Wednesday, March 20, 2019

You don't have to write every day to be a real writer

I took a creative writing class once, several years after I graduated college and had been slogging it in the workforce and dreaming of writing a novel. My teacher in this class said that the way to write a novel is to write 500 words a day. Don't miss a day. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Do the thing. It worked for him, and clearly, you know, if it worked for one person, it'll work for everybody. Right?

Er, except no.

Still, even after I knew it wouldn't work for me, that 500-words-a-day advice was so baked into the aspiring-writer dogma that I didn't dare question it. I kept going to workshop after workshop and reading craft book after craft book -- even Stephen King's canonical On Writing, ffs -- that insisted the only way you can be a legit writer is to set a daily word count goal and meet it. Every. Day.

Hell, the cult of NaNoWriMo is built on this philosophy.

I started to think that because this advice did not work at all for me, I wasn't a real writer. There was surely something wrong with me. I was the only person who failed at NaNoWriMo annually, who joined and chronically and consistently failed at those daily word-count accountability groups. I wrote two books on deadline believing completely that because I didn't draft them in daily, predictable word chunks, I had done them all wrong.

If you can imagine how fun all this failure and self-loathing were, you can also understand how amazing and liberating it was when I found out the write-every-day advice was utter horsepucky.  Here's how it happened: I took a writing productivity course called Write Better Faster, taught by Becca Syme. The course starts out with students taking a series of personality tests -- Myers-Briggs, DISC, and Gallup Strengthsfinder -- and then Becca helps you tweak your process to best fit the way your brain works.

Y'all people, the Eureka hit me so hard I was literally crying.

My highest strength on the Gallup Strengthsfinder is Intellection*. This means that I do a lot of my best creative work when I'm not actually working. So all that time I spend driving around and thinking about my plots and characters and conflicts and trying out what-ifs and never writing them down? IS work time. IS writing time. Even though no words make it onto the doc, I am still working.

I was a writer. I am a writer.

My process just doesn't look like Stephen King's process or the NaNoWriMo bulk-word-vomit process. Slow and steady does not and will never win my race. I'm a think about the book for three months, get a strong handle on the kind of story I want to tell, which characters will best tell that story, what the jump-off conflict is, and how I plan to resolve it by the end. And at that point, when all of that work is complete and lighting up the inside of my skull, I can sit down and burn through a year's worth of accountability-group words and not even count the suckers.

Counting the words, writing every day, scheduling my creative brain, stalls me fatally. Which is why I hate hate HATE that piece of writing advice.

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* Becca Syme did a whole video about us high-Intellection weirdos. If you think you might be one, I highly recommend taking her classes ultimately, but you can also preview a little of her wisdom here. Full disclosure: I'm in the video and it looks like there's something seriously wrong with my mouth. Not to worry. That was just nerves.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent post. It takes me a while to develop a story, so I'm always writing in my head while I'm doing other things. "the best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes" Agatha Christie.

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  2. Yesss. "Intellection" is my jam.

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