Last week, my son went to visit his dad in Phoenix. For the WHOLE week. In order to distract myself (and keep from getting dehydrated with all the tears), I challenged myself to write a book in a week. 50,000 words in 7 days. I was fairly confident I could do it, providing I didn’t get bogged down in “where the heck does this go next?” It would be hard, especially physically, but I was determined to do my best.
I didn’t actually make it.
43,083 words. SO CLOSE. I’m really bummed I didn’t make it, but I also know exactly why it didn’t happen.
- I started on the wrong day. Ideally, I would have started shortly after they left on Sunday and gotten a full day of writing in. Instead, I let myself miss him and ended up playing Don’t Starve Together with my brother half the day. Good for my mental health, but it meant that my seventh writing day was the following Sunday…when he was home all day.
- I took a day off in the middle. My brain was verging on burnout, so I took a day to play Fallout 76, watch Cheers, and generally futz around. I should have taken a half day, not a whole day.
- My sixth day, Saturday, was also a half day. I didn’t realize they would be back as soon as they were, so I didn’t schedule my time accordingly.
For reference, here are my numbers:
Had those last two days been full days, or had I not taken Thursday off, I’d have made it.
And, honestly? Who am I kidding?
I wrote 43,000 words in 6 days!!
Even though I didn’t actually hit 50k, I still kind of feel like I did. Here’s my takeaway:
- With the right setup, I can write for 6 hours without any pain. Friday was an 8-hour day, and made my shoulder ache something fierce.
- 6 hours is a perfect amount of work, providing #1 is true. I felt excited, refreshed, and downright jubilant when I was done. As opposed to Friday, when I ended with a stressed-out brain buzz and only wanted to sleep for two days to recuperate.
- Short books make it easier to maintain writing momentum. Longer books have longer arcs, meaning one has to hold a bigger picture in one’s head. This series is somewhat actiony and plot-driven, so it moves from one scene to the next without a lot of subtext. Godmother would not have been nearly so easy.
- Knowing the plot – at least major and minor guideposts along the way – is imperative. Part of the reason I took Thursday off was to figure out a way forward (I ended up using most of my notes in the first three days). Deep plotting isn’t necessarily required (but I know from writing Eternals that it helps even more).
- Mental breaks are necessity. During previous long slogs (usually around the climax of each book when everything gets really moving and I don’t want to stop), I needed days to recover. I can get away with less time if I know where I’m going when I get back, or have #6.
- Habit is insanely important to the creative process. At the end of Wednesday, I had no idea where I was going or what came next…like, at all. I told myself I was going to ponder the problem while playing games (ha ha – I know better, and I still tell myself this lie all the time). When Friday started, I still no had idea where I was going, but I used my breakfast to figure it out and I was at the keys on time and obviously full of verve.
- Deadlines that mean something actually matter. I suck at deadlines and due dates. They are my Achilles Heel. Not because I’m lazy or have poor time management skills, but because I have no emotional connection to getting it done. You can dangle all the rewards or punishments you want, but if I’m not emotionally invested in what I’m doing, it doesn’t happen. So I need to find ways to challenge myself consistently that matter to me in order to be my most productive. (Which I already knew, but finding out there are things that matter enough is huge.)
- Since I’m a broke work-at-home mom, I don’t get 6 hours of uninterrupted writing time 5 days a week. But if I did, and if I figured out how to maintain it, I could theoretically crank out even a Godmother book in a little over a month. And isn’t that just a lovely goal framework, right there?
So, I didn’t make my goal but I learned a lot of really important things about myself and my process. And I’m almost done with my Top Secret Project #2. In a week. Those are some huge wins!
The most important thing I’m walking away from this challenge with, though? The knowledge that if I ever manage to make money from my books, I really can make it work full-time.
And honestly? I don’t know that there’s anything more important to a writer than having faith in ourselves. Some have it in spades; others of us have to work at it. But if you’re like me, rest assured it’ll come. It’s a practice, not a finite resource. Keep moving forward, keep trying new things, and eventually we’ll get there!