What to Do When the Words Don’t Come…

Easy <– Because we have a soft spot for Ringo Starr.

Easily <– Because we know our audience.

We have entered Week Four of the Draft House 2016-17 Season. Things are in full swing now, and we Queens couldn’t be more thrilled with how it’s going. Our hard-working drafters are logging their word counts daily. They’re reaching out to support one another in our online meetings and Facebook group. And they’re putting the “progress” in WIP with word counts they didn’t think were possible.

Which isn’t to say it’s been a totally easy or stress-free road for any of us. As with that brand new workout program at the gym, or that horrible pickles-only diet your cousin made you try in ninth grade, the first few days of any routine are fun and even somewhat easy, thanks to the power of novelty. And pickles. By the end of week two or three, however, the novelty begins to wear off and we have to rely on discipline to push us through the doldrums.

Quick Sand, aka WORD SLOG
Quick Sand, aka WORD SLOG

While everyone’s experience with writing is different, and each person has her own rhythm, there comes a point in every writer’s life when you hit the WORD SLOG. These are the days when logging your word count, finishing that difficult scene, or maybe writing any words at all feels like the next best thing to a root canal.

Obviously, we Draft Queens believe that a reasonable, consistent daily word target can cure many ills when it comes to getting your draft done: it’s pretty much the central tenet of our program. We’re all about breaking down that 80,000 word novel into 417 words a day. That said, there are times for all of us (Queens included) when the next hundred words might as well be the next hundred miles, and even that 417 feels abstract and oppressive. On those days – when your writing becomes the staggering drunk friend you are dragging bodily to a taxi – sometimes it helps to break your goals down even further, with a different approach entirely.

Instead of focusing on how many words you need today (or which chapter you want to finish, etc.), try giving yourself a tiny sliver of time to write as much or as little as you can.

I (M.J.) use this trick when I feel stuck, or exhausted, or like there’s no way I have it in me to write (or write more) today. This strategy works best spontaneously, when you’re about to throw in the towel on your writing day.

Here are the steps:

  1. Say, out loud, to yourself or someone you love, “The world won’t end if I don’t write today.” Give yourself permission to let go of your pre-conceived goals, just for today.
  2. Decide what you would prefer to do (or need to do) instead of writing. Some examples from my experience include taking a bath, watching a favorite TV show, going for a walk, preparing dinner, going to a meeting, etc.
  3. Now say “I’ll get to that in just a minute,” and then find some discrete measure of time (other than minutes on the clock – that’s a different strategy) to measure your time to write. For example: while the bath water is running, while you wait for Netflix to cue up or the microwave popcorn to pop, while your walking buddy looks for his shoes, while the water boils for the pasta, in the parking lot before the meeting starts. And that’s your time.
  4. For that window only, pull out your notepad or laptop and just add a few words — even something silly or nonsensical if you’re desperate — during your pre-allotted time. No pressure, no judgement, no editing. Maybe you’ll erase every word tomorrow, and that’s fine.
  5. And then you’re done. Whether you get two words or twenty or two hundred, stop when the bath is ready or the water is boiling, and honor your promise to yourself to do the other thing. If you’re in the Draft House, go ahead and log your words, no matter how close or far you are from your goal. If you get some momentum and want to come back to your work later, fine. If not, tomorrow is another day.

I’ve found that these little slivers of concentrated writing time are great for taking the pressure off, and sometimes the freedom shakes loose some creative impulse or brave idea I might not have voiced otherwise. Even without such lofty results, this method allows you to honor that there must be room in your life for things other than your writing project (and that your project is better for it), without skipping an entire day. Just that tiny bit of momentum can hold the thread from one productive day to the next, even if you have a less-than-awesome day in between.

Give it a shot! When can you sneak in a sliver of time? If you try this method, we’d love to hear how it works for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *