Taking requests – how to trick your brain when writing

I had a long conversation with a friend yesterday, and he suggested that I share some of my tricks for writing that maybe I haven’t shared before. So, by request – how to trick your brain.

First, these work when you establish a set deadline for yourself. If you don’t have one, you probably don’t need this, and probably have a better relationship with your brain and inner editor than I do. The deadline can be whatever you decide – for me it’s a month, but it could be 3 mos, 6 mos, 12 mos… whatever you decide. It’s your book, after all!

OK, so you have your goal. You’re going to write a novel/memoir/how-to/history book in X number of months. We’ll use 3 for our example.

First, that’s 90 days give or take. If you’re super OCD, please figure out the exact number of days, not forgetting leap year. Got it? OK, so that’s your writing days.

Now, subtract days you know you can’t write. Thanksgiving, especially if you’re the cook. Christmas. That week-long camping trip you’ve planned for a year. Your daughter’s wedding. Whatever. So if you started with 90 (I’m not OCD!), and you’ve got 3 definite “no way” days, you’ve got 87.

But are you going to write all 87? Nope, no way. Your brain will get tired, a day trip will come up, you or someone in your house will get sick, or you just want a fun day of freedom. How many? Only you know. It could be one a week, or two a month. Let’s say 3 a month for this example, so now we have 78 writing days.

Take a look at your genre now. Commercial fiction is typically 80-100,000 words, but some can be 125k or longer. How-to and a lot of nonfiction can be 50-60,000, as is Young Adult. Determine your word count. I write commercial fiction usually, and aim for 90,000. I usually end my first draft in the 88k range, but I still plan for 90k. So if we divide the number of words by the number of days, we see that we need to write a minimum of 1154 words a day on the days we’re writing. Jot that down.

OK, so now you’re ready to write. You need a list. I use a stickie note app on my desktop, which I leave open during my writing months, but you could use a spreadsheet or a notebook. Here’s what mine looked like for Undaunted Love:

writing goalsI write either the date or the day number (just 1, 2, 5, 47, whatever). Each day, before I start writing, I write my GOAL number. This number is the daily word goal (in our example that would be 1154) added to the day before. Not to the GOAL from the day before, from the actual.

Here’s where my friend thought a lot of people would be too hard on themselves. You can see that I had 2 days with deficits from my goal. Notice that I did NOT add the next day’s word goal to the GOAL from the day before, but from the actual. Why? Well, look at the other days. My goal was 3000 a day in this instance. June 6 was pretty close, at 3115, but look at the other days. 4418. 3530. 3789. 5820. Every other day exceeded my goal (it’s pretty hard to write exactly 3000, or 1154, words and stop). Sometimes by a lot. I don’t subtract those overages from my goal the next day, so neither do I add deficits. You’re talking about an AVERAGE of where you are vs where you want to be.

What does that mean in our example? Well, let’s say you’re on day 33 of your 3 months. On day 33, if you’re on track, you should have a minimum of 38,082 words. Are you there? Are you over? If you set a realistic goal, you’re probably over, or pretty darn close (even 100 extra words a day gives you a 3300 word surplus in 33 days). THAT’S what you need to look at, not each day in a microcosm. And that’s why you don’t worry about your goal from the previous day, you just look at actual numbers. Because it really does all average out.

Finally, in your first draft, DON’T DELETE! First of all, those are valuable words you’ve written down! If you don’t like something, just make the font white. That’ll save your words, but you don’t have to look at them. You can remove them later, when you’re editing. This is a FIRST DRAFT. It’s called a “first” draft for a reason. Otherwise, it would be your FINAL draft. Be kind to yourself – editing is where it gets ugly, but this isn’t editing. This is writing.

I’m not saying this is the only way to write. Some people just write day in, day out, and finish when they finish. I can’t do that — if I don’t have a deadline (self-imposed or not) I just won’t get it done. Life will get in the way. One other thing I do is tell people I’m writing. For me, that means I put on FB that I will be writing, then I put on FB that I’ve started writing, then I put my daily word counts and my totals on FB while I’m writing. And celebrate on FB when I’m done. There are 3 or 4 people who follow along, cheer me on, and celebrate, and that’s enough to put some pressure on me to do it.

Hope this helps! Keep on writing!



Filed under Writing

6 responses to “Taking requests – how to trick your brain when writing

  1. Wow, Jennings,
    If only I could be as organized, detailed and focused as you. That’s good stuff. I am ADD when it comes to writing out details and OCD when it comes to everything else my writing. Maybe I’ll try your method though and let you know how I do.

  2. Pat

    Hi – great post. Not good with the maths, but agree that I just have to write it. No stopping, no critique, no edit, just write the draft. Head switch off inner critic. Door shut keeping out all comers, except my husband with tea.
    Only when it is finished do I edit. Only then can anyone else take a peek at what has been going on.
    Never done the nanowrimo thing but planning to give it a whirl in November.
    Thanks for sharing and I will give the maths a chance and try it.

    • Another future WriMo! The great thing about the November NaNo is the community – 250,000 people using the forums at one time, regional chat rooms and get-togethers. A ton of fun and encouragement and support. Good luck! And thanks for your comments – let me know how it goes!

  3. Pingback: NaNoWriMo – the one week countdown | Words on the Page

  4. Pingback: NaNoWriMo – the one week countdown | Jennings Wright, Author

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