My favourite acquired discipline over the last several months is writing on days that don’t feel like good days. Instead of treating writing as a chore that must be completed, I’m using it as a cure for my low mood. Which I’m told is healthier than sitting in a dark room and not moving for seven hours at a time.
My current WIP is at 55,000 words after four weeks of writing, and if my chapter outlines and plot structure are to be believed — which they rarely should be — then I’m a little over halfway there.
This is down to persevering on days where I normally wouldn’t have been able to do much of anything; Days where the cloud hangs a little lower than is bearable. Now I use my writing as a way of climbing a mental mountain every day, so that I can see above the cloudy atmosphere and out onto the landscape I’ve created from my mind.
With almost everything I’ve ever written, I’ve had this horrible habit of trying to think like the protagonist in my day to day life — and typically I’ve written about miserable people who’re not having a great time of it. You could probably call it a vicious cycle, or a self-fulfilling prophecy of an unfulfilling mood.
This time around, through writing YA fiction, any misery is a watered-down version of true anguish; It’s all Hollywood baby. Terrible things happen to my teenage characters, and they feel a wide range of intense emotions — but it’s through a lens of fiction as opposed to an attempt at true realism. In that, I’ve managed to remove myself from the process.
Keeping this daily blog has also been a great exercise in discipline, and I’d recommend it to any writer who is working on long-form projects. If you have a puzzle to solve with your narrative, or need to figure out just how to structure the dialogue in that upcoming scene, I’ve found that writing something totally different every day helps me to get in the mood for problem solving. Plus, once you’re writing, it’s hard to stop — it’s starting that’s the difficult part.
You can trick your brain into writing for hours on end, by just saying to yourself:
“It’s five-hundred words, that’s all you have to do today. Just make it to a five-hundred word count and then you can breathe.”
Before you realise it, you’ve written six-hundred words and its only been forty minutes.
“Well you’re not going to leave it at an odd-looking number like six-hundred are you? That’s only four-hundred words from a thousand!”
And so you write for another hour and make it to twelve-hundred words. Then you repeat this until you’re absolutely exhausted and can’t push the total daily word-count any higher.
“Okay, four-thousand five-hundred words is pretty good — let’s go eat and then we’ll do it all again tomorrow.”
If you do happen to reach a moment of absolute hopelessness with your WIP — as I still do despite my more productive days — then you should read.
Specifically you should read something that’s related to the genre or form you’re currently writing. It’s not failing, it’s just doing something different that still contributes to your overall finished project. Besides, if you’re diving off a cliff of depression and you can feel the cocoon of self-hatred forming around your extremities, where you know writing something original will be absolutely impossible — Then it’s better to read than to collapse in on yourself and do nothing.
You could even listen to a podcast or watch a documentary that’s related to your WIP. Learn more about aspects of the world you’ve created, by studying the available resources — This might not feel as good as actually adding to the world you’ve built by expanding on what already exists, but it’s definitely preferable to not doing much of anything.
Reminding yourself how far you’ve come is another huge motivation. Were you working on your WIP a year ago? How much of it did you write then? Have you written more this year than you did last year? If the answers yes, then you’re absolutely laughing.
Did you write more this week than you did last week? No? That’s okay, because you wrote more this month than you did last month. Progress in completing long-form projects is always going to look like a messy line graph; As long as your averages are on an incline, then you’re doing fine.
Urgh — That rhymed. I could go back and delete it, as nothing about this blog post is live. I mean — it’s not like I’m delivering these words as a speech or a lecture, even if that’s how I imagine them as I write. No, I’m too far beyond it now. It’s in the past and part of finishing something is continually moving forward, and only looking back once you cross the line at the end.
Writing is re-writing, I firmly believe that, but it’s important to complete that first draft before you go back and work on the second. Then you’ll know just exactly how screwed you are, and you can take steps to remedy it.
I should really go back and edit out that rhyme I don’t like, now that I’m drawing this blog post to a close. Except — then my final couple of paragraphs about editing won’t make quite as much sense. I suppose it served as a suitable segue into something useful, similar to this very sentence as I make my final point; All writing is exercise.
Even if you look back and decide that something you’ve written is useless — it’s not. You flexed your muscles and learned how not to write something. Either way, you improved.
If you’re a fiction writer who is reading this and it’s been a while since you’ve spilled your mind out onto the physical or digital page, then I recommend you do. You will have turned something that was once was internal, into an external, near-tangible world that can be consumed by others — and that’s beautiful.
Today is Saturday, 4th of August and a flock of magpies woke me up at five AM, they were screaming about shiny doubloons and assorted trinkets.