It saddens me to see so much open negativity in the writing community these days, which makes me wonder how much silent negativity is happening beyond social media. Writers and other creatives do seem to be especially sensitive to depression and anxiety. But I’m going to give some advice that goes against what most of us are told.
I see so many writers stressing about word count! They feel like they have to write x amount of words every single day because that’s what many of the great authors say you should do if you want to be a “real” writer and “treat writing like a career.” But here’s the thing; I’m an author who has never paid attention to my daily word count. I couldn’t even give you a ballpark estimate as to how many words a day I write. Sometimes it’s zero. Sometimes it’s multiple chapters.
But because I don’t write my books chronologically and therefore have many small scenes needing to be stitched together, more often than not, part of my time is spent editing in addition to writing. I’m easily sidetracked between the two tasks, so based on the numbers, am I as productive as an author who writes straight through without pausing to edit?
No, of course not! And I don’t care. I prefer quality over quantity. I prefer to think through what I’m doing, be consistent with my details, and carefully craft my characters and world-building rather than just crank out as many words as I can to meet a daily goal.
My advice: stop looking at the numbers. Stop stressing about getting your word count in for the day. Maybe that mindset works for some of the famous authors who make a living doing this, but for many of us, writing is not a full-time career because the truth of the matter is, unless you’re selling millions of books, you’re not making enough to turn it into a full-time career. Write when you can. And if your head isn’t clear enough to focus on your writing, then step away and do whatever you need to do in order to center yourself again.
It’s okay to take a break so you don’t burn out.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected us all in different ways. For some, like me, the world seemed to pause. I still had a job, but I was working from home. With no social obligations or commuting, I was able to focus a lot of my time on editing and formatting my second book, which was published in July.
But now that the sequel is out in the world and I should be turning my attention onto Book III, I haven’t yet. (Please don’t form a mob outside my house with torches and pitchforks!)
I need a little time to breathe and relax (and sleep!) after going so many weeks on overdrive to meet my deadline. I’m not beating myself up for not writing right now. Between the virus and the election and the economy, there’s a lot to be worried about; I need to collect myself before I can do the book justice. And that’s okay.
All things considered, I was extremely productive through the end of June because I had the drive, the time, and the opportunity. But not every writer had that.
Some writers are essential workers who have been worked hard under stressful conditions and come home too exhausted to even think about opening that laptop or notebook to write.
Some writers lost their day jobs, and yes, while on the surface that might seem as if it’s an opportunity to have more writing time, the stress of finding a new job, making rent, paying for utilities, losing healthcare, and keeping food on the table isn’t a conducive mindset to sit down and pen the next great American novel.
Some writers suddenly found themselves becoming teachers when the schools closed and shifted to remote learning.
But there are others, and I think these are probably the ones most likely to be voicing their frustration aloud, who were like me—still employed, working from home, social events canceled, seemingly in the perfect position to focus on writing . . . and just couldn’t do it.
But there’s more to writing than just having the time and opportunity. More than having quiet solitude. You must have focus. And if you find yourself staring at that screen or page, stressing about the trickling word count or lack thereof, maybe that means you should step away and go for a walk. Or read a book. Or meditate. Or take a break from writing for a little while.
Even if it’s quiet in your home, the noise and stress of what’s going on in the world can absolutely keep you distracted enough to prevent the words from coming. It’s okay not to write during such an uncertain time.
I think writers need to put less pressure on themselves. When you have a deadline, of course you need to buckle down and focus to get the job done.
But if not, and you’re feeling unproductive with your writing, then maybe it’s time to make an outline instead of writing. Draw a map of your setting. Do a character sketch. Read a book for inspiration. Write your thoughts down in a journal.
Stop dwelling on the negativity and failure; focus on the little victories. Let’s build each other up instead of comparing our progress to one another in the form of word count.
It’s okay if now isn’t your time to write.
Maybe tomorrow will be.