Thursday, January 24, 2019

Progress and motivation

Just a quick celebration.

I finished last night’s writing session a little way past the 90k mark.

That is a big deal, because I’ve now reached a respectable novel length and am on course to top out somewhere near 100k. Some scenes still to write, some still to figure out, but the pieces seem to be falling into place.

Overall, this first draft (like the previous one) has gone remarkably well. I think I’ve taken a more methodical and practical approach to the task than in the early days - basically treating it like a job with targets to meet and a goal in sight.

I have mixed views on targets and motivation. People talk about “write every day” and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing successfully for the past few months. But it’s not enough on its own. On its own, “write every day” is too vague to be useful, but I team it up a whole raft of tools and strategies to keep the writing fed.

I’ve blogged before about keeping writer’s block at bay, and the more I think about it the more I stand by those basic principles. They seem to be working for me.

So far so good, but here’s the “mixed views” part. That last sentence is phrased very deliberately. I could have said “They seem to work for me” but that implies an enduring and unchanging promise of success. So I reworded it to “be working”, continuous present, with the implied “for now”. In other words, while it works, it works, but if the techniques stop working then it’s important to change tack and do something different.

One of my motivational tools is a graph of my writing progress. Word count. Nerdy, huh? But when I’m generally on a roll, I find this helps me add at least a few words even when I don’t feel like it. It helps me through the tough times.

The evil side to word count graphs crops up when things are not going well. Not just the “I’m stuck” or “I’m tired” kind of not going well, but the “I am really sick of this story but I set myself a target!

I’ve been there before, and believe me, it’s not healthy. Yes, sometimes it can force you to grit your teeth and get you through the quagmire, but the trick is to know when it’s crossed the line from honest motivation to tyranny.

I won’t be held hostage to any given technique or target. If it ain’t delivering, then adjust it or ditch it. And that’s where I think a lot of people trip up. They find, or learn about, or are advised to try, some miracle motivational technique and then become enslaved by it. Either it doesn’t work from the outset, and they beat themselves up because it’s vouchsafed by *Insert Big Name Author Here* and so the problem must be them. They’re not doing it properly. Rather than acknowledging that it simply isn’t right for them right now. Or it works, for a while, but then it takes over and rules their life even long past its usefulness.

So, it’s good now and again to remind those rules, those tools, those pieces of advice just who’s boss around here!

But, let’s finish off with a pretty picture. Here’s my graph as at yesterday. The blue line is a gentle target I set myself back in July. The red line is my actual count climbing up way ahead of target. My motivation now has been not to see if I can meet my target, but seeing how far out the water I can blow it!


  1. Well done!
    Sometimes word count goals do motivate you through tough points. but sometimes they work against you and you turn out crap. You have to find the balance.

  2. Alex, balance, and remaining in control are key IMO.

  3. CONGRATULATIONS! Ninety K is a great milestone. You have a pragmatic approach to the process with a healthy awareness of what's working. Good for you!

    I was writing every morning, but I've done some backsliding. The book I'm working on now takes place in a girls' reform school in the late 1950s, and after speaking at length to a woman who was in that reform school during those years, I've had to go back to make numerous changes to what I'd already written. Not much point in moving forward until I "fix" the foundation. Yeah, the book is fictional, but I want the conditions I portray to be based in fact.

  4. Susan, sounds like due diligence to me, that you took the trouble to research for accuracy. If you're improving your work I don't call that backsliding. It's progress, but not the kind of progress that can be measured by word count. Another peril of targets - you need to pick targets that are meaningful.


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