There is no perfect week. Inevitably, things go sideways, but I have to get things done, anyway.
This Million Words Project Update episode includes both weeks 17 and 18. Enjoy! (This was set to post last week, and somehow I didn't hit the "publish" button until Monday...)
Direct YouTube link: https://youtu.be/DjrhWsDn7fw
Transcript below, if you'd rather read than watch.
Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat!
I am one third of the way through the challenge I set for myself, which I've been documenting here in this video series, The Million Words Project.
And, one third of the way into the project, I can say, almost without exception, there hasn't been a singe week in which I've not faced some unexpected challenge, some change in plans, some new hurdle to overcome.
Not a single week has gone how I planned it to go.
And, this week...well, I'm combining these weeks for a very specific reason.
Let's talk about it in this week's episode of, The Million Words Project.
Welcome to the Million Words Project. I am author, educator, and creativity coach, Eric Sheridan Wyatt.
In addition to writing books, ghost writing biographies, helping writers refine their work and publish it, and working with a wide range of writers, would-be writers, and other creatives, I am the host of this video series in which I detail my self-imposed challenge to write one million new words in twelve months.
In addition to giving updates on my progress toward one million words, I also use these videos to share with you the ups and downs of my own creative life. Partly, I share the things I've learned—and am continuing to re-learn—about creativity, productivity, and crafting a life of creative flow because it helps reinforce the concepts with myself.
But, I also hope that from time to time, something I say, share, or stumble upon will encourage, challenge, or inspire you to tackle the Big Thing creative idea you've always wanted to take on, but haven't ever quite gotten around to.
The mantra of The Million Words Project is that small steps lead to big results.
So, let's talk about the steps I took this week on my journey to one million words.
In the welcome portion of the video, just seconds ago, I said we would look at this WEEK of my journey, using the singular. But, if you noticed the title of the video, this update is actually for both weeks seventeen AND eighteen.
Before I dive into the actual numbers for these two weeks, let me explain why I decided to combine these two weeks into ONE update.
First, if you were around when I combined weeks eight and nine into one video, I mentioned THEN that the progress I've made in real life is several weeks ahead of where I am in the posting and sharing of the videos.
In fact, I've been consistently two months BEHIND in posting videos. As an example. The video I posted last week on December 9th, was documenting the events of week sixteen, which I actually experienced the week of October 9th.
So combining weeks is actually one way to try to shorten that gap a little bit. And, I'm going to combine weeks again next episode, as well, for this very reason.
The more important reason I am combining week seventeen and eighteen, though, is that I had set the intention of combining the numbers from these weeks, prior to the start of week seventeen.
In my planning and scheduling session prior to week seventeen, I knew that my schedule was going to make it very difficult to accomplish the weekly standard minimum number of words to stay on pace with the million words target.
When I realized how little time I would have for writing in week seventeen, I looked ahead to week eighteen and realized my calendar was actually already pretty full for that week, as well.
In fact, I knew instead of six days of solid writing and work time, I would only have three days in week seventeen that could be considered working days, and possibly only three days in week eighteen.
So, I decided to plan to treat the two weeks as ONE. I would go into this two-week period with the intention of writing one week's worth of new words.
(If you're new to these videos, the weekly minimum target for new words is 20,000, spread out over 50 weeks, to equal one million words.)
Let's take a look at what happened.
Week seventeen was, indeed, a three day work week. I had a family commitment away from home on Sunday through Tuesday, and then another planned celebration day on Friday. So I had a few hours Tuesday evening to gather myself and try accomplish a few things once I got back home. And then all day Wednesday and Thursday. I also stole a little time on Saturday, which altogether made it about three work days.
As I've stated before, the "new words written" metrics that I keep track of for this particular project are only one portion of what I do during the week. There are business tasks, household tasks, chores, errands, and all the things of daily life to keep up with.
Looking at the raw numbers from week seventeen, you'll notice that while I was hoping to hit ten-thousand words that week, I actually exceeded that number by a fair amount, with a weekly total of fifteen-thousand eight-hundred thirty-nine words.
It was, by far the lowest single week I've had since starting the challenge, but considering I was budgeting for a half-week, that left me feeling pretty good about the week to follow. Since I had hoped to get twenty thousand out of the two weeks combined, I knew even if week eighteen was just a terrible week, I'd only need to write about four-thousand new words in to hit that low target.
Which was good, because as week seventeen was coming to a close, week eighteen looked even more chaotic than it had when I first came up with this two-week-average plan.
I had several day-trips on the horizon, and there was also an unexpected video conference meeting, as well as a couple other day-long errands that were going to have me away from my desk for a majority of the week. By Friday of week seventeen, the number of days I thought would include sufficient time to write in the upcoming week had dwindled to two and a half.
So let's look at the numbers for week eighteen.
The week eighteen total was...almost twenty-five thousand words.
One of the biggest new-writing weeks I've had since starting this project.
Well, to put it bluntly, the schedule I had come up with completely collapsed. One after another, things that I anticipated would draw me away from my desk were cancelled or postponed, and I ended up having a full week of time to write.
And, write I did. Twenty-four thousand eight-hundred sixty-seven words, which was only twenty words short of my second-highest word count week so far.
That left me with a combined two-week total of forty thousand seven-hundred six words. Or, just over the typical minimum target goal of twenty thousand per week on average.
I'd snatched a major victory from the jaws of defeat!
The introverted part of me, which is the predominant part of me, would love nothing more than to have a set, job-like schedule for my creative life. Clock in at nine, clock out at five.
Or, better yet, retreat from the world into the monastery and come back out when the work is done.
Actually, the second one is a little extreme. I actually like people and value interaction, and I very much enjoy having a family and social part of my life.
But, I wouldn't mind having a cave to go to three to five days a week where there were no distractions.
That's just not how my life works out.
And, it's probably not the way your life works out either.
As I said in the intro, even though I plan each week prior to the week beginning, I have yet to have a single week during the last 18 that has gone exactly to plan.
The rigid, grumpy side of me bristles every time the plan goes awry.
And yet, here I am, eighteen weeks in, and I am twenty-eight thousand two-hundred twenty words ahead of pace.
If I look at the last thirteen years since I made the decision to make my creative life a recognized and central part of my routine—rather than just something I did whenever I could "find the time"—I know that the only way for me to continue to realize my creative goals is to be flexible.
In those thirteen years, the basic structure of my day-to-day life has undergone eight significant reorganizations. Nine, if you count world-wide pandemic response as one. By significant, I mean one of those "big life changes" that show up on the lists you might find online of "major stress-inducing life events."
I have not had a two-year period in that time that did not include at least ONE MAJOR life change, and that's not including another half-dozen or more events that caused me to completely realign my expectations and routines in a significant way.
Throughout it all, though, I've managed to keep some level of a creative life moving forward. Even during the Covid Era, when my writing production tanked, I still worked on several ongoing projects, including the publication of my novel.
I've had to learn to pivot, even though it almost ALWAYS makes me grumpy when I have to take the schedule I've made and toss it aside.
That's why I find it so important to break BIG PICTURE GOALS down into smaller tasks.
One of the key ways to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat is to have a pool of smaller tasks waiting to be achieved. That way, when the day goes south, I have options: if I can still find any amount of time to work on the open-loop items I have identified, I can rack up at least a small victory.
The easiest way to illustrate this is with my fiction writing category.
I know that my average per-hour fiction writing rate is right at one thousand words per hour. Sometimes I hit twelve hundred, other times it dips to eight hundred. It's like a bell-curve.
I know this because periodically, I measure it. I make it a data point. Not every time I write, but often enough that I now instinctively know what an 800 word per hour writing session feels like, and I can guess pretty accurately when I'm writing at a faster pace.
Since I have recently been attempting to reignite a consistent fiction writing life, I've scheduled three hours per week, minimum for writing fiction. Typically, I like to work in three hour blocks of time. So I will set aside ONE DAY with a three-hour section blocked out for writing fiction.
And then, when that day gets mangled and I only have one hour to write fiction, that's what I do. And I find a place on another day to shift those other two hours.
Of course, fiction writing isn't the only area that has to be shifted.
I'm constantly moving the pieces of my life around on the schedule board like I'm playing some deranged chess match against a ghost. But, by having my big goals broken down into smaller, bite-sized targets, I can be a bit more nimble, and rearrange things on the fly.
And, little-by-little, I can continue to chip away at the mountain of work before me.
Novelist E. L. Doctorow said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
I try to apply this concept to many different areas of life. Not because I don't enjoy planning, but because I know that the best-laid plans are almost always disrupted, at least a little. And more often than not, they are ravaged beyond recognition.
The proverbial headlights of the car may only show me the next bend in the road, or illuminate the next road sign, but if I keep moving forward, eventually I will get to my destination.
This week's takeaway is a point I've made multiple times in these videos, but it's something I have to constantly remind myself of, so you get to hear it again, too.
Here it is: There is no perfect week.
There is no perfect scenario for getting everything done. Oh, I've had some weeks where everything is JUST RIGHT, and things pretty much go to plan.
But those weeks are few and far between.
If I waited for the perfect week before I applied myself to my creative work, I'd have never finished my first short story, let alone written a handful of books.
The first step to anything is getting started. Once started, I can adapt from there.
Points to Ponder
Sometimes in this segment, I give you a highly-specific assignment. This week's point to ponder is a little more broad.
Consider this question: Is there anything in your life that you think has to be JUST SO before you can pursue your creative Big Thing? Is there anything you've allowed to become a barrier, when in fact, you could actually work around it, if you just applied yourself to finding another solution?
This is the kind of thing that would make a great Writing Out Loud topic, or something to ponder in your journal.
I know I use both of those tools quite often when I'm considering this question for myself.
That's it for this week's update. The next episode will also be a TWO WEEK update, AND it will be the last episode of the year, as I plan to take a hiatus for a couple of weeks. And, there are some really BIG things that happened in weeks nineteen and twenty, so, I hope you'll join me back here at the Million Words Project.
For now, if you find these videos helpful, informative, or somehow soothing to crying babies or yapping dogs, I would appreciate if you like, subscribe, comment, or otherwise interact with this content.
And, if you'd like to connect with me, there's information about how to find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even my very own website.
Plus, you could consider buying one of my books as a stocking-stuffer for a reader in your life, or for yourself. I promise not to tell anyone if you buy yourself a gift.
Until next time, remember: Your words matter; make them count.
There is no perfect week. Inevitably, things go sideways. I have to get something done, anyway.
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