmmm…  What happened there?  Back to the logs for a quick review shows that by March I was trailing by about a weeks worth of writing.  By April, 12 days.  …and then it all went to hell.  When the wall came, I was at 91K, over the next 8 months, I managed about 11K, or an average of 1300 words per month.  Final feelings on all this minutia are that I now have a new personal best.  102,380 plus 1is the new goal for number of words I can composed in a year.

Who – On Having an Audience
Early on, I chose to involve friends in this project.  I’d ask them for 3 words, and then run with that to compose my 700 words.  Usually I’d ask for whatever came to mind, and if I was feeling cocky, I’d ask for the genre/setting as well.  This created a nice piece of accountability for me in that I had told someone I was going to write and also a nice bit of affirmation in that I got to share what I wrote as well (because, hey, I’m more than happy to hear the words “Nice!  I really liked that!” as often as friends want to tell it to me.  Some would call that whoring for attention, but I like to call it being Highly Susceptible to Positive Feedback.  I should note here that my skills at writing marketing emails at work improved dramatically during this exercise.)

In choosing to write for a specific audience, a very real and personal presence in my life, I was able to focus on pouring a good deal of intention into what I was working on and found that, ‘drafting’ vignettes, or scenes, or (sometimes things that might have bordered on a short story) for someone I knew was very rewarding.  There is of course a danger to that as well.  If the connection with that particular audience fades or is disrupted, it can be a disruptive event for the writing.  To do it again, I think I would find a writing group to share with (even if that meant making my own).  Having the specific people to write ‘for/to’ in my head when I’m composing is fun & helpful, but to constantly rely on one or two people for that reader/response connection didn’t serve me well in the long run.  My new advice; crowdsourcing is entertaining and quick, but don’t become dependent on it.

What – Topics and methods
Having no grand novel that was simply hanging around the birth canal of my imagination waiting for the opportunity to be pushed out into a brave new world, I opted for writing exercises.  Three words; random, unrelated, and the more creative the better.  I consider my vocabulary to be very well rounded, but I did enjoy having to go and look up a new word to make sure that I used it correctly in what I was writing.  I quickly added a forth ‘bonus’ category; genre/setting.  In the course of the year, I wrote 1st person, 3rd person, fairy tales, spicy tales, zombie apocalypse, Steam Punk, Noir, and some rather endearing boy meets girl something-or-other.  One of my initial postulations about this kind of a project was that, if you write 250,000 words and you can’t find content you can publish in there, you probably missed something…

The writing exercise turned out be be a double-edged sword, at least for me.  I was able to do all kinds of creative and interesting things with three odd words and a goal of >700 words.  I could quit at 721, or it could roll onwards up to 2,300.  Sometimes I would take 3 words for 3 consecutive days and try and bring the new words into the continuation of what had already started the day before.  Unfortunately, when it came to writing longer pieces, pieces of sustained length (say the 30k needed to even crack into the novel arena), I was at a loss.  Starter exercises did not prepare me for the continued work of building a series of scenes that came together to form a story of any kind.  It was easy to jump from idea to idea like a dragonfly in the summer morning, without settling down to do the harder work of writing a connected and woven story that tells a tale.  Here, I’m my own worst enemy, discarding ideas before I even try them and being overwhelmed by the ‘entirety’ of the story.  I’ve had three ideas that I quite enjoyed (and still do as bits of them parade about my head before bed each night), but the act of sitting down and attempting to write the sustained story of what happened to these characters, overwhelms me and I find myself shutting down before I even begin.  Lesson learned; don’t get locked into one way of doing things; even if it plays to your strengths.  The point of all this is to grow in my ability to write.

Where, When & How
Having a place to write has proven to be very important.  I’m not convinced I need a single magical place to work, but I have found that I can’t do it just anywhere.  Well, I can, but I’m most productive in my bedroom, and at my local Starbucks.  It needs to be a distraction free environment.  That’s actually the key factor.  My Starbucks has failed me on many an occasion when it was crowded and bustling with a holiday weekend or some other cause.  My bedroom has failed me on occasions when the bed was just too soft…  There is something very important about having a place to go; a place that is for my writing.  I’m sure I could refine my selections in doing this again, but I’ve been pretty happy with my two places so far.

As an aside, I did learn that travel and writing don’t go well together for me.  Business trips and vacations were such a departure from any kind of schedule for me that I found myself unable to sit and focus on writing when I did have time available to write.  I have a new understanding as to why so many famous writers were such creatures of habit and even homebodies.  I need to know when I’m going to be writing.  I have to plan for it and prepare myself.  That’s step one.  As one of my writer friends is oft to say when she quotes Adair Lara, “Putting ass to chair” is the other step…

I’ve written in the mornings, during the day, and in the evenings.  I feel that each has it’s place.  I’m sharpest in the AM, able to make leaps from one idea to another and linking creative baubles into strings of whimsy with alarming ease.  The distraction of the clock is usually the downside of the AM.  10 minutes till I need to head to work and I just hit full speed on an idea.  Nothing like watching a train of though derail as it comes to a crashing halt.  

Evenings are free of any real interruptions for me most days.  The night owl in me loves the opportunity to burn the candle late, but there is a cost to that, and days on end of such behavior seems to increase how good the bed feels when I sit down to write at 11 PM.  I’m also not at my sharpest.  The grindstone of the day has more often than not, blunted the edge of my intellect.  That’s not to say there isn’t something good that comes out of being tired.  Things I would fret over or worry about the wording for, or how to make the idea pop, just get left behind in the tired and I push onward.  Inevitably, when I read over things the next day, I found very little I wanted to change.  Being tired helped me push past age old trap of “perfect is the enemy of the good.”  Editing is always for after you have something written, not during.

In Conclusion
This was a grand experiment for me.  Did it go as I had hoped?  Not quite.  When things hit the skids, lost traction and clipped a couple of telephone poles in April, I spent a good portion of the summer cursing my inability to put my ass in any chair to string even the most meager sentences together.  I did have moments of energy into the fall.  Ideas that bubbled up and I found myself eager again to write them down.  I knew it wasn’t over yet, but I felt like I was off-roading in a ’62 Buick most of the time.  Ponderously unfit for the terrain and doing as much damage to the car as the scenery around me.  Having passed the deadline of Thanksgiving, I can look back and say that it wasn’t as bad as it felt at the time.  I wrote more in the last year than I did all 4 years in college!  I set a new personal best.  I know what I do well, and how to get started writing.  I also know what I need to work on.  Hard earned truths I can take with me moving forward.  

So, without further ado I announce:

December 1, 2012 to November 30, 2013.
700 words a day. 245000 words.  (Allowing for 5 weeks of travel.)
I’m gonna blow my previous record out of the water!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and write a quick piece involving Moist Scrumptious Buffalo.


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