Friday, March 08, 2013

Writer in Progress

I've never been one for competition.  I could be perfectly content at an arcade watching others play without spending a single quarter, I could be perfectly unbothered lagging behind all the other runners in Gym class, and if everybody at a gathering was laughing and grabbing asses, well, I'd just go home and kill myself.

I do have a pathetic need, however, for praise and validation, which life--try as it might--has not been able to stamp out of me.  Not yet.

So, when Big started up his own podcast, talking about the story he's currently writing, and updating people on his progress, I couldn't help but notice.  Did people listen to it?  Did they encourage him?  Most importantly, did they really want to read the story when he was done with it?

Reader interest is extremely important for me.  I've finished stories I never would've considered because somebody asked me about them, wanting to find out what happens.  Conversely, I've had great stories-in-progress that died a cowardly deserter's death, mostly because I didn't think anyone would be waiting for them at the finish line.

But if it works for Big, and gives him the motivation to write, I guess I can too.  I've got a story I started last fall, then set aside, but in listening to Big's podcast, I've vowed to finish mine.  Maybe I can talk about it here and get some encouragement.


I wrote the above in January, and abandoned it, mostly because I finished my story rather quickly, and Big stopped talking about his.  I don't know what, exactly, became of Big's story, whether he felt like it was too big (he started referring to it as a novella, maybe a novel somewhere along the way), if there were narrative troubles that bogged him down, whether he felt discouraged and that nobody cared about his writing, or if something bright and chocolately drew his attention away, and he simply forgot it.

But now it's March, and Big and I are trying again.  At the end of last month, Abbie Hilton introduced Big to something called The Magic Spreadsheet, and Big in turn introduced it to me.*

Basically, the spreadsheet is a shared document where you and your friends (and total strangers) have to keep track of how much you write every single day.  You get a point for every 250 words you write, and rack up more points for every consecutive day you write.  Because everybody works off the same spreadsheet, you can see how well the others are doing, and they can see how you do.  In a way, it's a game or competition, but you're really only competing against yourself. 

Oh, and Mur Lafferty, but that's a discussion for another time.

Big thought the idea sounded fun, and sort of challenged me to participate in it for the month of March.  I agreed, and on March 1st, I began writing my short story "Baby Talk,"** keeping count of how many words I wrote on it each day.

I do manage to write every week, but it's usually on Wednesdays and Fridays, which are the two days I've set aside for three years now to make sure I write something.  That doesn't work for the Magic Spreadsheet, though.  Honestly, it's better to write 300 words a day for five days straight than to write 2000 words on Wednesday and 3000 words on Friday but no other time.  At least for the scores (I personally think 5000 words is probably better, mathematically, than 1500 words, but that's just me).  And what they're trying to do is get you in the habit of writing every day, which in the long run is certainly a better habit than mine of writing at least twice a week.

Writing motivation schemes are as wildly varied as dieting motivation exercises.  There was a Facebook group a couple years back where the participants vowed to write twenty-five stories in the fifty-two weeks of 2010, or else get rectal cancer.  I remember one from a few years ago where you had to write on a special website that kept track of your totals, your words-per-minute, and kept a kind of score . . . but, it had the absolutely infuriating and counterproductive penalty system where, if you stopped writing for a few seconds, it actually began to delete the work that you had thusfar accomplished.  I not only stopped using that particular program, but hunted down the creator of the program, and barbecued his children while I made him watch.

But this magic spreadsheet thing has actually worked for me.  So far, I've written eight days in a row, racking up 52 points, and apparently, 5912 words.  I'll admit that there were a couple of days where I absolutely did not want to write (especially since I had written over a thousand words on the first day, which should've earned me some free days later on), but did so because I wanted to keep my streak alive.

Also, 250 words is ridiculously easy to write, and can be done in no time.  For example, this blog post (not that it counts as writing), is already 1067 words long.  That's way more than would be required to get points on the spreadsheet.
I know myself well enough to realize that I'll miss a day, here and there.  But I've already pushed myself this month more than I would have, forcing out a few paragraphs after three in the morning, just so I could say I wrote before going to sleep.

Now, if I could only force myself to write better instead of just more often.  THAT would be magic.

Rish "Wordsmith" Outfield

*I'm reminded of the time in college when Big was trying to set me up with the lonely sister of his then-girlfriend.  "You'll love her," he told me one afternoon.  "She's got terrible eyesight and unbelievably low self esteem."  It sounded like just the sort of girl for me, so I went to her apartment to pick her up, only to return, dejected, to Big's place an hour later.  "What's the matter, Rish?" he asked.  "Wasn't she at home?"  "Yeah," I said, moping, "but when she came to the door . . . she was wearing glasses."

**Which is a title I still don't like, but what can you do?  My alternate was "Baby On Board," which I think I like even less.

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