When Writing Isn't Writing, At All...
It's that time again: This update covers BOTH Week 8 and Week 9 of the Million Words Project.
And, I talk a little bit about how I sometimes fool myself into writing, when I'm not actually writing at all.
Video posted in the blog, along with the link to watch on YouTube, if you'd prefer, and the transcript in case you'd rather read than watch!
Watch above, or go on over to YouTube:
When Writing Isn't Writing At All
Here's a quick quiz for you.
Which of the following qualifies as writing:
A) Researching which way of poisoning someone is the least likely to be found in an autopsy?
B) Arranging the pile of quotes you've jotted on notecards into an order that will make the most sense in your research paper?
C) Searching through a stock photo website to find someone who looks like the main hunk in the romance novel you've been dreaming of writing?
D) Filling all twenty-seven of your fountain pens, rearranging your workspace, and ordering two new notebooks that will be here with tomorrow's Amazon sweep through your neighborhood?
If you answered "None of the Above" You Win!
The truth is, none of those activities are actually WRITING. And, since I'm in the middle of a year-long challenge that is focused on actually WRITING new words, I've had to wrestle with the idea that a lot of WRITING successfully doesn't necessarily involve actually WRITING.
I'm going to dive into that topic, and give you an update on my progress on this week's...
Ok, these weeks?
Ok, this episode of....
Welcome to the Million Words Project update for weeks eight and nine. I'm Eric Sheridan Wyatt, author, writing instructor, and creativity coach. I've challenged myself to write one million words in twelve months, and this is my (mostly) weekly check in to update you on my progress and share some of the ups and downs of my creative life.
That's right, I'm doubling up on this episode, and I'm doing it for two reasons.
First, I'll be honest and tell you that when I started to put together this episode, I realized, these two weeks really blended together into one big lump. I'll explain a bit more about that in a minute, but basically, I said to myself, "Self, if you just go by the numbers and the activities of these two weeks, you're going to have back-to-back episodes that are practically identical.
To explain the second reason, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Where I am in my "real life" million words challenge is several weeks ahead of where we are in the filming, editing, and posting of these update videos. So, in order to get my production schedule and real life a little more in line, I decided to combine two weeks together. Next week, there will be another single week episode, and we'll probably stick to one week's worth of progress per episode, at least for the foreseeable future.
The reason I got so far behind was that the first few weeks of doing this video series was plagued with mistakes and doubts. The doubts were mostly internal, about whether or not I really wanted to commit to a regular video series.
The mistakes were often my own, since it had been several years since I'd done any video recording, and I was rusty.
But I also had a series of technical issues that were solvable, they just took more time than I'd anticipated.
And, now that I'm hitting on all cylinders and I've refined the process a bit, I thought it might be a good time to combine a couple of weeks into one.
Let's get the update for weeks eight and nine...
We are going to start right off with the weekly totals: Week 8 was right at twenty-one thousand, and week 9 was just under twenty thousand.
Week nine was the second time I've missed the twenty-thousand word goal for the week, and this time by just about 300 words. Which is a little bit of a tough pill to swallow, even though as you can see from the cumulative total, after nine weeks I am twelve-thousand words ahead of the minimum pace to reach a million words.
As I mentioned last week, I'm using the data I collect while attempting this project and using it to assess my creative life and make corrections based on where I am today, and what I'd like my ideal creative life balance to look like.
As I work to reduce my focus on my ongoing Life Document project, you'll see a spike during these two weeks in the Journal category. Man, let me tell you, there were some real epiphanies pouring out of my pen those two weeks. Lot's of really good stuff happening in my journaling life.
And, two more weeks where my fiction numbers increased, which makes the first time in a LONG time that I've written new fiction in a sustained way.
Is it a large amount? Nope. But as I say almost every episode: Small steps lead to big results.
So, yeah, it's a little bit of a bummer to barely miss the mark again, but it's fine. In fact, when I look at what I actually DID do during these two weeks, I'm actually pretty excited that I was still near the target.
My non-writing task list was long. There were a number of life chores that needed my attention, and I had a couple opportunities to help out a sick friend, and some family obligations that were unexpected. And, I spent a lot of time doing what I call, Writing Related Activities, or sometimes I call it Writing Adjacent Activities.
And that leads us to today's topic.
The fiction writing project I'm currently working on is a novel-in-stories. I'm planning to write eleven or twelve short stories that are interconnected to tell one larger story. And, this collection of stories is tied to another, more conventional novel that I hope to write later in 2023.
Because these two large projects are intertwined but separate, there is a lot of planning and behind the scenes work that I wanted to do, in order to have a clear idea of characters, locations, and timelines.
Because ultimately, the two books that will result from this are going to cover about eighty years and four generations of a family's history. There are a LOT of moving parts and pieces, and I'm a very logically driven writer.
There's nothing that pulls me out of a story more quickly than a logical inconsistency or some logistical impossibility. So I try to guard against that as much as I can in my own work. Even if there is a timeline discrepancy someone would only notice if they did a master's level dissertation on my books—and, come on, who's going to do that?—I don't want to risk it.
All of that to say, in ramping up to telling these stories, I did a lot of the Writing Related Activities that are required when plotting, planning, and researching a book. None of those things are actually writing. (With a couple of exceptions that could be counted as writing, like character sketches or some other pre-writing exercises.)
But there were a number of other writing-related activities during the last two weeks. I had phone calls and email exchanges about a client project that's been stalled. I had to do some editing of another project, which as I've mentioned before, I don't count as new words.
I also sifted through a couple of old stories, looking for the details that match the new timeline I've created to base these two books off of, and looked over old notes, and found a whole folder full of ideas and scraps of paper where I'd made some "unique observation" that goes with this series of stories.
And, I listened to the album that I consider the unofficial soundtrack to this family saga, a couple of times, to get myself back in the headspace I was first in when I conceived of this story a dozen years ago or so.
And also, I stared a lot.
On the couch. On the back porch. Sitting at my writing desk.
Letting the story find its way back to my hand.
You see, despite what I said in the teaser of this episode, all of that actually is writing, of a sort. It's activity that is crucial to writing. It's a writing related activity.
It's true, though, that it isn't actually writing. That's one of the temptations of writing related activities. It feels like you're making progress, and sometimes you even are, but if that progress is never demonstrated by actually, you know, writing the story, then all the writing related activities in the world will not create a novel, play, poem, or best-selling memoir.
That's why I am only counting new words written for the Million Words Project. Because I know that in order to have written the books I want to write, I have to actually write. New words.
That doesn't mean writing related activities aren't important. They are. Absolutely.
In fact, in the past, when I've managed my creative life balance via a straight-forward, calendar based approach, I always put specific amounts of time each week for writing related activities. There is no doubt that they are part of the process of writing.
But I know the sirens' song of the sprawling timeline. That's actually one of the reasons I went so many weeks without having any NEW WORDS in the fiction category: Remember I kept saying, "something is brewing" with new fiction? Well, I was doing a TON of behind the scenes work on this project, to get it going again, including two whole days where all I did was layout timelines for the six or ten main family members.
But the beauty of doing this Million Words Project is that every week I saw the ZERO under the fiction heading, I was reminded that writing related activities are great, and all, but they aren't writing new words. And, my challenge is to write a new story, not plan out six hundred pages worth of a story I don't ever get around to writing.
It was time, as they say, to fish or cut bait.
Author Louis L'Amour is quoted as saying, "Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on."
Writing related activities could be considered the pipes, and well, and the pump that gets the water to you; they can be the things you need to actually have water when you turn on the faucet.
But we have to be careful to not get lost in thinking everything we do that isn't writing is so important that it must be done before we start to write.
Sometimes, we convince ourselves that if we have everything "just so" when we do start to write, we will be able to plow forward without a hitch.
But then we keep finding new questions to answer, new research to do, new scenarios to imagine, and we get paralyzed.
Remember, to see your vision actually realized is the end goal, not building a scaffolding that can contain your story.
Author Steven Pressfield gives us some advice: "Start before you're ready."
If you keep the actual goal in mind, you can take steps toward reaching it.
There is a lot of my writing life that isn't necessarily about new words written. Editing. Revision. Rewriting. Those are the obvious ones. In fact, most of the time when I'm editing and revising I'm actually trying to cut words out of the manuscript because I tend to write first drafts that are a little on the plump side.
And, depending on the kind of writing you're doing, it's not uncommon to have hours and hours of research, interviews, reading of secondary or source texts, and just general planning, imagining, and fretting over how you'll tell the story you want to tell.
While important, writing related activities can be seductive. They can make it easy to feel like big progress is being made, when there are no words actually written.
Being mindful of my actual next step, which was to write the first story of the collection, I had to get to a point where I pivoted away from planning and toward actually writing the story.
Finding a balance in my creative life is the ultimate goal: I want to have time to dream and plan, and follow that up with consistent production of new stories, new books, new essays.
Being mindful of the desired destination, makes it easier to know when to leave the rest area and head on down the highway.
Points to Ponder
Writing related activities and word count goals: both of them are important to my work. Neither of them is the only measure of if I'm making progress.
This week, missing the word count target might be an acceptable result if I am setting myself up to write double next week, or at least doing things that have to be done. And next week, I may not spend any time at all planning the stories, because I'm actually writing them.
As we wrap up, let me encourage you to think about your own creative project, your BIG THING, as I like to call it: that goal or vision for something you've had in mind for years, maybe decades.
I'll bet, if you have a BIG THING, you have lots of activities you could do that are important to planning or imagining or dreaming about the BIG THING.
This week, though, I want you to ask yourself: Am I planning, or am I doing? Can I get started, even if I don't yet have every answer for every scenario? Am I giving myself a solid, balanced effort to actually accomplish my Big Thing, not just dream about it? Do I believe small steps lead to big results? And if so, am I practicing what I preach?
You see, one of the reasons I do these videos, is because I constantly have to remind myself of these very things. And by sharing that with you, I am hopefully getting through my own thick skull.
I guess we'll see if that's true, as these weeks go on...
That's all for this episode. I really appreciate those of you who join me each week. It would be awesome if you hit the like, follow, subscribe...whatever virtual button that might indicate you got something from this video.
If you know someone who would benefit from joining us, please reach out and let them know.
And if you want to comment or ask a question, I hope you'll do that.
You can find some additional info about me, and this project, in the show notes.
Until next week, I'm Eric Sheridan Wyatt, reminding you that your words matter: make them count.
Credits and Contact
The Million Words Project is a production of Words Matter Creative Writing.
©2022 Eric Sheridan Wyatt, for Words Matter Creative Writing
Contact Eric@WordsMatterESW.com or see the show notes for more information.
Week Seven: Written, filmed, and hosted by Eric Sheridan Wyatt in Northern Kentucky.