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Subject: "Well, This Works for Me" Previous topic | Next topic
Mesg #90374 "Well, This Works for Me"
Author Wandering Author     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 01st 2007
1569 posts
Date Sat Jan-21-12 02:02 PM
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Sat Jan-21-12 02:05 PMby Wandering Author

I have long ago learned there is no "one rule to rule them all" that works for every writer. At the same time, I do like to read about what works for others, because, sometimes, it will work for me, or I can adapt it to work. I find it especially useful when the reasoning behind the process is explained as well.

So, in that spirit, I'll try to explain something that has worked for me, along with the mental tricks that I've used to make it work.

I've noticed that, if I set a goal, then actually closely track my progress, it gives me a lot of motivation to meet that goal. Obviously, it has to be a realistic goal (setting the bar too high just makes me give up) and one that I'm committed to. Since I really wanted to make a habit of writing more, I decided to try this. In my case, I've found that it works better if I set an average target over a period of time, rather than a rigid rule I must meet every day. (If I were to decide I must write X number of words each and every day, some emergency would come up, I'd fall short one day, and I'd give up because I'd already failed. If I decide I want to average X number of words per day, or better, then I have flexibility. I can catch up if I fall behind. I can try to get ahead, to provide a cushion against emergencies. That way, I am much more likely to stick with it. And, because I know there will be emergencies, I have motivation to try to exceed the goal whenever I can, just to give myself some leeway later. That keeps me from stopping the moment I hit my target for the day.)

So I decided I want to average at least a thousand words a day, over the year. Now, if I simply decided that was a goal, then 'tried' to write as much as I could, I'd soon fall so far behind I'd give up. So what I did was create a simple spreadsheet. It lists every day in the year, with a column for the number of words I actually write that day, the total words I've written so far during the year, and another to calculate and show me how far ahead of or behind my goal I am to date. (A final column, for notes, allows me to mention any factors I think might have helped me or held me back. One note means little, but if I look back and see any particular note frequently correlates with a better or worse than average total, I'll know what works best for me.)

I actually did a trial run toward the end of last year (the last three months of the year), and met my goal for those three months, although not much beyond it. (October didn't go well; NaNo helped me catch up.)

So I started the year with this as a "New Year's resolution" (although something even more than that, in my mind). I fill in the spreadsheet every day, and check how I'm doing. Now, we're not too far into the year - but it has been a terrible year for me so far, in terms of stress, distractions, and what have you. Before I used this strategy, I would have been lucky to have written perhaps a thousand words all year to date. (I do know that's a terrible record for anyone who wants to write. But it does no good to pretend that isn't where I was.) Since I am using this strategy, the results are different. Twenty one days into the year, my total (and I'm not done for today) is 42,301 words.

I can't promise it will work for you. You might need to tweak what I'm doing, or "bribe" yourself with little rewards for keeping up, at least to get started. But there is another ray of hope. I've discovered or relearned two other things. First (and I knew this long ago, but it is being brought home to me with renewed force), the more time you spend with words flowing from your mind onto the screen or page, the easier it gets to keep the process going. Second - habits are powerful things. The more days you can use this to make yourself set words down on paper or disk, the more used you will become to the process, and the more momentum will just land your butt in that chair. So, if you have trouble writing as much as you want to, and you think this or some variation might work for you, why not give it a try? (I'd be interested to hear any variations any of you come up with - maybe they'll help me, too.)

If this keeps on working as well as I hope it will, I'll look back at the end of the year, see what I was able to do in practice, and tweak that daily average up a reasonable amount. I don't want to shove it so high I'll give up. The idea is to keep pushing myself, so over time I get used to doing more and more, until I discover the upper limit I'm capable of. Kind of like training for a marathon. You don't go out the first day and try to run twenty five miles in two hours. At least, I hope you don't.

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Replies to this topic
RE: Well, This Works for Me, gilroy, Jan 21st 2012, #1
RE: Well, This Works for Me, Wandering Author, Jan 21st 2012, #2
RE: Well, This Works for Me, RavenCorbie, Jan 22nd 2012, #3
RE: Well, This Works for Me, Wandering Author, Jan 22nd 2012, #6
      RE: Well, This Works for Me, RavenCorbie, Jan 22nd 2012, #7
           RE: Well, This Works for Me, Wandering Author, Mar 03rd 2012, #8
Solid method and congrats on the output!, Optihut, Jan 22nd 2012, #4
RE: Well, This Works for Me, Linda Adams, Jan 22nd 2012, #5
RE: Well, This Works for Me - Progress Update, Wandering Author, Mar 03rd 2012, #9
RE: Well, This Works for Me - Progress Update, elizabeths, Mar 04th 2012, #10
RE: Well, This Works for Me, Dreamerscove, Mar 05th 2012, #11

Mesg #90376 "RE: Well, This Works for Me"
Author gilroy     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list Click to send message via ICQ
Author Info Member since Aug 26th 2010
569 posts
Date Sat Jan-21-12 03:50 PM
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In response to Reply # 0

This is interesting. I do something similar, but I don't track generic written words.

To be honest, I have a database with more than 150 different ideas in various states of writing. (Realize that if the idea clears a certain word count, it becomes its own record in the database. So some of those are just snippets waiting for expansion.)

When I track my writing, its based on increasing a set number of stories with that many words each week rather than each day. Less stressful for me, and it allows me to work it into my bill paying day job.

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Mesg #90377 "RE: Well, This Works for Me"
Author Wandering Author     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 01st 2007
1569 posts
Date Sat Jan-21-12 05:55 PM
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In response to Reply # 1

Sounds like a good system. In my case, although I have a ton of ideas, fragments, what have you, I'm trying to stick to one work until I either finish it, or get so completely stuck I have to let it simmer for a while. I do keep track of what project I was working on that day (and could note several titles if I moved from one to another in a day), and I also am setting up logs for each work, so I can look back later and see just when it was written (unless it falls in that vast period of time before I set the system up, in which case I'll know far less). I didn't mention those details because - for me - they are less about providing motivation and more about collecting information.

But the important thing is that the system work for you. I could easily imagine a weekly system being much better for some people. I personally chose to avoid it because I wanted to put myself in a position of tracking what I'd done each day, so I wouldn't have much time to let things slide. Of course, in an emergency, I can still skip days. But - for me - it is important that I am at least made aware each day of where I stand in relation to where I want to be. (And I'm only bothering to spell all this out so any third party can think about which aspects of each system are best for them.)

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Mesg #90384 "RE: Well, This Works for Me"
Author RavenCorbie     Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list Click to send message via AOL IM
Author Info Member since Oct 17th 2005
7824 posts
Date Sun Jan-22-12 12:51 AM
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In response to Reply # 0

I've done a variant of that in the past, and it was somewhat helpful at the time, but (as usual) I made it too complicated, so it stopped working. The problem was that I had a main page that tracked all writing, and then several sub-pages that tracked writing from each story . . . and because there were so many stories, every day I had to decide which one to work on . . . as indecision is one of my biggest faults, this led to me avoiding the spreadsheet. But I think if I stopped trying to track yearly, and just tracked individual stories (i.e. one spreadsheet per novel, rather than one spreadsheet per year linked to all the ideas I *might* work on), it would probably work better for me.

Right now, I'm not trying for new words, though, so it will have to wait.

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Mesg #90389 "RE: Well, This Works for Me"
Author Wandering Author     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 01st 2007
1569 posts
Date Sun Jan-22-12 02:52 PM
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In response to Reply # 3

This might not work for you - but since you had almost exactly the setup I'm using, and since indecision is definitely one of my own weaknesses, I'll toss this out there.

I don't open the spreadsheet to decide what to work on. I make up my mind on that ahead of time, usually based on what's 'boiling' in my mind. And I am trying, as much as possible, to stick to one work until I finish it. So I write, then I fire up the spreadsheet, to enter the day's count in the yearly summary and in the page for that particular work. At least for me - so far - that's been enough to avoid the quicksand of indecision. (Which is not to say that problem may not rear its ugly head later...)

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Mesg #90392 "RE: Well, This Works for Me"
Author RavenCorbie     Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list Click to send message via AOL IM
Author Info Member since Oct 17th 2005
7824 posts
Date Sun Jan-22-12 04:26 PM
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In response to Reply # 6

Sorry - I wasn't very clear. I usually open(ed) (maybe this is the real problem) everything before starting to write. So, I'd open the spreadsheet, start the music, turn off the internet, and THEN open up my story. I wasn't using the spreadsheet to decide, but because I opened it before I started writing, I saw all the other stories, and that made me reconsider what I was working on. This was especially a problem when/if I did finish a story and it was time to start a new one.

But it did work for quite awhile, and maybe if I made myself NOT open the spreadsheet until I was done writing, as you suggested. It used to just be part of my "warm-up" to get started writing routine, but it's true that opening it up before writing might have been the problem.

Thanks for the idea!

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Mesg #90502 "RE: Well, This Works for Me"
Author Wandering Author     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 01st 2007
1569 posts
Date Sat Mar-03-12 03:49 PM
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In response to Reply # 7

I'm not going to try to claim that my idea will work for anyone - but I will note that I've noticed most processes can require a little tweaking. As a result, I'm almost as wary of declaring a particular idea useless to me without first thinking about it and tinkering with it a bit as I am of swallowing every idea that comes along, no matter how it seems to work.

I hope you can get some good mileage out of something in this thread. Even if nothing works "as advertised", if it gets you thinking, maybe you'll come up with your own idea.

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Mesg #90386 "Solid method and congrats on the output!"
Author Optihut     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Nov 02nd 2003
123 posts
Date Sun Jan-22-12 04:55 AM
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In response to Reply # 0

Hi Wandering Author,

I completely agree about goal setting over a long period, instead of a goal that is phrased like this: "I want to do X amount every day/week".

When I moved away from nebulous new year "resolutions" to specific new year goals, I still made the mistake of setting goals for each week. Typically I would miss my target early on and then the whole plan collapsed.

As of 2010, I've just rephrased the goals (for example, "write 1000 words per week" is essentially the same as "write 52000 words this year") and noticed an increased output as well. All of a sudden I'm not demotivated early on for not meeting my goal, but rather find out in - say - October that I won't meet my target. By that time, I've already accomplished a lot more than I would have with the previous method.

That said, I kind of disagree on setting the bar lower (although your word count for "lower" would still constitute a super efficient output for me, heh): even though I didn't meet the 50k last year, I know it is doable. If I would lower the bar, I would probably subconsciously think "Ah that's easy, there's still plenty of time, no need to work on it right now...". Instead, I aim to do more this year (unrealistic, but deliberately so), so that falling short of my very high goal will still result in achieving a solid result.

For the first time, I'm also breaking down the goals into milestones. Staying on the writing example, I have four milestones: 12.5k words, 25k words, 50k words (last year's target), 100k words. I haven't fully decided how to celebrate each milestone, yet.

So in a nutshell, I think your method is spot on and in comparison to my measly amount of words, 42k in 21 days is a fantastic achievement. Hats off to you!

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Mesg #90388 "RE: Well, This Works for Me"
Author Linda Adams     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Feb 05th 2006
1548 posts
Date Sun Jan-22-12 02:27 PM
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In response to Reply # 0

I've been playing around with what goals will work for me. I can't do word count -- I have a very unhealthy relationship with word count. I start focusing on making sure I get the word count and not on the story. If I see I'm running too short, then I start adding, which hurts the story. So I have to stay away from even something like a daily or weekly word count goal.

I've been playing around with two other options:

Write a scene every two days

Work on a problem until it's solved. Problem isn't quite the right word. It might be something like "Work on world building in Scene X" or "Develop relationship between X and Y in Scene 4."

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Mesg #90503 "RE: Well, This Works for Me - Progress Update"
Author Wandering Author     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 01st 2007
1569 posts
Date Sat Mar-03-12 03:54 PM
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In response to Reply # 0

As of the moment I'm posting this, my total for the year so far is up to 136,239 words. For me, that's probably more than I've laid down on paper in any previous year. I don't plan on quitting now that I'm ahead but even if I did, at this point, NaNo would be all gravy. In other words, at least for me, this method is working out well.

And I'm making a few other discoveries. The more you manage to find a way to get your fingers wrapped around a pen or hovering over a keyboard, laying down words, the easier it gets. As you write more, you can write more words in less time, without losing quality. And it becomes easier to finish what you start, which is another very good thing.

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Mesg #90507 "RE: Well, This Works for Me - Progress Update"
Author elizabeths     Click to send email to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jul 20th 2003
983 posts
Date Sun Mar-04-12 10:02 AM
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In response to Reply # 9

Wow. Congratulations! Sounds like this method really works for you.

I've been making it a habit to stick to my schedule. I don't necessarily write at the same time every day, but I have writing on my calendar every day. Lately I've been reviewing to see where my schedule is too ambitious and why I haven't been getting to all my writing appointments.

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Mesg #90512 "RE: Well, This Works for Me"
Author Dreamerscove     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Sep 25th 2007
1581 posts
Date Mon Mar-05-12 05:37 PM
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In response to Reply # 0

The last half of 2011 I used a tracking spreadsheet to help me try to write every day. I quickly realized doing it per day would not work. My health and life just does not allow it.

Going into 2012 I changed it. Came up with a new spreadsheet to track progress by week. It also has numbers for per day and per month. Between it all, I've been much happier. In January I was a little behind because of getting sick. February I'm back on track and even a little bit ahead.

I'm now a fan of the weekly goals, as it gives a lot of flexibility to the goal-keeping.

When I get some time and energy, I'll post the spreadsheet to my blog so others can use it.

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