Skip to content

What Do I Have to Lose?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

In trying to regain momentum in my writing life—which has stalled out almost completely except for the twenty or thirty minutes I make myself write just before switching off the light at night—I’ve been reading articles, chatting with other writers, and, in general, reminding myself that I thrive with structure, goals, and deadlines and flounder when I don’t have something to achieve.

Gina Conroy recently shared that she has a goal of writing 1,000 words per day. In the past three days, she’s written about 4,500 words. Ah, I remember the time—back this past spring, in fact—when I set this same goal for myself and had the same kinds of results. Some days, no, I didn’t actually get all the way to 1,000 words. But the other days of the week usually made up for it and I was producing 5,000 to 7,000 words per week. Of new material. Of forward progress. Of motivation to sit down and see if I could surpass the previous day’s word count. Of being proud of myself at the end of the night when I opened up my spreadsheet and plugged in that day’s number and saw my total word count grow.

In this search for motivation, I read an article in the archives at by David Taylor, “A no-fret, no-sweat plan for getting it DONE” (may only be available to subscribers, not sure). In it, he explains his method of not setting a word count goal, but allotting his writing time into blocks of forty-five minutes to one hour. “Spend enough time in the chair,” he writes, “and eventually it will get done.”

Taylor writes that much of why we as writers don’t produce as much as we’re capable of is because of doubt or fear. We fear the blank page. We doubt we’ll be able to produce anything worthy of our crit partners’ time, much less of publication. Every little negative thought we have comes to the fore and as soon as we sit down to write, we spring right back up to go do something else we’re more comfortable with. Face it—writing can be one of the most uncomfortable things to do, and not just physically. As I delve deeper into my characters and my stories, sometimes it’s like pulling my heart out of my chest with my bare hands and laying it on the desk—defenseless and vulnerable to everything.

As much as we all hate talking about it, committing time to writing is just like committing ourselves to losing weight. If I set a weightloss goal of 20 pounds between now and September 19, what am I going to do to reach that goal? Well, I’m going to make sure I’m eating healthy foods, smaller portions, lower fat/calories, more fruits and veggies, and exercising every day. What? Exercise every day? Yep. That’s part of the commitment. In my appointment with my new doctor this week, when I expressed concern that, after losing 15 pounds relatively easily by just changing my diet to lower carb/lower fat, I’ve plateaued, she asked me how much I’m exercising. About thirty minutes a day three or four days a week, I admitted. This was when she gave me the bad news: for someone my age and my weight, that’s not going to cut it. I have to increase my aerobic exercise to forty-five minutes per day at least five days per week if I want to try to get to a point of steady weight loss.

Hmmm . . . I’m seeing a frightening similarity here. It’s all about commitment. It’s about willpower. It’s about figuring out what I have to gain and what I have to lose to determine how committed I’m going to be when it comes to each goal—writing and weightloss.

In the article, Taylor illustrates the fact that people who depend on their writing for their livelihood have no trouble staying motivated. “If they don’t write, they don’t pay the bills. Simple enough.” But as someone whose livelihood does not depend on my writing, what do I have to lose by not writing?

Well, I do have a little more to lose than other unpublished authors—after all, I am agented. If I’m not writing and getting new material to him, pretty soon (in six months, in fact), my contract will be up for review. If I haven’t been getting stuff to him that he’s getting bites on from acquisitions editors, he’s probably not going to renew my agreement and I’ll once again be not only unpublished but unagented as well, and starting all over again—this time with the stigma of having been dropped by one of the best agents in the industry. Yikes—don’t want that to happen.

On a more personal level, I actually tend to start edging toward depression when I’m not productive with my writing. Writing prolifically (not publishable-quality, but words on page) was what got me out of the deep clinical depression I experienced fifteen years ago that led to my dropping out of college. That manuscript, still unpolished and unfinished, clocks in at slightly more than 200,000 words—which doesn’t represent all of those scenes and “chapters” (segments, really) that I rewrote dozens of times as the mood struck. In the past couple of months that I’ve allowed my writing motivation to dwindle away and my word count fade to almost nothing, I’ve noticed the wolves of depression circling, waiting to attack. When I write, these predators are excised through the endorphins generated by the creative process. My emotions are boosted, my adrenaline pumped up, my mental faculties clearer, my sociability increased. Writing regularly makes me more productive in other areas of my life—it’s amazing how much MORE time I seem to have to do things like exercise, do freelance work, critique, and read when I’m committing myself to my own writing than I do when I’m not committed to anything.

Looking at it this way, I have far too much to lose by not writing than I do by committing myself to a goal or schedule. Sure, it’s nice to be able to just come home after work, sit in the recliner, watch TV all evening, maybe chat on the phone, knit a while, and just “take it easy.” But what will I have accomplished with my life, with the talent God has given me, by doing that? I have nothing to gain and everything to lose by not committing myself to what will make me better as a person.

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog a while are probably thinking about the other times I’ve posted about commitment or determination to have and reach a daily word count goal, and I’m sure you’re thinking, “So shut up and just do it.” Here’s my commitment to you and my request for you to hold me accountable. I have created a Daily Word Count page—there’s a link at the top of the page and in the right-hand nav-bar—where I will post the total number of words I wrote the previous day. If I’m not posting, y’all better be e-mailing me to find out why! Because the greatest source of motivation in goal-keeping is accountability.

  1. Thursday, July 19, 2007 12:04 pm

    Hi there. A book I read recently describes the “ambivalent” writer who one day thinks their work is fantastic and the next want to burn it or eat it. Apparently this is the most difficult way to be a writer, but you have the greatest chance of producing something of true value. Myself, I wrote a lot in University, but now that I’m not really studying anymore I have to make a living somehow. I write SEO articles, reviews, humour pieces and the like which pays pretty well. It’s not exactly soul food but it’s easy to do. My blog, WriteNonsense, is where I explain how I got started, and where the best places are to find work without paying membership fees and things like that.


  2. Thursday, July 19, 2007 9:23 pm

    I think it’s exciting your writing pulled you out of depression!

    I haven’t been consistently motivated on my novel (okay, slap my hand now) mainly for one reason you mention here– my livelihood does not depend on it.

    But I blog incessantly when I’m not on a noveling kick (and sometimes even when I am) because it allows me an outlet for the overflow of random thoughts that fill my head on a given day–

    And, I’ve said it before, simply writing is a lot for me like moving: I can only be still so long.

    I can’t divorce myself from both the pen and the keyboard for any length of time. It’s seems silly, really.

    I pray peace for you as you are finding your working balance.


  3. Thursday, July 19, 2007 10:15 pm

    We’re here for you, Kaye! You and I seem to have a lot in common–I’m more productive in other areas of my life when I’m writing on schedule. I love routine, I thrive on it. The sad thing is, I’m “afraid” to mess with it because one missed day of (fill in the blank) is a slippery slope toward letting it go altogether. Great idea to be accountable in public 🙂


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: