As noted previously, I have been experimenting with writing every single day on a particular story for the past two weeks, regardless of work and other commitments. I may have to take a hiatus on this, as we are going on a vacation ("going on holiday" to you Eurotypes) for a week, so here's a status update and a discussion of what worked:
1. I've managed to write even at the end of a VERY long day (starting with a conference call at 6:30am, writing starting at around 11:30pm that night)
2. My output has varied, but I do seem to have a sense about what is "enough" to feel acceptable. The enough varies from night to night, which makes sense. The least I wrote, after the LONG day, was seven (7) words. The most was 1,372. Every time it felt like "enough." This is an important point!
3. Some nights I started after midnight, and momentarily I thought "no! I blew it!" and then I decided that this counted anyway. Dodged a motivational bullet there!
4. I've averaged 592 words a day for a 13-day total of precisely 7700 words. I started with a few thousand, so my total to date is 12,431.
Not wanting this to be an ego blog, I want to turn this into guiding principles, and there are definitely some here! Most are in the book, but it is nice to confirm again that they work! There are some principles that can be generalized from this, most of which I do have in the book, but it is nice to confirm again that they really work! After the cut, I'll list what this means.
WRITING EVERY DAY
As I've mentioned, I hesitate to set a "writing every day" goal, because it is too risky for some people, certainly in my kind of job where I might have to fly off to Timbuktu at odd intervals. But I knew I had a clear period for this two weeks, so I set my goals based on that. I also know myself enough to know I don't have a good "feel" for time, so I might not keep track as well if I were doing, say, four days a week, which is what Toni used to do when she had a full-time job and wrote. When things change, I'll reset. I write in bursts anyhow, so why not take advantage of it?
WHAT FEELS LIKE ENOUGH
One key factor in managing your motivation is knowing when you are fully engaging your motives. Since motives are nonconscious and emotional, this can be difficult! A lot of this is about what you expect of yourself. Isaac Asimov wrote for eight to ten hours a day every day so I imagine he would have been very frustrated writing for a mere hour or three. (Heinlein described how it was getting harder and harder to get "that warm feeling" until he got past 250,000 words, which is scary.) I wanted to challenge myself (key point!) but not punish myself. The night I did seven words, I was walking dead, but I was proud of myself for making myself sit down and start a new scene. That's right--it was only seven words, but it set the stage for the whole scene I planned to write the next night!
Note that my average came out to about 600. This number has a bizarre sort of sentimental value; it is the goal Toni set for herself for her first book, writing four days a week. So it still feels "right" to me. This is an average, but in some dank part of my brain I think I knew that if I did a superlong session the previous night, it was okay to short myself the next. As long as the average is decent, why not? Not everyone is precise. And some days were considerably more strenuous for me mentally than others.
IS AFTER MIDNIGHT THE SAME DAY?
When I didn't start until after midnight, it might have been easy to say "you blew it!" I didn't want to do that, so I redefined my goal. I basically defined day as "waking period," or I might not have had any time at all. It kind of became "write before bedtime," since that was the time I had. Other people I know get up at 4am to write before the kids get up, but I'm not a morning person. To keep myself honest, though, I did date my work as, for example, 13-14 August when I went past midnight. Part of this is also the researcher in me, of course. I want to see if I am more productive after midnight, which used to be true when I didn't have to get up!
The other experiment I mentioned is writing from "idea to idea," which enabled me to keep going. It has worked so far; at one point I was getting worried because I was almost out of my initial ideas and didn't want to skip to the end yet (too soon, I think, with only 12K words), and in this case I am writing linearly instead of out of order as I usually do, so I could keep the thread. (I'll probably reshuffle; in fact, I already have one scene.) Just as I was almost out, I got another "brainstorm at bedtime" that gave me my next two writing sessions. For me, for this book, this works! (Memo to self: don't assume this will work every time!)