Moving the goal post on 500 words a day

I am a procrastinator. I think I’ve said that many, many times, and it’s right up there in the site description in case I haven’t.

I’m having trouble restarting my 500 words a day streak, and although I know there are reasons beyond the fact that I just want to procrastinate (there are!), I’ve decided that giving myself the opportunity to procrastinate until I’m too tired to hold me feet to the fire isn’t doing me any favors.

So from now on, my 500 words a day minimum (goal, what-have-you) is due before I have lunch.

I could do with skipping a few meals anyway if I’m being honest. :-o I need to lose some weight and I’m not making progress on that either lately, but that’s a story for another day.

As of right now, it’s 2:03 pm and I have to get my 500 words before I have lunch. I had leftover tacos for breakfast, so it’s taken me a while to even start to get hungry. :-) But now that I am, it’s taken my attention away from the tweaks I was doing on this site’s theme (all done, I hope!) and put it back on the fact that I haven’t started writing today.

Since I want to clock six full hours of timed writing today (or finish my book), I do need to get started sooner rather than later.

Making myself do the 500 words a day minimum by lunch might just be the extra push I need to stop this chronic procrastination thing I’ve got going on.

Side note: One reason I was tweaking my theme is because I wanted to change the back-end font to match the front-end font (the composing area in the admin, specifically), and I figured out how to do it by creating a child theme and changing the editor-style.css.

I LOVE composing in this font (PT Sans). I swear it feels like it makes writing easier. I’m considering making this change in my draft style in Word. Who knows? It might make a difference, and I can use all the help I can get.

Anyway, off to write now, so I can eat when I’m actually hungry and not hours later. I know what to do with this story; I just have to make myself sit down and do it.

The benefits of writing 500 words a day

It’s been seven days since I started requiring myself to write 500 words of fiction every day. I call it my daily minimum word count.

I’m deliberately choosing not to call this daily minimum a goal, because I am expecting more of myself long-term—I’m just not requiring it.

500 words is a number that seems almost too small to accomplish anything, but the benefits of setting such a low requirement have really started to make themselves known.

  1. My daily word counts are looking more consistent. (Last column.)
  2. My story is staying more active in my thoughts and ideas are coming easier.
  3. I’m building a habit of writing every day. (Getting started late and finishing late isn’t the habit I want, but at least I’m finishing the words!)
  4. There’s actually a feeling of success associated with this that’s much stronger than I expected. I mean, I want to write more than 500 words a day over the long term, but I still feel really good about where this is going.
  5. 500 words is actually a decent number of words, so even at this pace I can finish a real novel in just a few months, and that is motivational in a way that racking up a bunch of 100 or 200 word days isn’t. (50,000 words ÷ 500 words a day = 100 days of writing; 100 days is approximately 3 months and 10 days; making this a pace of nearly 4 novels a year.)
  6. I’m writing every day. (Because of #5!)
  7. I’m not getting stuck in an editing loop. There are only so many times I can edit 500 words into something I’ve already written. That means I’ve been moving forward with the story. Do enough 100 word days and you’ll eventually move forward, sure, but it’s going to take a loooong time—long enough to be demotivating.
  8. 500 words has yet to feel overwhelming. Even the night I put off writing until nearly 1 a.m., I felt like I could get the words quickly enough to make it worth trying. It’d be the same with an even smaller word count goal, but see #5 for why I’m not giving in and just going to bed. 500 words feels significant in a way a smaller word count doesn’t. It’s not pointless to bother or a waste of good sleep time. It matters if I get them done. So I did them.

The week’s numbers

517
533
520
1,004
515
503
505

Total words: 4,097
Daily average: 585

These are the most consistent numbers I’ve gotten in a while, and after a week of this, I believe I can make it last.

500 words a day might just be my magic number.

I already know that writing faster isn’t really the answer for me, but writing more sure might be. If I were to replace all 697 zero words days in my word count log with 500, I would have written 348,500 more words to date than I’ve actually written. That’s pretty mind-boggling considering that my highest annual word count since I began writing is 268,191 words. :-)

I’m just going to call this an experiment that has shown me a path to success. It has been an experiment in small wins and training oneself to do more by expecting less.

500 words is my daily minimum and it will remain so for the foreseeable future.

A small win last night that bodes well

Yesterday I somehow made it until nearly 1:00 a.m. without writing. But I was determined not to break my 500 words a day streak so I finally overcame the resistance to getting started and sat down and wrote.

Instead of 500 words, I ended up with 1,004. Considering I didn’t use a timer and honestly only intended to get 500 words and then go to sleep, I think that’s pretty amazing. I went to sleep around 2:20 and don’t feel so hot this morning, of course, because I’ve now had two nights in a row of about six hours of sleep, but I feel great that I had that small win turn into a big win.

After four days of the 500 word minimum, my daily average of 644 words is already better than my all time daily average of 614.

This is exactly the result I was hoping to see. It only takes a few days of better than 500 words a day to start pumping up my average. And 500 a day feels like such a doable number of words. It’s enough of a commitment to writing each day to make me feel accomplished and it also seems to be enough words to set off the creative part of my brain so that I’m actually getting somewhere instead of just staying stuck in place.

What I mean by that is that with say 100 words, I can often add a little here and there and never actually move the story forward. I might be able to get away with editing enough words into a scene to reach 500 words once, maybe twice if the writing was thin to begin with, but after that, I have to move forward, which is what happened last night. Once I started moving forward, I didn’t even have to work to pick up momentum. The story was pulling me forward.

Now, despite all that success after midnight last night, I don’t want to repeat the after midnight part tonight, so I’m going to go write. This story is actually interesting me again, and I feel a need to make some more progress on that never-ending ending I’ve got going on! I’ll post later with results, unless I fall asleep at the keyboard. :D

The path of least resistance

What can I do tomorrow to make sure I write early? What’s the path of least resistance?

This was last night’s musings, something I wrote here just to remind myself of what I wanted to do today: start writing early.

It didn’t happen. It’s 3:01—approaching late afternoon—and my word count is 0.

:-0

I should have tried harder to come up with an answer to those questions, because I didn’t even open this site until a few hours ago, and by then it was already past noon.

Then again, it’s only been 5 hours since I dragged myself out of bed (a 2 a.m. bedtime again after doing so well with an earlier (but creeping) bedtime this week) (but I got my 500 words, so yay!). I woke up much too early and tried much too hard to go back to sleep but couldn’t, so ended up wasting several good morning hours. And I have a headache from lack of sleep.

That kind of thing should count as self-sabotage, no joke.

I’m left with the question: how do I make writing my words the path of least resistance?

Update: It took a while, but I finally started writing sometime after midnight and ended the day with 1,004 words.

Thoughts on WordPress’s new Gutenberg editor

So I ran across mention of WordPress 5.0 and the new editor that’s going to be in it and I was immediately overcome by visions of fear and loathing for something that was sure to ruin a good thing. :-0

Then I followed up on it, downloaded the add-in that’s available (Gutenberg) to give it a test run on one of my websites. :-)

I like it.

I was really surprised by how easy everything was and the clean look of it, and now all that fear and loathing has morphed into something much more like cautious excitement.

My one big reservation about it is how cluttered the text view is now, because it does add in a lot of extraneous (necessary, I’m sure) code to make everything work.

But overall I’m pretty well comfortable with the idea of it, and I look forward to it becoming part of WordPress’s core functionality.

Focus on action and small wins; a new daily minimum

Today I’m starting work on my book much later than I planned. Mostly because I’ve spent too much of the day thinking about a decision I made a couple days ago and trying to decide if it’s the right one. I’ve finally decided it is.

Tuesday, I decided to lower my minimum word count for a day to 500 words. That was a good call, I think. My average daily word count is 614 words. Since I have a complete record of every day’s word count since mid-2012, this isn’t a guess. This is my actual daily word count average for more than 5 years of writing.

That said, just because I’ve averaged 614 words a day for 5 years doesn’t mean 500 words a day should be a no-problem, no-trouble, easy daily goal for me. Averages are just that: averages. And averages never tell the whole story.

Consistent daily writing is still a major problem for me. I do not do well with long term daily writing. My longest streak to date is 122 days and I had to count many days of less than 100 words to even get that.

Writing 500 words a day, every day, will be a considerable challenge. But I don’t think I can go any lower than that, just because it doesn’t feel reasonable and it doesn’t feel like a challenge. It feels like giving up.

Daily, it’s only a small win, but 500 words a day will get me a book of average size (50,000 words) in 100 days. Meaning even if I totally fail at all else and ONLY write the 500 words a day every day and never one word more, I’ll write more words in the next 12 months than I wrote in the last two years combined by a little more than 40,000 words.

That’s a win, no matter how I look at it.

And my hope is, as always, that this small win will drive me to write more and reach some of the bigger goals I have.

Every time I write more than 500 words a day, it’s going to push my average up, and I’m going to get that much closer to my long-term goal of being a prolific writer. I can’t ask for much more than that considering where I’m starting from.

But I have to start somewhere and becoming a consistent daily writer is where I’m choosing to start.

The fact is, a small win is better than no win, and I have to start focusing on action if I want to change.

This isn’t just a post about intentions; this is a post of action! I made this minimum word count change two days ago on Tuesday. On both Tuesday and Wednesday, I successfully met this challenge with 517 words and 533 words, respectively.

Yay! I have a new writing streak going. :-)

Now, it’s time to go write and keep this thing alive.

Update: Yep, I did it. 520 words for the day.

Tuesday the 31st of October: the beginning of the rest of my life

Today is Tuesday the 31st of October. It’s also the beginning of the rest of my life. What I do today and tomorrow does not have to follow the pattern of what I did yesterday and the day before.

That’s my truth.

That’s my resolution.

Seriously, it’s time to end this thing

Alright, it’s time to put an end to my misery. I have to finish this book. Today.

Toward that end—:D—I’ve set a loose schedule and some time goals. (Time spent is really the only thing I can totally control when it comes to my writing. I’ve tried to make time quotas work in the past and they haven’t but I don’t think that changes the fundamental truth that if I want to create a daily habit of writing, I’m going to have to focus on time.)

From 11:00 – 3:15, I’m going to try to get in 3 sessions of 1.25 hours each.

I’m already late getting started because of the kittens (they think my deck is a litter box and I’m trying to break them of that habit as quickly as I can) and this post (I shouldn’t be writing it now but here I am), and there isn’t enough break time built in to make the time up easily, but I’m still going to push for it even if that means going past 3:15. If the book isn’t done by then, and I don’t really think it will be…

From 4:15 – 7:00, I’m going to try to get in 2 sessions of 1.25 hours each.

First note: As of right now, I’m planning all my future sessions to be 1.25 hours each, except on days where I might just need to write and be in a hurry and don’t keep up with time at all. I don’t want to feel locked in to the idea that I can’t write or work on my stories just because I don’t have 1.25 hours available. Those days should be rare, because I’m trying to get into a routine and this is the equivalent of my job and the work has to be done. If I can’t squeeze in a few 1.25 hour blocks of time a day for writing, then I have bigger problems. A person has to make a living somehow.

Second note: I did some reading and rereading of a few things and I’ve become convinced that pushing myself past the 4–5 hour range for time spent writing is a mistake. I deal with low motivation regularly after what I consider really good writing days, and there’s a simple explanation: burnout and need for extra rest after pushing too hard.

If I were used to longer periods of focus, it might be different, but I don’t think so. K. Anders Ericsson has some really good papers on deliberate practice and high performance. (Some other related links.) Considering the fact that I’m still under the two million words written mark for fiction (probably), I still feeling like I’m doing high-level practice every time I sit down to write. I’m not sure the good writers ever quit practicing, though, so it’s not something I expect to change. I will always be trying to get better.

One quote:

Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends, and the amount of practice never consistently exceeds five hours per day.

And from one of the linked papers:

Across many domains of expertise, a remarkably consistent pattern emerges: The best individuals start practice at earlier ages and maintain a higher level of daily practice. Moreover, estimates indicate that at any given age the best individuals in quite different domains, such as sports and music, spend similar amounts of time on deliberate practice. In virtually all domains, there is evidence that the most important activity—practice, thinking, or writing—requires considerable effort and is scheduled for a fixed period during the day. For those exceptional individuals who sustain this regular activity for months and years, its duration is limited to 2-4 h a day, which is a fraction of their time awake.

Going from my daily average word count and the fact that I average 400-600 words an hour during timed writing sessions, I average about 2 hours a day of writing time. Then I read and study and think. Publishing activities drive up the time I spend working even more. I’m going to stop feeling so damn guilty for not putting in even more time. If I ever make it up to 4 hours of writing a day, consistently, I am determined that I’ll be damn happy about it.

Anyway, I just wasted a huge chunk of time on this post and I must go write. This book is going to end today, one way or another. And yes, 5 x 1.25 = 6.25 hours. I’m pushing myself, but I’m tired of dallying with this book. I want it done.

Why can’t I break the Kboards habit?

I’ve gotten myself worked up into a state again, one that isn’t conducive to being creative, and I have no one to blame but myself. I know not to visit Kboards when I’m already having trouble writing—in fact, I know not to visit  at all—but I do it anyway because… because… I don’t even know why.

I keep thinking I need more writer friends but then I read (and occasionally participate in) threads and discover that I really don’t like half the people there. There are nice people at Kboards, really, but they get drowned out by the others, the ones that cannot stand, in any way, for fellow self-publishers to go their own way or walk their own path.

Since I experiment and choose to do things my own way, I don’t usually find helpful business advice there. I visit for the camaraderie—and yet rarely find it. It’s a well-moderated board, but even the most innocuous threads turn divisive and you end up with one or two “successful” authors gently (and then not so gently) scolding  everyone for not doing things the right away—their way. And then their minions or people who just want to be like them jump in and it becomes an echo chamber determined to drown out dissenting voices. Anyone who’s found success on a different path is labeled an outlier and told their advice isn’t valid.

To which I say, massive success in publishing is rare and elusive, and anyone who has found such massive success is probably an outlier and should not be listened to. In all likelihood, they have no idea underneath it all what it was that brought them success other than the fact that they probably work hard and know how to write a good book. (I say probably because half the world will tell you that there are a lot of bestsellers that aren’t good to a lot of people and there is a certain percentage of people in life who do just get lucky and never have to work hard at all.)

I don’t begrudge anyone their success as long as it came honestly, but man, it would be nice if people didn’t wield their sales numbers like a razor-sharp sword and try to skewer everyone on the ladder below them.

Which brings me full circle really. I want to break the Kboards habit. I just don’t know how. I’ve tried blocking the site, even going so far as to block it in my hosts file, and I still find myself undoing all my hard work and going back. It makes me sick every time I do it. Especially when I end up in this same state of mind because of it. I don’t like conflict, but Kboards is a black-hole of conflict. It’s really not the place for me.

Update: Alright, I did it. I edited my hosts file and blocked Kboards completely. I had no choice. Mind the Time tells me that just today using Firefox I’ve spent 43 minutes there—and I probably spent twice as much time as that scanning threads on my phone. >:-{

10/18 update: I’m still visiting on my phone and tablets but I haven’t undone the hosts block on my computer. If I could just figure out something similar for my phone, that would be a huge help.

Update to the update: I use Firefox on my phone with the uBlock Origin add-on. I filtered kboards.com and it will no longer come up in Firefox. I could use Chrome to get around it but since I don’t like Chrome I probably won’t. :-)

Update to the last update: I removed the block from my hosts file and I took the block off my phone. I’ve had a rethink about habits and I don’t think this solution is the long-term answer. However, I have ideas and I’m giving them a go, so this fight ain’t over. ;-) I’ll update with a link to the post I’m currently writing about this rethink once I finish it.

Practicing for pace improvements

Practice is good. I don’t think most people will dispute that. But sometimes I need to be able to visualize what improvement I’m working toward, so I highlighted 200 words of text in my current book in progress and took a screenshot of it.

Here it is.

The blue highlight is 200 words of text in a standard 8.5×11 inch Word document with 1 inch margins in Times New Roman 12 point font.

The screenshot is of a two page spread, giving me the most complete visualization of 200 words I think I’ve ever had.

Here’s the thing: I want to consistently write at a pace of 800+ words per hour. It would allow me to write a reasonable number of words in a reasonable number of hours. I can type 60 words per minute without straining myself.

With that goal in mind, 200 words is what I would expect of 15 minutes of writing and that’s what you see in that screenshot, a visualization of what I’m taking aim at in every 15 minute session I do today.

Seeing it here, in this image, has really made me wonder at the nature of what’s holding me back when I write. I just can’t believe my brain creates story at such a slow pace that I struggle to create this much manuscript in half an hour most days. It’s difficult to understand.

Unless I blame it on perfectionism. Then it makes all kinds of sense.

For the particular selection of text I highlighted for this screenshot, it took me more than half an hour to get right. I know what text is there, nothing was particularly difficult to come up with, and I know it would take me about three to four minutes to type at my average 60 words per minute typing speed.

Tying is not writing, that’s true. But I think much faster than I type so I’m not sure how that flies as an excuse for slow writing.

So today I practice—in fact, I started practicing last night but was too tired to really give it the attention it needed.

I’ll let you know how it goes. :)