In the heat of writing a novel last month, I skipped over a rather important milestone. I hit my 365th day of writing every day. For one year, not a day went by where I didn’t bring at least 250 words into the world.
After years of inconsistency, I finally found The Magic Spreadsheet, a shared Google Drive document that serves as a sort of game for writers. Every day you post your word count in the spreadsheet, and it awards you points based on how much you wrote. While you can get points for volume, you get more points for consistency. AKA, you’ll get more points writing 500 words every day for 10 days than you would writing 5000 words in a single day.
The point of The Magic Spreadsheet is to encourage writers to write every day. There’s a live leaderboard to show you where you stand among others on the sheet, but I rarely look at it. I mostly look at my own line, my own count. I started last year during NaNoWriMo, and learned a lot along the way. A few key points:
1) It’s not about time, it’s about priority
The daily minimum for The Magic Spreadsheet is 250 words, which really isn’t that much. It’s about three good paragraphs, and depending on how fast you write it could take less than ten minutes. Even on days where it doesn’t feel like you have a moment to spare, you can always find 10 minutes. Sometimes I woke up early if I knew I’d have something else going on in the evening. Sometimes I wrote during my lunch break at work, saving my words in a email draft. When I went on a young adult retreat weekend, I wrote while other people played board games. When I was staffing conferences and truly didn’t have a moment to myself the whole day, I stayed up late at night to write before bed.
It wasn’t about “finding time,” it was about deciding that this was something that had to be done. I don’t find time to floss or eat or go on Facebook or stare off blankly collecting my thoughts, yet I manage to do all three on a daily basis.
2) Even phoning it in can be useful
There were times when I put off writing until late at night, until the last possible minute. I questioned whether or not it was still worth it, since what I was producing was obviously terrible. I was so tired I would fall asleep mid-sentence. I wrote whole paragraphs about how tired I was and how hard it was to stay awake. I wrote about how painful writing was, and I wrote about how I worried it wasn’t worth it at this point.
But then came November, and I was deep into my novel. I wanted to write about how my hero was feeling drained and exhausted, and realized that all I had to do was re-create the same voice I had during all those sleepy rants. It was easy to write that scene, because I’d written it so many times before.
3) Writer’s block is for projects, not practice
Writer’s Block isn’t actually an inability to write anything, it’s the inability to write the thing that you vaguely wish you could write. You can have writer’s block on a scene or a story, but it’s not a factor when you’re talking about a daily writing practice. There will always be thoughts in your head. Write them down.
4) The easiest thing I can write is my own opinions
If you spend enough days writing your own silent monologue, you’re probably going to get pretty good at it. I’m starting to realize that non-fiction, explanatory prose is about the easiest thing in the world for me to write. This post, for example, was extremely easy to write.
5) If you up the output, you have to up the organization
My Scrivener project for this blog is a mess. It’s absolutely atrocious. Scrivener is the (fantastic) software I use for writing, and it gives you the ability to quickly and easily organize your writing. And I’ve been using it as a glorified text editor. The Scrivener project for this blog is still no more than a list and some folders. It’s a long list too, full of somewhat arbitrary categories with zero distinction between the wheat and the chaff. I think my lack of organization was the primary reason I kept questioning whether or not writing every day was worth it. I was hiding my accomplishments in the mess.
6) People may think you’re weird
While on the whole everyone was very supportive, I got a few weird looks along the way. Aren’t you tired? Don’t you want to relax? Are you really leaving early for that? It wasn’t always said, sometimes just implied. In daily life we often hear about highly dedicated people, but we seldom know them and even less frequently become them. It helped when I heard a friend explain my writing to someone else as “a daily discipline.” It felt a little more reasonable, a little more sane. We’ve all tried daily disciplines and we all fail at most of them. This was one that managed to stick with me.
I think it was beneficial to just write, regardless of subject or purpose. Like playing scales on the violin, sometimes you simply need to practice your instrument.
The Magic Spreadsheet allows you to count editing time in lieu of actual words, a substitution I haven’t allowed myself yet. However as I sit staring at the 287,000 words I’ve written in the last year I can’t help but think it’s time to start sorting through the muck. Writing is rewriting, which means editing is writing. And so long as I work on my writing in some measurable way every day, I might just end up with something great.