Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Work-In-Progress Wednesday: How the New Method is Working for Me

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about how I'd been backsliding into writer's slump territory again. I felt totally unfocused and unmotivated to work on my current project, A.K.A. The Modern Myth YA. Through some writer friends on Twitter, I heard about this method to increase your word count. Though I don't really see myself writing 10K words a day, I'd love to write 2 or 3K and just be able to focus again. I was most impressed by the "knowledge" part of Rachel Aaron's "triangle of writing metrics," thinking that might be just what I needed.

The past couple weeks have been a bit busy with freelance work and visits from friends, one of whom has been staying at my house long term, so while I didn't produce as much as I would have liked, I still produced which is a miracle because generally I would have used all that as an excuse not to focus.

In the three weeks leading up to the method, I was averaging about 500 words a day. If I was lucky. I had a lot of days where I wrote more like 250 or 300 or I didn't write at all. And though I wasn't keeping track of my stretches of writing time (because I was only keeping track of words as part of this summer writing club made up of people from my college on Facebook), generally speaking I'm at my desk from 10:30 or 11 til 3 or 4 Monday through Thursday, *trying* to work on novel stuff (as opposed to freelance stuff or surfing the internet, which was mostly what I was doing). So yeah, not pleased. And the days I had higher word counts weren't satisfying either because I was just forcing myself to write really fast and shitty to account for the time I'd wasted.

Since starting the new method on June 5, I've had 10 days of writing. I had between an hour-and-a-half and four-and-a-half hours of writing time on those days, usually averaging around three. I wrote a total of 11,758 words. My highest point was last Monday when I wrote 2686 words in 3 hours and 10 minutes. My low point was last Thursday when I wrote 206. My average right now is around 1200 a day. This Monday, I wrote 1053 words in an hour-and-a-half. They were also quality words that I felt good about. The day that I wrote 2686 words (also a Monday), the words weren't really quality and I was pushing myself HOWEVER unlike forcing myself to write fast and shitty, I was writing fast and mediocre because I was excited to get through the scene, wanted to get my ideas down as quickly possible and felt confident that I could fix them later. I would definitely like to be in that mindset more of the time. It seems like a happy medium between being productive and my perfectionist tendencies. If I have a mixture of those days with days like this Monday, where I produced a respectable amount of words that I felt good about, I think I'll be in a good place.

So what made those two days happen? Not surprisingly, my focus on the "knowledge" part of the triangle. Really thinking about and planning my scene comes naturally to me in a way because that's what I did all throughout my writing classes at Columbia College Chicago. In all of our workshops, we would play word games to exercise those seeing-in-the-mind muscles and then we would "take a place" and really let the scene formulate in our mind before writing it. On Sunday afternoons, I have a writing "group" that is really just me and my friend Jenny from grad school writing together (followed by cooking and watching Supernatural) and we go through those word games and really take the time to visualize our stories. The past two Sundays I've spent between 20 and 40 minutes playing those word games and writing down an outline for what I've seen and then I wrote for an hour and 20 minutes and came up with 1069 words one time and 651 words  the other time (and I was really tired that day), again words that I was really pleased with, AND best of all, it gave me a massive jumpstart for Mondays.

The days that were also not a surprise. Thursdays were my crappiest days. I work both Wednesday night and Thursday night at the bar (which is why Friday is errand day and I don't even bother trying to write), so my sleep is always poor and I always feel like I have a ton to get done before work and I get easily distracted. Last Thursday was my bottom of the barrel day and it was terrible because A. I didn't start writing right away and B. I continued to check email and such, so I went back to work on freelance stuff, I took a phone call, etc. In other words I did not protect my writing time. Keeping close track of my writing time including when I take breaks, how many words I write before and after lunch, has really helped me see the patterns I already expected. I may write more in the afternoon, but that only happens when I spend the mornings focused on writing. A good morning is a springboard for a great afternoon. I have to remind myself of this on Thursdays when I'm hit with the urge to mess around online until I'm fully awake.

I also had bad days when I freaked out about the overall word count on the book. It is getting too big again, like The Bartender Book, so I'm kind of worried about that. Really worried actually, but I know I should just keep writing. This may be one of those books that I need to write every little scene and snippet of backstory that I see and then cut. A lot. But either way I should stop worrying about it. I know, I should. To some degree there is no method that will fix my tendency to worry myself into a state of total distraction, same with my focus problems when other non-book-writing (but essential and paying) tasks begin to pile up. Learning emotional and workload balance is a whole other issue for me, but if this method continues to get me as excited about my story as it has (because it IS, I am finally excited again, seeing and fixing some of the holes in the plot, etc.), I'm hoping the excitement will take over and smooth out some of my worrywart/stressed-out tendencies.

My real test of this new method begins starting tomorrow. I have an entire month with no house-guests and no big non-book-writing projects, just the average stuff which I need to learn to balance. I'm going to add a "How Did The Writing Feel?" category to my spread sheet so in addition to words, time, an general notes, I can keep track of that, too. The goal is for it to feel good at least 80% of the time and I would really love it if I could get up to 2 or 3K on average.

Feel free to join me. I'll try to check in here weekly and for those who want to check-in more often. Hit me up on Twitter.

Oh and here's a chunk from the WIP. It's from when I was writing fast and furious, so it's not very well-written, but I was having fun with it.

Lucy reaches for the towel dispenser to her right and nearly unravels the whole roll, stumbling again as she tears off over a foot of brown paper. Muttering “fuck” to herself, she braces herself against the wall for a second, but before I can ask if she’s okay, she begins to wad up the towel, working it between her fingers like Gran punching down dough. After getting it damp, she scrubs at her lips just as violently and then tosses it at the trash can with a flourish, cackling when she misses. Then she sets her studded black clutch on the ledge next to the abandoned drinks and begins to rummage through it.
I can’t help but watch her in the mirror. She reminds me a lot of my sister—or actually of the role my sister played in her very last play, which appropriately enough was Lucy in Dracula, the gorgeous red-haired woman whose neck everyone wanted to bite. I wonder if that’s the role this girl plays at Inferno, too, even though tonight she’s more of a porcelain doll drenched in glitter.
After carefully applying the palest shade of face powder I’ve ever seen, she pulls out a tube of lipstick. I expect it to be blood red or maybe black as the kohl smeared around her eyes, but it’s a sparkley silver and thick like paint, too, not just a gloss. It matches her silver high heels as well as the black and silver feather boa that’s draped around her neck.
She fluffs the boa, which is a little bit damp—hopefully from the water she drank and not the “fun” she puked up—and studies herself. Grimacing she says, “Well, I look like shit, but who doesn’t in this bathroom?”
“The light is terrible in here,” I agree. “You look good, though.”
“Liar,” she says with a laugh, leaning toward the mirror to examine her eyeliner. It’s smudged in a way that looked intentional, but apparently isn’t because her silver mouth twists into a scowl and she starts digging in her bag again. “I look like the idiot whose boyfriend made her cry.” She yanks a q-tip from her purse like she’s unsheathing a sword as she gnashes out the word, “Again.” 


Jeri said...

I'm so glad this method is working for you, and I'm excited to try it myself once I get back to writing new stuff (in an editing phase now).

Loved the excerpt, too--great work!

Lindsey R. Loucks said...

I'd kill to get 10K words written in a day. I get maybe 1500-2000, but my self-editor starts suffocating me with worries.

I loved the excerpt, and I loved I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. :D

PKJ said...

What an interesting idea. I'm so glad it worked for you! Maybe sometime it will work for me too.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks, Jeri! I'll be interested to see how it works for you.

Thanks Lindsey on both and yeah, I am the same way. 2K is my best possible day, but if I could double that.... Here is hoping.

Polly,yeah you should totally try it sometime!

Anonymous said...

Instead of focusing on a daily word count, just make sure that you're writing every single day. Don't take any days off at all...only one if you must. But keep the story in your head, once you set it aside and don't work on it for days, weeks, months you forget everything. I've written 10k a day, it took 10 hours writing on average 1 page every 15 minutes, 4 pages an hour. 1k an hour times 10. You feel really drained afterwards, rather than shoot for a certain goal, just write. When you are stuck just start typing, something will come, press those keys and shut out the rest of the world. -Drew Blanche