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writing rules

I have a confession to make.  I’ve thrown a few of the writing rules out the window.  Which ones?  Well, let’s go down the list.


1. Turn off everything to focus on your writing.  Yeah, tried that.  Spun in my chair. Took two hours to write 250 words.   Even what I wrote looked bored.  Eventually I gave up on that tactic all together.  Partly because there’s too much to read and do that I’ve not quite given up on yet.  Tumblr, I’m looking at you.  Also because I work nights and therefore sleep days, so if I want to talk to friends and game with them online, I have to dedicate half my waking time to that.  Leaves fewer hours for chores and bill paying and dog playing. 


So while I’m chatting and scrolling through Twitter and Tumblr and reading articles, I also have Scrivener open and either the TV on or Netflix streaming and a couple instant message windows open.  And I get my words done quicker.  It’s weird. I know.   Sometimes it’s because I have the last thirty minutes of my evening before going to work to get my words done, but they get done. 

See also: turn off the internet, or use a computer that’s not connected to the internet.


2. Work on one project at a time. As you can see from above, I’m quite used to multitasking.   I’m more used to letting a project bubble in the back of my head like the Witch’s cauldron in Brave until that perfect cake comes out of it for my plot/character/issue.


3.  This rule depends on whether you’ve read “Around the Writer’s Block” or not.  Have separate times for self care, play, and working time.  I… tend to do it all at the same time.  Take that whole list above and add in knitting and/or playing games.  Yes, I’ve knitted while playing World of Warcraft.  It takes a long time to fly from point to point!  I’ve also put the needles down to flip screens and add a couple sentences then flip back to keep from getting ganked on arrival. 


4.  Don’t read while you work.  Norman Mailer is quoted as only reading the New York Times while he works.  I don’t have time for that.  In addition to all the above, I have podcasts to listen to at work, and audio books.  I also read in the tub or on the web when Twitter and Tumblr don’t have enough to amuse me.  The only variation on this rule that I have is that I don’t read during the times I have Scrivener open.  Those words are mine and I can’t concentrate on someone else’s work then. 


What I don’t go against:


1. Write every day.  This I do.  The Magic Spreadsheet community keeps me going, and I’ve friended a few other users to share encouragement.  I’ve got an 80 day chain now. I’ve leveled up to where I now have a 350 words a day, but I still get them done.  Since it’s so close, I often push to get 500.  In the same amount of time that I got 250 done in.


2.  Edit while I write.  I don’t do this, or I’d still be working on chapter one instead of chapter 21.  I told myself to write crap and second draft will fix that.  Future me might hate me greatly for that crap, but.. she’ll just have to deal with it.


3.  Apply butt to chair and do not release until day’s wordage has been done.  Despite my multitasking and online life, I have been known to shut it all off in that desperate 30 minutes to get it done.  I try to do it earlier, but I don’t yell at myself unless I don’t do it.  Then I write at work on breaks and lunch.  But I get the words done.


Maybe some day I’ll be able to wean myself off all the distraction and put out a bigger word count, but right now, this is what works.  I’m not saying that it’s ok to dump all the hard stuff just so you can goof off.  If you don’t get the words done because you’re goofing off, then you need more discipline.  All I’m saying is, sometimes you need to distract your anxiety and your hyper critical self to get the words done.  And if you work better with distraction, that’s okay too.  What counts is the work getting done.


More on writing, inspiration, determination, and accountability.

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Once upon a time, during a wild crazy summer, I managed to kick out over 200,000 words in just a few months.  I remember the high and the thrill of the story just running through me like a bad relationship.  You know the kind, where you know the person is bad for you but the thrill of running on the edge of the cliff is too intoxicating to stop; until you slip and crash and end up with half your stuff busted and the other half stolen.  Sometimes writing is like that too.

This summer was exactly that, because my writing was based off roleplay with a friend.  She got tired of it long before I did and stepped away.  And suddenly I felt myself in freefall.  It’s more complicated than that, but excuse me for trying not to embarrass myself again, kay?

That was nearly 8 years ago, and I’ve had a complex about writing ever since. 

I changed my focus.  Stepped way from roleplay and fan fiction.  Started focusing on my own stories again.  Took writing courses in college as a side interest to my major.  Graduated with a bachelors, history major with creative writing minor. 

Still couldn’t get my butt in the chair to get the words done.  So I started reading again.  [I mentioned “Around the Writer’s Block” in a previous post, btw.] Tried to find a job, couldn’t.  Sidestepped my position at my current job, then slipped out of the job.

So here I am, working a temp job to keep the bills paid.  But I’ve written at least 250 words a day for the past 30 days.  Why?  Mur Lafferty’s podcast “I Should Be Writing” and her mention of the Magic Spreadsheet.  I looked into it.  Then I said hell yeah and jumped in feet first.

The main point about the Spreadsheet is the accountability.  I see the empty lines on the sheet and cringe, then I open up my current story and make sure I don’t become one of those.  Seeing others updating their lines gives me a community feeling that I haven’t had since the roleplay group I mentioned at the beginning of the post.   We posted our stories for each other to read and the immediate feedback was addicting.

 With the Spreadsheet, there isn’t any feedback, but the encouragement of seeing everyone else meet their goals for the day is a form of solidarity.  We’re all doing it together. And even I don’t know these people, I still support them, and I know they support me, even though we don’t speak. It’s just the act of updating for each other to see that supplies the support.

Addenum: there is a Facebook page for the Magic Spreadsheet, plus a Google + group. So you do have some conversation, if you prefer. 

But maan… breaking this block has been amazing.  And the story I started with this experiment has just run away with me and I think I might actually be able to finish it.  I still have words to write on it today, as well as this post.  But they both count towards my totals and add to my pleasure of words happening.

Thank you Mur, Tony Pisculli, and Derek Chamberlain and everyone connected with the Spreadsheet.

Happily plugging:  Lafferty just released “The Shambling Guide to New York” and it’s sequel was written with the support of the Magic Spreadsheet.  It’s a great rollicking romp and worth the read.