A Dream Deferred?: The Million Words Project Week Twenty-Nine
I mentioned in the last episode that week twenty nine would be the first week of a ten week roller coaster ride of ups and downs. I'd started the second-half of the million words project with a lot of energy for writing, and very quickly, that energy had to be diverted to other priorities.
Weeks twenty seven and twenty eight had been hard on my word count total. I'd lost ten thousand words of the storehouse of extra words I'd accumulated in the first half of the project.
So I started week twenty nine determined to stop the bleeding.
How did I do?
It could have been better.
It could have been worse.
This is starting to sound familiar...
Welcome to the Million Words Project update for week twenty-nine. I'm Eric Sheridan Wyatt.
Twenty-nine weeks ago, I challenged myself to write one million new words in one year, and this video series chronicles that quest toward one million word.
Typically, I post a new video every week, describing the ups and downs of this effort to write one million words. A few weeks ago, though, some unexpected news upended my plans, and had to put the videos on hold for a few weeks, and I experienced back-to-back weeks where, even though I was putting video production on hold, I still had the lowest word-count week since I'd started keeping tack.
I am back, settled in a new location, and catching up on these updates. So, let's take a look at the word count totals for week twenty-nine.
Week twenty-seven was just under fourteen thousand words. Week twenty-eight was sixteen thousand. Week twenty-nine started with great promise. I started the week with five thousand words on Sunday and Monday, and that was a pretty good start.
But, as I show you the totals for the week, you'll see that I fell just short of nineteen thousand words this week.
I had a decent distribution across five categories of writing, and had a chance to actually make some progress that felt more like progress, but, I was still more than eleven-hundred words short of the weekly target of twenty-thousand words.
As I mentioned last week, I was still in the mindset of "do as much as you can, even if it isn't a full twenty-thousand words." Because, it's much better to get close, or get ANYTHING, than it is to get discouraged and let a whole week slip away just because I'm not making AS MUCH progress as I'd hoped.
And, if we look at the charts and graphs, you can see one reason I was kind of okay with just doing as much as I could. The red circle near the top is the number of words I need to be on pace to hit one million words at the end of this experiment. The green circle shows that at the end of week twenty-nine-after three weeks of sub-par performance in a row—I was still about thirty-five thousand words ahead of pace.
This is important, because I have a two week-vacation trip to Colorado planned, before the end of the project, and my HOPE is to be about two weeks ahead of pace when we leave for that vacation, because other than journaling, I probably won't have many, or ANY, new words to add to my totals during that trip.
And the last point I'll make with the numbers: If I look at the two pie charts on the right, with the blue arrows, and compare my "ideal" distribution of words across the various categories and the "actual" distribution, I can see that I'm actually doing okay, except for one big area, which is the NEW category type of Non-Fiction Books, which I added to start the second half of the project because I wanted that to be a major focus of my efforts.
But, here I am, four weeks into the new focus, and I'm definitely not hitting that portion of the target with any consistency.
Which brings me to today's topic.
One of the great things about collection so much data about my writing, is that it keeps me from having to guess about how I'm doing.
One of the drawbacks it that having so much data can actually make it harder to give myself some grace, when a little leniency is warranted.
When I took a look at this data, I had two contradictory reactions. First, I was disappointed that four weeks in, I hadn't made any substantial progress toward the goal of writing more consistently on the non-fiction books I hope to write. Yes, finally, in week twenty-nine I'd put some numbers on the board, but that was one fifth of where I sort of wanted to be after four weeks.
But, the second reaction was to take a step back, realize that I'd had a lot of unexpected additions to my life, and my "ideal" word distribution and the reality of my schedule weren't terribly compatible. There were a number of unanticipated factors complicating my time-on-task, and no matter how "on fire" I am for writing, I can only write so fast.
I think I shared this before, but from a dozen years of self-observation, I know that my average number of words per hour written is 1000. I typically fluctuate somewhere between eight hundred and twelve hundred, depending on the subject matter and depending on the vibe of what I'm writing.
Even in fiction writing, it can vary, quite a bit. Some sections of a short story or novel may spill out on the higher end, and other sections may come more slowly. There is a real ebb and flow in writing.
The point is, if my life is filled with other things, and I don't have as much time to write, then I won't write as much. There's no way around that.
And, in week twenty-nine, my life continued to be filled with a lot of house hunting. In fact, we made an offer on the third house we'd been interested enough in to pursue. And, that offer, after a couple of counter offers back and forth, was accepted.
The "house search" mindset quickly shifted to the logistical mindset: arranging inspections, loan details, offer amendments after the inspection, insurance quotes, and all the things that start to happen once you say, "I'll take that one!" And, as a planner and logistically-minded person, I also immediately began to spend a lot of mental energy on two things.
The first was the move, itself. Boxing. Labeling. Sorting and purging. Arranging for a moving truck, and deciding what size, and who would help us load up. Where would the furniture go in the new house. What would we need that we didn't already have, in order to make the household run the way we'd like?
And the second thing on my mind? Future-casting the kind of lifestyle we want to live, and attempting to find the best ways to facilitate that. How do we want the kitchen set up, to better meet our cooking needs daily? Which bedroom would be the master bedroom? Which the guest room? What would we use that third bedroom for?
(If you know us personally, you probably already know what the third bedroom will be used for.)
My point is, there is a lot of mental work that goes into making a big move. And, that energy, expended most out of necessity, takes away from the ENERGY to write, just as all of the extra activity takes away from the TIME to write.
I know, from years of teaching and coaching other writers, that it is really easy to fall into the "I just don't feel like it" and the "I'm just not inspired" trap. Sometimes, we make energy and feelings into an excuse. A point of resistance. And a LOT of times, that excuse is just not valid.
But, there are, of course, times when our time and energy is focused elsewhere, and it takes away from our ability to write, in a legitimate way.
This particular week, I started out strong, determined to make up for a couple weeks of distractions, but once the offer was accepted and those wheels started turning, the rest of the week petered out, and I fell just short of my target.
In addition to house stuff, week twenty nine was cold. And wintery. And I was really missing living in Florida and pushing back against a mild case of seasonal affective disorder. Plus, my wife was working a different shift than she normally does, which meant the whole week was being lived at a different frequency than normal.
As the week progressed and other things took over, I wrote this in my journal: "It would be really cool to hit the target this week and stop the bleeding, but also, part of taking the long-view is understanding the ebb and flow of these seasons... The reason you write a little more some weeks is because there will be weeks where you don't write enough. Or can't write enough. I'm entering a whole new phase of life where every day is going to be volatile, from a scheduling and accomplishing my goals standpoint."
And with those words, I made peace with the fact that I was making progress. Yes, only inching toward the finish line sometimes, but progress still.
And, in the end, I'm okay with that.
A few weeks ago, I used this quote from Laura Vanderkam, in this section of the video: Instead of saying, “I don’t have time,” try saying, “It’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.
In that video, I was encouraging myself, and you, to not hide behind the "I don't have time" excuse, and realize that we MAKE time for the things that are really a priority, and if we aren't making time for something, maybe it isn't actually a priority.
This week, though, I'm repeating that advice, with a slightly different perspective. During a season of life like this one, when things are topsy turvy, I am asking myself what really is a priority. But also, I am saying, some days, "It isn't that I don't have time to write, it is that writing isn't my priority, right now."
The "right now" is a big deal. I'm in a place where other things are temporarily replacing writing as the priority on this day or that day. And, I'm okay with that.
But, I'm also going to keep a close eye on my justifications, and try to make sure the "right now" doesn't turn into "ever."
I had a house offer accepted, started the inspections and logistics process, had some issues that the inspection revealed that required remediation, the weather was gross, my home life was a little jumbled, and we had some BIG NEW CHANGES to plan for in our future, and trying to make big decisions that will be effecting our lives for decades to come.
Logistics, planning, and imagining the transition to a new place. Anticipating a big move. My 21st move in the last thirty two years. Transitioning into a new space, new rhythms of life, new family circumstance, new community. New everything.
Granted, it isn't like I was moving to another country, or even a significantly different part of the US, culturally. There isn't that much difference from Northern Kentucky where I'd been living to Cincinnati. But there are new streets to learn, new places to explore.
Ultimately, I came to peace with doing my best, week by week, and continuing to hold my own feet to the fire. I'm going to be reasonable, and give myself some grace when needed, but I'm going to do so with the intention of NOT allowing a lull in my writing to become the status quo. There will be ebbs and flows in my creative output, but I'm going to stay focused on not allowing myself to make easy excuses or fall for false perceptions.
The work remains important, even if it is temporarily not the top priority.
Points to Ponder
This episode is running a little long, so I'm going to keep the points to ponder section a little shorter this week.
I have one simple question for you: Are you intentional about interrogating your own excuses and justifications for why you aren't doing something you claim is important to you?
Sometimes, our excuses and justifications are valid. Sometimes, they are just ways for us to give in to resistance and avoid doing something we really want to do, but know it may be difficult, or it makes us vulnerable, or it opens us up to the prospect of failure.
If there are areas in your life where you are justifying doing one thing or making excuses for NOT doing something, I would encourage you to write about it. This is a frequent topic in my Writing Out Loud practice. A dialogue with myself, to find out if my excuses are legitimate
Sometimes, I conclude that they are. Sometimes, I call myself out on my own BS.
Being intentional about questioning your own motives can be a great tool for keeping yourself accountable to the things you really want to pursue.
That's all for week twenty-nine! Next week kicks off the last forty percent of this year long project! Can you believe it? We've crested the hill and are heading full speed into the section of the project where I will either achieve my goal of one million words, or the whole shaky experiment will come tumbling down.
I hope you'll come back to find out what happens.
For now, if you have questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you. And would be happy to connect. Check out the show notes for links to get ahold of me, or leave a comment with this video.
If you know anyone who would benefit from these videos, please share. I would appreciate it.
Until next time, I want to remind you: Your words matter. Make them count.
Have a great week, and I'll see you soon.