Daily Thoughts 176: Refusing to Catch Up

Author's selfie The earth rotates and nothing that I do changes that one bit. It doesn’t matter if I’m busy or not (though I’m usually busy). People talk about ‘falling behind’ and ‘catching up’ as if a race is taking place. There is no race.

I enjoy streaks, accomplishing something day after day. I started doing that when I was a kid. It turned out that my brain liked routine. When I started writing my first novel when I was a teen, I set my sights on six pages per day. Each day I faced the pages in my typewriter (no computer at that point, though it was what they called a word processor at the time and had a tiny one-line screen and could store a few pages of text). That Brother word processor was a big improvement in my mind at the time. It made it easier to catch typos before I told it to type out the page. I enjoyed watching it clatter away, typing up the page. Day after day, I sat down and wrote. I also carried notebooks and wrote stories by hand when I was on breaks at work. I developed that skill early on, making it possible for me to take advantage of a 10-15 minute break, or a 30-60 minute lunch break. I’d sit and scribble quickly across the page.

When you set your goal at something like six pages per day it can be tempting to average that out. “If I do eight pages today, I’ll only have to do four tomorrow.”

The danger lies in the sense that you need to catch up. If you missed a day, suddenly you have twelve pages to write. If your schedule barely covers the six pages, twelve is unlikely to happen. Even if you managed, say eight pages, that leaves you with ten the next day. Eventually, by knocking out a couple extra pages you might ‘catch up’. At the same time, your stress has accumulated over those days of trying to write extra. It’s not sustainable.

Other Examples

This doesn’t happen only with writing. I think it happens with any job. You’re working at capacity and then something happens. Someone is sick or quits. Demand is greater than expected. Expenses higher than expected. Whatever the source, something happens that leaves you ‘behind.’ Bills pile up and so on it goes. If you continue at the same capacity you won’t fall further behind until the next thing happens.

In some of those cases, you don’t have direct control. Your supplier raises prices. If you can’t find another supplier that is willing to sell for less you’ll need to make cuts somewhere.

Don’t do this to yourself!

Why treat yourself that way? Don’t be the bill collector demanding payment. “Well, you know, you’re behind on the words Mr. Williams. And my boss, well, let’s say that she doesn’t take with that sort of thing.”

“I’m good for the words! Really, I am. Give me a chance. The end of the week. I can do it by the end of the week.”

“I’m not unreasonable. It’ll only cost you an extra five hundred. You do that and maybe I can convince her that breaking a finger isn’t necessary this time.”

Be Kind.

I’d like to spend time writing each day, but I don’t have to teach myself a lesson if I don’t make it on a particular day. I can start each day with new eyes, bright, and ready to play. If I’m looking forward to it with enthusiasm and excitement I’m more likely to get writing done.

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Daily Thoughts 52: Excuses and the 400 Word Challenge

Author's selfie Hanging out in the new hammock chair this morning (behind me in the pic). I used a Marathon swing hanger and a hammock chair spring to hang it from the ceiling joist. It’s a nice and colorful addition to the room. It’s also easy to take down. I can reach up and simply lift and unhook the spring, making it easy to move it out of the way.

Excuses Writers Make

Dean Wesley Smith posted Excuses and the Fine Art of Self-Sabotage today.

Last week I came to the sudden realization that most of us modern writers are lazy. While at the same time convincing ourselves we are not.

I encountered this the first time I went to graduate school. I discovered that we would be writing one novel over the next two years of the program. One. I was appalled. It seemed inconceivable. For one thing, how could we apply what we learned? It seemed obvious to me that we should write a complete novel, and then use what we learned to improve the next novel. And the one after that. And the one after that. Even if we only wrote one per semester, it would still give us four complete novels during the course of the program.

My view on this was met not only with skepticism and derision but with anger. Maybe I could do that, I was told, with the clear implication that I was somehow the exception. Or delusional. Or both.

I found that response baffling. Even at the time (17 years ago), I knew that the only way a novel could take a year to write was by spending most of the year not writing! And two years? Why would you do that?

Back then, I was doing things to write whenever I had the chance. I used Palm OS devices back then with portable keyboards, and an Alphasmart Dana for a time. I’d written my first novel back in high school many years earlier, and had written numerous novels since. I learned early on that simply writing each day added up quickly.

“Simple math,” Dean said.

How NOT to Write a Novel in a Year


Jan 1: Announce on Twitter that you’re writing a novel. Consider it a good day’s work.

Feb 1: When asked how the book is coming, point out that you’re still doing research, testing different ideas.

Mar 1: Spend more time looking at the market, trying to decide which genre looks most likely to pay big. Thrillers are popular, right?

Apr 1: With everything else going on, now isn’t the best time to start writing, so you give yourself permission to give it time to develop in your subconscious.

May 1: Where did April go? May isn’t a good month. Besides, you still need to pin down which idea to go with. There isn’t time to write everything because you have so many ideas!

Jun 1: With or without an outline? It’s hard to say. An outline makes sense, right? It’s always better to have a plan.

Jul 1: If you’re really going to do this, it’d be better to get feedback as you go along. Maybe you can find a writer’s group at the library, or on Meetup?

Aug 1: The writer’s group has been so supportive! They understand how writers struggle. They all definitely agreed that an outline is the way to go. Except Chuck. Screw Chuck.

Sep 1: Turns out that you had the wrong software. And the wrong type of computer. It’ll be so much easier to write with that solved—as soon as you figure out the new operating system. But it totally made sense to switch.

Oct 1: With National Novel Writing Month coming up, it seemed like that might be a good time to start the novel. Of course, no one really expects to get a good novel done in a month, that’s ridiculous. Look at all the work you’ve already done this year!

Nov 1: National Novel Writing Month is fine if you’re only interested in trashy romances or something like that, but you want to write a serious novel. One with literary merit. That can’t be rushed.

Dec 1: It’s been a great year! Okay, you didn’t actually finish the novel this year, but that was never really the goal. You made so much progress, and since you want to be a professional writer, it makes sense to look at the Universities offering MFA programs.

Simple Math

At this point, this post is about 750 words long, or about three manuscript pages. Let’s say I wrote 750 words per week for an entire year. That would give me 39,000 words, or basically a short novel around 40,000 words.

Bump that up to 1,000 words per week (4 pages) and take a couple weeks off, and you’ve got a 50,000-word novel in one year.


Crazy, right? So my program was suggesting that we only write 500 words per week (2 pages), since we had two years to write the novel.

What? A 50,000-word novel is too short? You need at least a 100,000-word novel? Okay, sorry, that’ll push you up back up to 4 pages per week to finish the novel in two years.

How about getting that back down to one year?


To write the 100,000-word novel in one year, you’d need to write 8 pages per week, with two weeks off. That’s 2,000 words per week. Let’s say you take two days off, writing five days per week (you know, like a job).

Consider this the assignment you’re given by your boss each day:

2017 Novel Pledge to write 400 words

Granted, this might seem like an unreasonable expectation from your boss. Let’s break it down a bit.

Actually Writing 400 Words

Okay, so we know the boss wants 400 words written today. And if you didn’t have so many other commitments that might be one thing. But you’re not a professional writer who can spend a week in Las Vegas and still write a novel. You’ve got responsibilities and other things going on. It just isn’t that easy to find the time for writing that much.

How much time do you need?

It isn’t that easy. There are distractions. It might go fast one day, but every day isn’t perfect.

Understood. I’m not looking for perfect. I’m only looking at what would be a reasonable expectation for the amount of time to write 400 words (this post is over 1,000 words now).

Let’s say that you don’t type fast. According to Chron.com, the average person types 38-40 words per minute. Obviously, that’s just typing. It’s not creating new fiction. Anyone can type faster if you’re just typing something on a screen.

So what’s a reasonable expectation? Half that? A quarter? Let’s go with that and set our expectations on the lower side with 10 words per minute.

In other words, it’ll take us 40 minutes (or less) to meet the expectation of 400 words per day.

I don’t happen to have a spare 40 minutes, thank you. I’m busy all the time.

That’s not going to make the boss happy. How important is this job to you? After all, we already compromised on the typing speed. If you only did 20 words per minute, you could cut the time you needed down to 20 minutes, or 10 minutes if you reached the average typing speed of 40 words per minute.

It’ll only take 10-40 minutes to write 400 words, depending on your typing speed. You don’t even have to do it all at once, in a single sitting. You could break it up. Taking a break for 10-15 minutes? Use that time to write. Do you have a lunch break? That could be another time.

It’s less time than a typical episode of a TV show. Maybe there isn’t any time. Or it may be more accurate to say that there are other things that would have a higher priority than writing.

Assuming we get a good night’s sleep, we have 16 hours per day. Over a 5 day period, that gives us 80 hours. It does get filled up fast! If you work fulltime, have kids, family, and/or friends, it’s going to end up feeling like there is no possible time to write. Look carefully. When can you find some time?

Alternative Writing Tools


What are some options for writing?

  • Chromebooks. An expensive, light-weight option, with the ability to use Google Docs, Office online, Novlr, and other services online or offline.
  • Thumb Drive. Carry your documents with you on a USB drive in a standard format to use of different machines (including PCs at the library).
  • Pen and Paper. Use a notebook and pen (or pencil) to simply write your story by hand. You’ll have to retype it at some point, but in the meantime, it can be an easy, quick, and convenient method to snatch time as allowed.
  • Laptop. Laptops, of course, offer a lot of options for writing, much like Chromebooks, and likewise many have become much less expensive.
  • Tablets/Phones. Tablets and phones, iOS or Android, also offer a host of apps, keyboards, etc., to use for writing.
  • Dictation. Carry a digital recorder and dictate your book while walking, running, or driving (hands-free). With Dragon’s auto transcription feature, you can easily turn the recording into text while you’re doing other things. This is how I’m using my commutes to write stories for DriveByStories.com.
  • Desktop. Of course, the good old desktop PC or Mac works well for writing.
  • Typewriters. Yes, they still exist and have their fans. Check out myTypewriter.com for classic typewriters. (I find it interesting that there aren’t really options for low-cost manual typewriters. I could actually see using one if I could get a Dvorak layout manual typewriter without paying a fortune. It’d be really interesting to see something new done with manual typewriters.)

Whatever method you pick, if it works for you, great! The expectation of 400 words per day doesn’t specify how those words get written. Only that they do.

Are you up to the challenge? Does it seem too hard? Too easy? As Dean points out that he isn’t fast—he just spends more time in the chair writing. Speed can make a difference, of course. If you can match the average 40 WPM speed it’ll only take you 10 minutes to finish 400 words. IF you still squeeze 40 minutes out of your schedule, that gives you 1,600 words per day, 8,000 words per week, or 400,000 words per year.

That’s four 100,000 word novels (or eight 50,000 word novels), only matching the average typing speed for 40 minutes each day. Feel free to type a bit slower and call it an even hour each day, and you can still turn in 4-8 novels per year with an hour a day, five days per week, at an average typing speed. Or 1-2 novels per year if you can only manage 10 WPM.

Doesn’t sound like an unreasonable expectation, does it?

My time is limited with working full time, attending graduate school full time, and having a family. Plus the usual chores and daily demands on my time. If anything, graduate school has made it abundantly clear how much time I have when I make something a priority.

And I still exercise each day. Meditate. And I spend time with my son.

If you want to write, take the challenge. Aim to write 400 words per day, 5 days per week, 50 weeks out of the year. Even with everything else going on, I’m tempted to take that challenge myself.

Podcast #15 Focused Time

It doesn’t take much effort to get the most results — at least that’s the basic idea behind the 80/20 principle, or the Pareto principle. It’s really popular to cite this in all sorts of things relating to business particularly, but I’m also reading the 80/20 Running book. I haven’t checked, but there’s probably an 80/20 guide to sex as well.

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