Monday, November 15, 2010

How hard to push?

Writers all have different strategies for completing projects. Ernest Hemingway liked to stop his work for the day in the middle of a sentence. That way, when he returned to it, right away he was immersed in the action and knew exactly where he was going. Graham Greene wrote 500 words a day. Apparently he got so good at identifying 500 words, that he would also stop mid-sentence, knowing he had reached his goal. Stephen King has said he writes 2000 words a day. On Twitter, Melissa Marr (author of the WICKED LOVELY series) said she doesn't write every day, but when she does, she'll write something like 5000 words.

I began my OctAnNoNaNoWriMowithNoGuilt-0 pursuits intending to write a novel in 6 weeks. I wanted to write 1500 words a day. That hasn't happened. I've switched projects, was attacked by plot demons and self doubt. I've finally gotten back to work, but I'm averaging around 500 words a day. It feels terribly slow. No where near even my NoGuilt-o pace, let alone NaNoWriMo pace.

But I feel okay. The story is finally going somewhere. I'm beginning to have fun. My characters and plot are slowly unfolding in front of me. So every morning I've given myself permission to stop as soon as my scene for the day is written. Sometimes it takes 3 hours. Sometimes it takes thirty minutes.

And on those days I wonder if it's enough. Should I push myself harder? Is it okay to be Graham Greene and write 500 words or just one scene? Or if I've got the time, should I push on, make the most of it?

Lately I've been choosing happiness and well-being over pushing myself. Who knows if it will be the right decision, but since it's working for me now, I haven't fought it. How hard do you push yourself to write? Do you always reach your goal? Do you ever aim for more than your goal?

11 comments:

  1. This is a question I struggle with constantly. With me, I find that if I push myself in other areas of my life (running, teaching, etc.) then my writing stamina is stronger too. When I hit that wall of resistance, I go 50/50 on whether or not I push through or not. When I hit beyond my writing goal (or running, etc.) then I feel great. Really, really, really great because I've pushed when my I'd have rather not. Then, a few days later, when I hit that wall again but I stop then I don't feel as guilty about it because I know I *can* go beyond. Make sense? Anyway, my battle is with guilt. Could learn much from following your journey and hearing how it works out for you. Sounds like you are in a good working place. :)

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  2. My battle is completely a guilt battle, too, Bridgette! Wish I could just banish that anxiety that I'm not working hard enough!

    I am in a good writing place... or at least I have been for the past three days or so! =) And I still am overwhelmed with guilt! But it's good to share with others and hear we're in the same boat. Your problems with pushing yourself some days and not others makes complete sense to me. I suspect even if we pushed harder every day, we'd begin to feel guilty and wonder if we could do even more! Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I managed almost a month of churning out a thousand words a day, and by and large they were pretty good words that didn't take a lot of revision (which, I know, will come later in spades nevertheless). Then I got towards the end and suddenly I've allowed myself to get bogged down with self doubt. Would so-and-so really do XYZ? Wouldn't she do ABC instead? And wasn't her reaction to EFG out of character? I'm very slowly working my way through it, but it hasn't been easy.

    It's so reassuring to know I'm not the only one with this problem!

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  4. Definitely not the only one, Mary! Perhaps it's one of the job hazards of living completely in our own heads--nervous breakdowns and guilt trips galore!

    I do think we need to take writing at our own pace, though. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes when I haven't been able to write, it is because I really needed to do some thinking. I hope you're able to figure out how to get yourself back on track.

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  5. This is tricky for me. Usually when I "push" myself, I do so unrealistically and then I burn myself out. So I try to be gentle with myself when working towards a goal. I also have guilt issues. :) But I also know I have a VERY full plate and as long as I'm making progress -- even slow progress, I'm happy about the writing.

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  6. That's a really healthy way to look at it, Karen. I must say, that's what I've been trying to do, too. And you're right, no matter how you slice it, progress is progress!

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  7. These are really interesting questions Anne. Apart from when I'm working on edits to a deadline, I try very hard to make sure writing doesn't become drudgery (after all I already have my day job for that...) so I don't push myself to the point that I'm miserable. One technique I've found helpful on my writing days is to push myself only to write for a full hour, first thing in the morning. If after an hour I'm longing to stop I do - but those days are evened out by others in which I get into the flow of my work and write until its dark!

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  8. Thanks, Anna. I really like that deal you make with yourself. I might have to emulate you. I think my best writing really does happen when I want to be there and am enjoying it.

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  9. Thanks for starting such an interesting discussin, Anne. I always feel challenged by the slowness of writing -- it takes so long to write, then revise, then revise, etc. a novel. It makes me feel like trying to push myself harder, but then I don't think I'd be doing my best work. I constantly remind myself that any writing is progress towards my goal of getting it finished. And you spend so much time on it, you might as well enjoy yourself as you go!

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  10. You push as long as you need to, as hard as you need to, to birth that baby. Some labors are easy. Some....are not! (A competent midwife helps.)

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  11. Thanks, Andrea. I think that's exactly it--writing is sooo slow, it's really tempting to push harder. But I love your point of view, that if it's going to take that long, we might as well have fun with it!

    Hah! Love this, Anne! And it's true, too. We have to just keep pushing until that book is out!

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