Kyle Willey

Year of a Million Words Update 3: Looking Up

Last time I talked about my Year of a Million Words project, I was in pretty rough shape because I’d had some stuff come up that had reduced my writing output pretty significantly for almost two months.

Now that we’re in March, even though it’s just a couple weeks later, things are really looking up.

I’ve been hitting the thresholds I need to get back on track. There were a couple rough days when I was first getting back on track, but the writing started flowing again. I don’t have any reason to suspect it’ll stop.

In a twist of irony, I haven’t been feeling terribly great the past few days thanks to heaven knows what. I gave myself most of the day off yesterday and only did a little writing, but some of that I’d already paid for by hitting 4500 words on Saturday.

Time for a few life lessons.

Commit, but don’t Over-Commit

I’ve been a little weaker than usual these past couple days because I over-committed myself. I restarted my personal blog, I’m keeping this blog going, and I’m working on a new game.

The upside is that the personal blog stuff is going to be a lot less of a high-impact thing soon. I’ve been making more content than usual to pump it up to a level of content that is self-perpetuating. I’m replacing years of content that doesn’t really reflect my current level of performance with better new stuff, which has been a long time coming.

When it does, I think I’ll be at a comfortable level of commitment where I feel like I’m always working on something productive and have some guidance of where I’m going next.

One thing that’s suffered a little is my work on my game. There aren’t hard deadlines for that, other than me occasionally mentioning developer updates I don’t get around to when I originally intend to.

The problem is that there’s a sweet spot between aimlessness and not knowing what to do next, which was something that hit me in January, and over-committing and not knowing how to do the next thing which is what I came really close to this weekend.

Find two or three things to work on. If you can’t do that, at least make sure the overwhelming stuff has a definitive conclusion. Give yourself the opportunity to take a breather if the crunch gets too bad.

Use Habit

I don’t know how often I’ve ranted and raved about using habits to stay in practice as a writer.

That counts. Get up in the morning, do your routine, and write, if only for a couple minutes. Don’t force writing, but don’t let it sleep in either.

In January, I was coming back from a two-week sabbatical and had fallen out of my groove. That is great for a moment of inspiration, but thanks to that I lost my discipline.

It’s important to have at least some regularity that you can fall back on.

Another advantage of habit is that you can do a lot more than you think in short bursts. Setting up those opportunities to be productive can emerge into something greater if your writing time can be open-ended. It’s also pretty much the only way to write in a pinch.

I gave myself far too much luxury with how I write because I’m doing well. I used to have a 5 PM (my time) deadline for these posts, and that’s slipped. That’s a small deal in the grand scheme of things, and for something like today where I’m dealing with feeling schlocky, it’s tolerable. But I need to be back on schedule tomorrow, since that’s how I move between the various tasks that I need to get through in a day to stay on task.

Celebrate the Win

I’m now on-track to finish the Year of a Million Words in November… 2022. That’s not ideal, and it’s a little demoralizing to see it in the NaNoWriMo tracker I’m using. But when I went back to it a couple weeks ago I wouldn’t have finished until 2025 taking that average.

Every time I get closer to my goal I’m moving toward something that’s on my bucket list. There’s a lesson there.

Take a small win. When I hit 4500 words in a day, I moved the projected finish date back a month! That’s partly because NaNoWriMo’s calculations are complicated. I obviously didn’t complete a month of writing in a day. But having a little metric for success and moving the goal-post closer to what you’re looking for is a win.

When you write you need to take those wins. You need to hold on to them. Even when they’re humble. Even when they’re not the big victory.

You don’t get a published novel just by writing it, but you can’t publish a novel until you’ve written one.

Keep moving forward in increments and you’ll eventually succeed. It might not be pretty, and it might not happen when you want. But if you stop, there’s no path to victory.

It’s like that cliched saying about aiming for the moon and at least ending up among the stars. It’s got some obvious short-comings (e.g. falling back to Earth being the most likely outcome), but it’s a strong metaphor.

The cost of doing something that might have value is better than doing things that have no value. Even if that value is just proving yourself, it’s worth striving for.

Wrapping Up

Am I where I want to be in the project right now?

No. If I had been in better shape earlier I’d have a lot less stress. I’d certainly be a lot closer to my goal. But there’re some upsides to this experience.

Recovering victory from what seemed like certain defeat now seems possible. That’s an experience that is worth getting just for its own sake.

Now, the next step will be to keep my discipline. Because of how these progress-to-completion things work, every day you exceed your goal reduces the need for every future day.

If I keep my current pace (~3500-3800 words a day) through April, I think I’ll be able to be back to the norm from when I started in January.

That’s probably doable, and I’m looking forward to it. It reminds me of how I built up the endurance to walk 25k+ steps a day. It took a few weeks of some pain, but once I acclimated to it there were real benefits. And once you get used to something like that it stops hurting.

Now all I need to do to get back on track is to write enough to make it a daily pleasure without burning out.

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