Year of a Million Words Update 4: You Can Do It!

I’ve written almost 100,000 words since my last update, and it’s been a little less than a month. In fact, if I’d waited a few days I would have hit the 100,000 word mark, but I want to keep these updates to the first Monday of each month in the future.

For reference, I need something like 83,000 words a month to hit my goal. While I had some superb numbers, I’m still not caught up to where I should be on the entire project.

But that’s okay.

How Hard Is It?

So, obviously there are days when I meet my goal and days when I don’t. I’ve been trying to catch up so that I don’t need to do more than the original amount of words per day.

That requires a ton of deliberate effort, but part of that is figuring out what and when to write.

I’ve been trying to cut out a lot of things that I find low-satisfaction from my leisure time. Then I replace them with writing. It works pretty well. Even though a lot of the writing I’m doing isn’t stuff I find inherently satisfying–or perhaps it would be better to say that it’s cognitively expensive, and therefore labor and not leisure like some sorts of writing can be for me–I think it has been a broadly liberating experience and one that I don’t miss.

My writing speed is nice. I can hit the daily word goals I’ve set in a couple decent hours. There are always going to be some things that hit speed-bumps. Because I have something like six projects going, that’s easy to work around.

My writing has actually gotten faster, rather than slowing down, as my output increases. Some of this is just developing new muscles (metaphorically speaking). I’ve hit multiple six-thousand word days, and that’s something that’s really hard to do with consistency. I’ve written six-thousand words in a day before, of course. Without tracking specifically, I think I’ve hit something like ten-thousand word days.

But that’s a sprint, not a marathon.

What I’m training myself for is basically marathon writing.

Finding Tasks

I mentioned that I’m working on six projects, but there’s a new one that consumes a lot of my energy.

I’ve started a new novel project, Aspects of Sand, which you can check out now on Wattpad. It is a NaNoWriMo in April sort of thing. I started a few days early to try a serial format, but that isn’t working right now.

It turns out that when you write out of order, you wind up with part of a chapter blocking 5000 words of nearly-edited content.

This is my third novel. That means I should know my limitations, at least the obvious ones.

That makes it ideal for something like this, because I need to pump energy into it. I’ve also got a book on pacifism that’s great subject matter. I ramble and need to cut it down, but that’s revision stage stuff and not current stuff.

The secret here is to find things that are meaningful.

I like Aspects of Sand. I like writing my treatise on pacifism. I like this blog. They are meaningful to me.

If you want to write a million words, find something you like to write about!

It’s really not that hard, though some of it requires overcoming limitations. I’m still working on Herding Your Cats, but I don’t feel ready to finish it. It’s a book on writing that I’m trying to write while figuring out more about writing!

That’s a tough circle to square.

How Much Skill?

The interesting thing is that I’ve found that I’m not using my “skill” as a writer much during this.

That doesn’t mean I have no skill–you can judge that–but I could probably have done this at any other time in my life, barring perhaps my first year teaching.

It’s really being disciplined that’s making a difference. I spend a few hours writing each day.

And because writing is always novel and exploring the unknown, it’s pretty bearable.

Some of that comes from being a massive reader, though I’ve fallen behind on reading while doing this much writing. I try to get through at least one chapter of something a day (or sometimes two half-chapters a day), but it’s quite difficult.

Really, the three things that have made a difference are:

  • Dedication
  • Energy
  • Aim

Finding the Dedication

You need to want what you’re going for. Otherwise you’ll give up.

Giving up ends the game, and then you don’t write a million words in a year.

This is a tough project. I need to prioritize it above other things I could do with my time. Some of those things will always be more important (food, family), but some are negotiable.

Find the negotiable stuff, push it aside. Then you’re able to dedicate the right amount of effort to the pursuit.

It helps if you think in terms of the present.

What do you want today? How do you achieve your goal today? Where do you intend to be at the end of the day?

I’ve often left myself pleasantly surprised after a long day of writing, namely those six-thousand word days. That starts with knowing where the end of the day is.

Then you create a feedback loop, knowing that you were able to do it.

Finding the Energy

You need a source of power to write.

The first step here is to do things that leave you free. Healthy lifestyle decisions (a.k.a. no all nighters!) are a good start.

Then you find inspiration.

The secret to this is that you’re not looking for sublime inspiration. You’re looking for beautiful inspiration.

Find something just a little beyond what currently exists and inhabit that space.

For instance, I listen to music almost all the time when I’m writing.

My choices vary on mood and timing. I’ll make playlists for a novel, or for a setting, or for a mood.

But I listen because it keeps me organized, ordered. It provides the space, I provide the work.

You need to balance your needs, your wants, and your environment.

All your needs have to be met. Otherwise you fall apart.

Most of your wants have to be met, but only so that you want nothing more than you want writing.

The challenge with managing wants is that it’s often a checklist game for people. You think that you should hit every last bit of the list.

But you shouldn’t. Choose what’s important and do that.

Finding the Aim

Obviously, I have a grand aim: write a million words in a year!

But that is not sufficient.

You need to have something that is worth doing on the small scale. The bricklayer doesn’t think in terms of a million bricks, he thinks in terms of buildings.

This is because the function of bricks, as with words, is to make a greater whole.

The secret to productivity in writing is to choose things that are worth your time.

Start little or start big. That’s less important for the sake of writing itself. There’s a hazard in starting big and getting discouraged.

But the nice thing about writing is that you can always revise, update, improve. Your words are permanent in one sense, but not in others.

So do what you find worth doing.

For instance, my book on pacifism. I’m not an expert scholar or a philosopher.

But I am a pacifist, of an absolute sort that’s rare these days.

So it’s worth writing, because I don’t think many people think like me.

Putting it down in a book means that it will survive me as a legacy.

It will not be as good as the best thing I’ll ever write, nor the best thing a more philosophically minded person could write.

But it’s worth my time.

Do what’s worth your time and pushes you toward your goals.

Wrapping Up

As I continue working on the Year of a Million Words, I’ve found that there’s really not as much to fear in it as I had once thought.

I’m not hating my writing, nor am I burning out. There are certainly times when I need to stop and recharge. I gave myself yesterday off for Easter. I’ve been in more or less good health, though I’ve had a couple days where focus or plain feeling miserable were too much to write around.

But one advantage of the project is this:

Doing something great gives you strength.

People think they need to be strong to do great things. But the process is inverted. You become strong as you act.

Last Friday I was on four hours’ sleep because I woke up during the middle of the night.

By the end of the day I’d written 6000 words, and I felt they were at least decent words compared to my average output.

The result of that was a great feeling. Instead of having a miserable written-off day that I’ll never get back, I have a day that I turned into a triumph.

Applying that to practice two or three times a month could literally change your life. It would certainly change mine.

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