Sunday, March 20, 2011

How Do You Write?

In meeting with some people to review their writing, investigate forming a writing circle and encourage people who are trying their hand at crafting text, I've been asked a hard question. To categorize it as difficult is probably misleading. It's a question I haven't probably considered since the early days of my blog.

How do you write?

My answer to people is generally quick, vague, and malformed. Not because I want to be evasive about what I do, but that my method is constantly evolving. Every 10,000 words or so I am probably doing some small thing different. 100,000 words later, my style and motivation have probably departed the old and entered something entirely new. To write in that kind of volume, on a large number of projects ,while trying to find the time to play your (never gonna see 85) goblin on World of Warcraft? You get creative about being creative.

Stuff that occurs to me:

1. Be prepared to write anywhere.

Whether it's a 99 cent notepad and a pencil you stole from the bowling alley or a $300 iPod Touch with the PlainText and DropBox apps, make sure you have the means to write wherever you are. The most mundane parts of our life generally contain lots of waiting. Pass the time by creating text. Yep, I often generate 350-500 words on my iPod Touch, with my thumbs, while lying in bed waiting to get sleepy. It's not a lot, but it adds up.

If you did that much every night, it would add up to a novel-sized amount of text in 6-7 months.

2. It's all in your mind.

People make up all sorts of excuses as to why they can't write that book they believe is inside them. Generally speaking, I used to think there was a magical formula or set of circumstances required for good writing. Total and complete fabrication. It's all in your mind. People don't need more/less distractions to write, they just need to focus on the line or the blinking cursor and make text appear instead of excuses. Harsh but true.

Quit perpetuating your own belief that you need to have more/less people, space, noise, sugar, caffeine, motivation, or small gerbils named Kevin and just make the text happen. One. Word. At. A. Time.

3. Write Badly

This is something I've blogged about before and it is worth revisiting. Expect that more than half of the text you write will deserve little more than to gather dust on a shelf. If you plan to write in any kind of volume, quite a bit of it is going to be mostly unsalvageable crap. Depressed? Don't be. Lots of authors and novelists go right ahead and publish that crap anyway (that's what pen names are for) and guess what... people buy it!

4. Keep Track

Any good workout will require that you track your progress, writing down how many reps you did, and the amount of weight. If you're smart you'll add notes about whether it was hard or easy so you know what you need to do next time. Writing is no different. Keeping track of your average daily word count is a fantastic motivator. Set a goal and make sure you keep your average up while slowly increasing the volume.

I know I can write 5000-7500 words on a good day, but my average, counting only the 5-day work week, is somewhere around 3800 words since I started doing WP7 development. I've been trying to get my average back up over 4K but circumstances continue to conspire against me. Thank goodness I can catch up a little over the weekend. Nevertheless, I know where I was, where I'm at, and where I want to be in concrete tangible numbers. I can't stress how important that is.

5. Personal Fitness

I thought that taking a couple of hours worth of time out of my day to work out and get in better shape would hurt my daily average word count. A 60-75 minute workout in the morning and a 30-45 minute walk in the afternoon is a considerable chunk of my day. Still, it's done nothing to hurt my daily average word count. No, I don't think I'm generating a noticeably larger volume of text though either. Yes, the stuff I've written in the last six weeks since I started my work out regimen has been of much higher quality.

It goes without saying that eating right and getting your sleep is important. This is something every creative person I know struggles with. That being said, staying up until 1 AM writing this after an espresso and a pastrami sandwich is probably a little hypocritical. Just a little.


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