“Writing” time

If you were my computer, this is what you would see 70%-80% of the time I'm "writing."

If you were my computer, this is what you would see 70%-80% of the time I’m “writing.”

I once said that if coffee is fuel for writing, I have the fuel efficiency of a Hummer towing a boat. By “once said” I mean “said a few months ago” and no, that hasn’t changed. I don’t know what the acceptable cups of coffee/words ratio is, but I guarantee I’m not hitting it. Every time I sit down to work on something, I say to myself, “Okay, Carly. Today you’re going to focus and be professional. You’re going to write for as long as the words are there. You’re not going to check Facebook or Twitter every 20 seconds. You’re not going to fuss about the song that’s playing. You’re here to write.”

I almost never succeed. I do check Facebook or Twitter every 20 seconds. I drink coffee and make more and drink more and make more. I play with the dog. I get distracted nailing down minute and unimportant details about characters, places, and scenes. I waste an absurd amount of time even when I’m under pressure; I once spent all night writing a short story due the next day (yes, yes, I procrastinate, one flaw at a time) when I probably could’ve finished it in three or four hours if I hadn’t given in to distractions.

When I participated in NaNoWriMo, this was not the case. I hit those 1,667 words a day and damn, I was proud of myself. I didn’t check Facebook and I didn’t lose sleep over it. I wrote a few pages for every cup of coffee rather than a few words. “You’re almost like a real writer,” I said to myself. “Look at all these words. Look at that word count meter go up. You are successful because more words.”

As I’ve already discussed in an earlier post, my NaNoWriMo project was a mess. But that’s okay! That’s the point of NaNoWriMo! You just write and write and write and edit later! You squash that inner editor for a whole month and at the end you have something you can turn into a novel! Right?


As I also mentioned previously, that project had more problems than I knew what to do with. I did spend several months on second and third drafts before deciding to rewrite the whole thing in first person, and even then it was hot mess of angst, plot holes, and unnecessary complexities. Sure, I discovered first hand how difficult it is to write a novel, and I’m thankful for that, but what else did I gain? There are probably a few other cutesy little things I could say about it (“it was psychologically beneficial to see it start to finish” or “it taught me about myself”), but in the end I spent months on something that will never see the light of day. And yeah, I write lots of things that will never see the light of day, but I don’t even appreciate my NaNo project. I can’t even read it and think “Well, no one may ever read this, but it’s valuable to me.”

In contrast, I was happy with the short story that took four hours longer to write than it should have. I loved it. I was proud of it. I had thought about every single event and paragraph and damn near every word in that thing, and according to my professor and classmates, it showed. It certainly wasn’t perfect; in fact, in the grand scheme of written works, it may have only been halfway decent, but I turned it in without any qualms or insecurities.

Perhaps the most common writing advice I hear echoes the theme of NaNoWriMo. It’s something like “Write stuff, even if it’s utter crap and you end up throwing it out. Just write stuff. Write a lot.”

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking NaNoWriMo or people who write 2,000 words a day, because I’m absolutely not. I love the idea of NaNoWriMo and I love the community of writers surrounding it. I respect people who have the discipline to write 2,000 words a day. But for myself, I’m not sold on the idea. If I write a mess of words in a month and take two months to edit it (more or less successfully), is it better than taking three months to write something that’s pretty good in the first place? Am I not hindering my own creative process by forcing it to be something it isn’t?

I’m also not saying my writing habits are good, even for myself. There are days when I dither away my writing time and in the end am dissatisfied with what little I accomplished. A little structure and accountability would do me good. Therefore, I’m giving this NaNoWriMo thing another shot.

If you weren’t aware, the lovely people at the Office of Letters and Light also provide writers with Camp NaNoWriMo. It has the same purpose as the original NaNoWriMo but it’s a bit more laid back and a smidgen cozier. This July, writers will be able to set their own word count goals (rather than the standard 50,000), which couldn’t be more perfect for me. I know my current project won’t end up more than 30,000 words (I’ll be surprised if it makes it to 20,000), which means I can still set goals for myself without frantically spewing any and all words that come to mind. My hope is that my creative process will be focused but not rushed; I certainly don’t want to be getting sidetracked by BuzzFeed and YouTube, but if I want time to bicker with myself over word choice, I’m going to blinking well take it.

If any of my readers are doing Camp NaNo, let me know! Maybe we can even be in a cabin together.

11 comments on ““Writing” time

  1. b.h.quinn says:

    For what I understand, I think the point of NaNo is to train yourself to write. Many beginning writers gets stuck trying to write the perfect story, chapter, paragraph, or sentence, and don’t ever finish anything. Maybe? That’s how I took it, at least.

    Hopefully you’ll be able to find your writing sweet spot. NaNo’s always been hard for me because sometimes I can crank out over 5,000 words in a day, but other days it’s a struggle to get 250 out. It’s hard to figure out what the best routine is. Maybe Camp NaNo will help you. 🙂

    • Carly says:

      I definitely think you’re right; it’s about training, and it’s a valuable experience to have even if I won’t necessarily be maintaining that kind of daily word count. Also, I totally know what you mean regarding the difference in word count depending on the day. Sometimes I’d hit 1,500 and say “Eh. Close enough.” Sometimes I’d hit 4,000 and think “I should probably stop writing and eat something…maybe step outside for a while. Or maybe tomorrow.”

  2. Evan says:

    Like Quinn said above, I think there’s definitely something important about training yourself to have a rigorous writing schedule.

    My friends and I currently do one short story a week, which we’re upping to two [again, we dropped off for a while].And, while I haven’t written anything I’ve absolutely hated, I concentrate on the fact that I’ve put in the effort. I don’t always churn our gold [in fact, I rarely do], but I find the act of writing consistently in and of itself to be very helpful.

    • Carly says:

      That sounds like a fantastic habit to maintain (and I’m totally jealous you have a writing group), but do you think you’d do the same thing if you were working on a specific project? If I didn’t have anything of length in the works, I’d definitely have to buckle down and make myself write a decent chunk of SOMETHING every day, but when I’m committed to a specific piece I’m more concerned about the quality than the quantity. I know some people do maintain that kind of word count through longer projects, but I’m a bit leery about doing it again myself.

      • Evan says:

        I think if you have a big project it’s good to have a sort of schedule to work on it. Just because you’re writing a certain amount doesn’t mean it won’t amount to quality eventually. I mean, that’s the whole point of drafts.

  3. […] “Writing” time (creativecesspool.wordpress.com) […]

  4. Pete Denton says:

    I took part in NaNo for the first time last August. I plan on doing another round this July. It does force you to write those words a day and perhaps leave the blogging/tweeting to one side for a while. Only a while 🙂

    Happy writing and avoiding distractions.

  5. Carly says:

    Haha yes, as much as I’m enjoying this blog I have to try really hard not to get carried away with it. Thank you and good luck with Camp NaNo! 🙂

  6. […] “Writing” time (creativecesspool.wordpress.com) […]

  7. […] “Writing” time (creativecesspool.wordpress.com) […]

Comments are closed.