Writing used to be work. When I was younger, when I let myself set low expectations, writing was work. I remember when I first started working on Mistaken Identity, back somewhere around 1999-2000, I set a word count goal of 250 words a day. I figured that was an average print page, and if I did that every day for a year, I’d have a book. Some mornings, getting that 250 words was grueling. It was pure torture. I usually felt a little better after doing it, but I never built up any momentum and was happy when I met the goal and could stop.
Nonfiction was draining back then, too. I remember my first Writing On Your Palm article to crest 3,000 words written in one day, a Monday, when I had to have something to post. My brain felt like scrambled eggs when I was done, and I couldn’t imagine how professional writers took that punishment day after day.
I no longer feel that way.
I understand I have a pretty small sample size to go on, but if this week is any indication, my problem wasn’t writing too much, it was stopping too soon. The first couple hundred words or so still come sluggishly at times, but now that I’ve set my sights considerably higher for the Maximum Geek Ultimate Writing Challenge, something weird has happened.
The more I write, the better I feel.
I totally didn’t see this coming. But this week I’ve been pumping out around 3,000 words a day, every day, and I feel terrific. I’m in better mood, I laugh more, hell even food tastes better. And then I realized something. First, let me set the stage. Tuesday night, I didn’t get a chance to write much at the office. I snuck in a 841 word blog post, but my fiction writing had been limited exclusively to meal breaks, around 800 words at both breakfast and lunch. I was at 2,426 words for the day total, well over my 2,000 word a day minimum, but only 1,585 of that was fiction. And I knew that didn’t count. Blog and Twitter writing is gravy. It doesn’t apply to MGUWC. I needed 415 words of fiction before I could call it a day.
Before, this would have filled me with dread. I was tired when I walked out of the office. Before, going home and vegging on the couch watching NCIS or Stargate would have been overwhelmingly preferable to more writing. But despite being tired, going home was no longer my number one option.
I was shocked to discover that the idea of swinging by one of the three Chipotle’s on my way home, preferably the one with free wifi from the restaurant next door, and writing some more didn’t seem like a draining prospect at all. In fact, it filled me with enthusiasm to write some more, because on some level I realized that writing would make me feel better.
And let me tell you, it worked! I sat down at Chipotle, tuned Pandora on my iPhone to my Writing Music station, a mix of movie scores, strings and electronica, and set about my task. This was the opening of Chapter 3, where we first meet the new Susan Richardson. And I had absolutely no idea what would actually happen in that chapter. I knew Susan was a right wing blogger, and that was it. And yet, not only did I get my fiction word count—and write part of this post—I also realized as I followed Susan around that her meeting Daniel wouldn’t be the chance encounter it was in the original, as it still was in my outline. No, she would be under pressure from her editor (the blog she writes for is, in my mind, kind of a mirror of Talking Points Memo or Daily Kos, and Susan herself is starting to look and sound a lot like a Bizarro world Ana Marie Cox) and working on an article based on an overheard conversation from Chapter 3, she’d be looking for Daniel, trying to get an interview with the terrorist fugitive North Korean operative everyone is talking about. The book as a whole got stronger, character motivations got stronger, and I got a much better look at a pivotal character I didn’t know yet. And at a time I once would have avoided writing at all.
I should have done this years, decades ago. And the really scary part?
I’m just getting started.