Not Writing

I’m following the theme from the last two days.  Like Diana, I try to write every day because if I take a break, it’s difficult for me to get back in the flow.  My best productivity comes when I am working steadily, at a steady pace, moving forward day by day.  But like Simon, I also often write in spurts;  I hit a sequence of chapters where I know exactly what I want to do and the writing flows like meltwater in spring flood, and then abruptly when finished with that sequence I hit a dry spell.  That’s not the only time I don’t write.

Some dry spells stem from weariness.  I aim for 2000-2500 words a day.  If I write 4000 words in one day, the chances are I’ll only manage 1200 the next day, having drunk too deeply and worn myself out.  Or, having finished a novel, revised it once twice and thrice and revised again from the editor’s comments, I may simply not write for a month simply because I need the well of creativity to refill.

Some dry spells stem from being Stuck.  Stuckness can be hard to diagnose, but inevitably as I fret and gnash my teeth and tear out my hair when I’m getting nothing done on some random day, I may finally and inevitably realize that I can’t write because I haven’t worked out a plot or character or worldbuilding point.  The reason no words are coming is that my subconscious is telling me not to write until I’ve worked through the obstacle.

A third type of dry spell falls outside the actual writing process.  It’s called Life.  Sometimes, when Life intervenes and especially in cases when it’s simply and utterly frustrating that Life is interfering with the writing when actually you wish you were and want to be writing, the only option is to face the frustration and accept that this one day, or this week, or this month (in certain situations), No Writing Will Get Done due to circumstances outside your control.  In such situations you can either make yourself miserable beyond what you’re struggling with, in the outside situation, or you can let go and not write.  It’s not easy to let go of the need and desire to write when Life prevents you from doing so, but there is more peace, and perhaps — one hopes — a quicker return to the writing routine.

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  1. 1. John Lenahan

    2500 words a day! We are not worthy.

    JL

  2. 2. Karen Wester Newton

    My record is 12,000 words over a three-day period, but that was a first draft of a very long short story that is now 9,000 words, so I’m not sure it counts.

    I just wished the mental energy it takes to write somehow burned calories. I would be so much thinner!

  3. 3. Kelly McCullough

    Thanks for writing this, Kate. Now I don’t have to. You just described my process flow pretty much verbatim, right down to the daily word counts and consequences of same.

  4. 4. Kate Elliott

    Kelly, notice how we’ve never been seen in the same place at the same time???

    John, the 2000-2500 count is about 8 – 10 pages a day. But (and this is a post for another day) that’s specifically for raw first draft, when I’m pushing to lay down the basic story. I do a LOT of revising, so those words are by no means polished or pretty.

    Karen – it could be like the new Atkins Diet. Too bad it doesn’t work that way. 12,000 over three days is impressive.

  5. 5. Jessica De Milo

    These are good thoughts. It’s nice to hear – kind of freeing in a way. Thanks!

  6. 6. Alma Alexander

    I’ve been known to write 4000, 5000 words in a day – on one memorable occasion 10 000 words (and they had to pry me off the computer with a crowbar) -but that was all first-draft, as Kate said. 2500/day for a first draft sounds doable.

    (back to my current 2500 now. I have two chapters to finish before next tuesday because of various internal deadlines. I think i can I think I can I think I can….)

  7. 7. David B. Coe

    My pace is similar, Alis. 2000 words a day right now. But I know that I’m slower at the beginning of a book and much, much faster at the end. I liken it to doing a jigsaw puzzle: as more and more pieces are in place, putting the remaining ones in becomes easier.

    Right now I’m in the Life-Getting-In-The-Way phase. Travel. Family vacation, family visits, camping. And then WorldCon. I’m not going to get much done over the next few weeks….

  8. 8. Kelly McCullough

    I hadn’t noticed, but perhaps that’s because I’m really a pen name and no one told me. Actually, I think there might be a great surrealist story in that idea somewhere.

  9. 9. Nicole R Murphy

    Glad to hear the comment about the well of creativity. I was having real trouble writing for a few years, because my job involved writing and creativity (I was a journalist) and I had nothing left at the end of the day. I started to think that I had no more ideas, but this year I’ve gotten a non-writing, non-creative job and what do you know, ideas are flowing again. I thought it wasn’t good that I had a finite amount of creativity, but you’ve made me feel so much better. Thanks :)

  10. 10. glenda larke

    Warning: age slows you down. Hit sixty, and 3,000 suddenly slowed to 1,500 words on a good day. Now no one warned me about that. Wrinkles, arthritic joints, grey hairs and stuff, yes – but no one mentioned that the Muse gets arthritic too and starts slowing up. Fortunately the cool ideas keep coming…it just takes longer to put them into words.

  11. 11. Mike Brotherton

    Sounds like me, only I’ll take months off without writing (full-time astronomy faculty jobs can be draining, especially if you want to have a life, too). Once I start a project, keeping up the daily momentum is crucial, as one day off is rare for me and always grows to several.

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Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is the author of multiple fantasy and science fiction novels, including the Crown of Stars series and the Novels of the Jaran. She's currently working on Crossroads; the first novel, Spirit Gate, is already out, and Shadow Gate will be published in Spring 2008. Visit site.

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