I used to be a really fast writer. Prolific even. Writing more than 1000 words a day was nothing for me. Especially when I used to commute to London on the train, I’d easily clock between 1500 and 2000 words a day. I didn’t really think much of it, to be honest. It was just the way I wrote.
And then came the pandemic and I really struggled writing. I participated in – and finished – NaNoWriMo last November, but it was a really struggle to sit down and write the words every day.
Part of this is because I’m working from home and the kids have been homeschooling for many months. I don’t get that quiet moment without any interruptions where I can just write. Also, on the train (and before that when I wrote during my lunch break at work), I didn’t have the internet to distract me, so when I sat down to write, I could focus on just writing. Now each time I want to write, there’s a million things to distract me, and we all know how much writers like to do anything other than writing.
I kept my writing momentum from NaNoWriMo during December until I had finished the first draft of my new novel. I took some time off during Christmas and then started the big rewrite in January. That’s when things really ground to a halt. I had no motivation, the kids were homeschooling again, so took more of my attention and work was insanely busy. I also felt like there was no point to sitting down to write if I couldn’t finish 1000 words.
I don’t know why 1000 was the magical number for me. Maybe it was because that number was easily achievable for me before the pandemic and I felt like that’s something I should strive to get. But it was crippling me. Each day I sat down and wrote nothing because I wasn’t sure I had enough energy (or brainpower) for 1000 words. I struggled through January and only wrote a bit over 7000 words.
In February, I tried another tack. The month isn’t over yet, but I can already report that my new method is working wonders! I’m still busy at work, my kids are still homeschooling and my energy isn’t great, but I’ve set a daily writing goal, which is so low I can’t not meet it. And so, everyday I sit down and write. And I’ve already almost doubled the amount of words I wrote in January.
My daily writing goal is just 200 words. Going from a daily writing goal of 1000 to 200 seems like a big step, and it is. Most days, I still down to write my 200 words and I far surpass it. Once I’m writing, the words tend to flow and I keep writing even though I’ve already put met my daily writing gaol. But the beauty of so little words is that, no matter how tired I am, I sit down to write them. It often doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to finish, so if that’s all I do, then fine. I can do that even if I’ve had to work late, or if I’m feeling under the weather or if my head isn’t in the right space to write fiction. And there have been some days when I’ve written just a little more than 200 and have put the laptop away to relax.
But all those little increments are adding up. In January, I had weeks where I didn’t write at all, because I couldn’t find the motivation to write 1000 words in a session. This month, if I only wrote 200 words a day, I’d still have 1400 words at the end of the week, which is not nothing. And, as I said, most days I write more than 200 anyhow.
Setting a low daily writing goal has given me back my motivation. The pandemic has messed up my brain, so I no longer have these brilliant writing sessions where I just write page after page of beautiful prose. Everything feels like a slog right now, but with a low daily writing goal, I’m still making progress. Sure, my novel will take a few months to rewrite, rather than a month, but in the end, it will get done.
I always write best when I write regularly. That doesn’t mean I have to write daily, but it does help if I sit down every day and immerse myself in my own fictional world. I like keeping in touch with my characters and moving the story forward, 200 words at a time. Eventually I’ll get to the end of this rewrite and I can start editing. I’ll have to come up with a daily writing goal for that, then, but that’s still in the future. Let’s get this second draft written first!