Strength Training for Writers (post originally posted March 2010)

Hey there! I’m really sorry, but with a Christmas party to host, and gifts to make for the guests still (yikes! am I ever behind!) I don’t have time to write a new post. But, here’s one of my first posts, and still one I really enjoy. Ironically, I think I was writing the first draft of the book I’m currently fighting to rewrite.  Hope it’s informative and helpful to if you haven’t seen it before. Otherwise, hope you’ll forgive me and I’ll have a new post next week. Take care!

Like lifting weights or exercise and accomplishing particular goals, pushing yourself to write and create more and better all the time can make you a stronger writer.

I write fast. There, I’ve said it, and I don’t consider this a bad thing. Just this month, I completed two first drafts, and although the first was started in February, the other was a complete first draft completed, from world-rule establishment and plotting, complete with 100k. Last week, I wrote 37,000 words in five days.

For some writers, this is unheard of. Especially when it comes to that many words in a week, let alone a month, and that’s fine. As with every other aspect of personality, we all have our own timing, preferences, and idiosyncrasies. This was a big deal for me too, but a challenge I wanted to rise to. My goal used to be 1000 words a day (meaning total of 5k a week). Then, sometimes I’d have a great day, and the high of writing that much, exceeding my goals … just like when you’ve been able to run further or faster, or lift a heavier weight, you want to see what else you can do.

Do you want to write 37k words a week? Here’s how.

First, set goals. I started off with 1000 words a day. Then up to 2000. Then 2000 minimum, but trying to reach for 5000. It’s all about increments, and what you think you can reasonably accomplish in the time you have. I know it takes me, on average, an hour and a half to write those 2000 words. Some days, it’s much slower, others, much faster. But if you limit yourself by thinking you can’t write, create, or accomplish it, you can’t. For me, I had a fantastic day of writing 11,000 words in one day, and decided, wait, what if I did this every day? So, I changed my goal to 5000 words a day minimum, always reaching for 10,000. Now, I’m rarely satisfied if I don’t get 10k done a day.

Second, do not expect to accomplish this instantly, either in one setting, or overnight. Be kind to yourself. If you only write, say, 500 words a week now, 10,000 tomorrow may not be realistic, but next month, why not? I also don’t just sit there and pound on the keyboard that long. It’s not healthy, and I don’t have the patience. What works best for me, for body and mind, is to try and work in sessions. If word count doesn’t work, try timing it. Some days when I hate facing the computer screen, I promise myself I have to sit there only an hour for the first session before I get to run off somewhere else. You take a break, do something else, then come back, and it’s back to work. Sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s not, but either way, by holding yourself to this, you will accomplish getting pages written, and will get closer to your goals.

Third, be accountable to yourself. There is no one sitting over your shoulder with a whip insisting you be productive and how much you need to do to count as “productive”. The very idea, in fact, makes me kind of nervous. (For those of you who find the whip-master behind you is the best thing ever, hey, whatever works for you). You are the only one who can push yourself as hard as you need to go, whatever that is. Keep track of your productivity. Some writers use a calendar, there are programs out there which demand certain word counts before the program will save, there are probably other applications which I’m not technically savvy enough to know about. I use an old fashioned logbook, where I keep track of how much I wrote, and when, for each of the sessions per day, then with a total word count for each day. Some weeks this will mean you can see you didn’t get what you wanted done, but that’s okay, there’s next week. Other weeks, you can do a happy dance when you have something to look back at and do a happy dance to think wow! This was one week. What could be done in two?

Fourth, find a reason why you want to accomplish this, or need to. For me, I almost always get hit by the negativity gremlins about mid-book. Though all had gone well up until then, I’m getting bored (possibly because of a short attention span), I think everything is terrible, I need to go back to square one, etc, etc. First off, as an artist, you have to push past all that (more on that later). For me, my solution was to write so fast, by the time I hit that point, I was too far into the book, there was no way I was turning back. Fixes will come with rewrites. Best of all, it means I get to start on a fresh, new manuscript sooner! Whatever your reasons, having a reason for your goals makes it easier to keep them (even if it’s an experiment, like for me this month).

Finally, have a reward at the end of the tunnel and your journey. If you’re working so hard, you do deserve a reward. Is this getting to read a new book you’ve been waiting for? Going out with friends? A tasty treat? Whatever it is, use short-term rewards, like getting to do something fun or even time-wasting during breaks between sessions, and a long term reward, like maybe shopping therapy or sitting on your butt and doing nothing. The real reward will be, of course, that you have been productive, you have accomplished something great, and better yet, you can go back and do it all over again, accomplish even more.

May you be productive and happy, and may this article have been inspiration and set into action plans. Happy writing!