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Mixed feelings. Sometimes success feels like failure.


So here’s the thing. What I did yesterday sort of worked, from a straight words-per-hour point of view. But I only got in three sessions, for a total of 56.5 minutes of dictation and 2859 words.

I think I did pretty much everything wrong, for whatever that may be worth. To start with, I thought I’d set out what I’d need the night before, so everything would be ready for me in the morning…and that was true, if I didn’t need my wallet, shoes (didn’t!), my “hydration” backpack, or my phone. Er. Um. My outline was on the phone.

So, since I didn’t have those things…naturally, I either snuck back into the bedroom and retrieved them all very very quietly, or just went outside to dictate fiction anyway, right? Because the front door was right there? And surely I could remember at least something I was supposed to write? After all, any chapter, or partial chapter, would do. Or maybe I could just start making up some other story, so as not to waste time. Reasonable, no?

Yeah. No. No, I didn’t. I decided, since I had all day to do this thing, that I could drink coffee and relax. Until other people woke up, which meant well over an hour of not dictating fiction. Because, uh, it was kind of peaceful. And: all day! All day! What could go wrong?

Can I just point out here that I don’t do my best decision-making or analysis first thing in the morning? Never have.

Instead of relaxing I spun my brain up, thinking about all the ways the day could go. Good results? Bad results? I kind of wrote stories about both, in my head. Focused on process rather than, say, a story I actually wanted to write? I do that to myself both easily and often.

So, eventually, after a little bit of friction with others (no crisis, no real reason…just minor sparks, which distracted me at a bad time), I headed out to the park.

I liked being in the park. I wandered around, left the trail and potential observers/interruptors behind me, and dictated a half-chapter in about 16 minutes. Did I count the words? Nope. I just figured I’d try to make a chapter fit in half an hour (they’ve been about an hour apiece thus far, but I was being aggressively optimistic…that part actually came out okay), and I had kind of rearranged some events while outlining the day before, so I had half-chapters to add in (7, 8, and 9, btw).

That worked okay, so I did it again for half of the next chapter. Then I was a bit cold, so I walked back to the truck, sat with the heater running, and did it again. The three sessions ranged from 16-20 or so minutes apiece. The speed, over nearly an hour, was a bit over 3000 words per hour. Pretty consistent between sessions too.

Huh. Much faster than on previous days. And on separate half-chapters, which presumably included some sort of switching cost when I moved between them? Cool.

But then what? Then…I quit. I’d managed to distract myself with the process rather than focusing on the product, you know? Instead of thinking about the words or (better!) the story, I was by that time thinking almost exclusively about how I was coming up with the words. Also, I told myself, my brain was tired. I was tired.

There’s a library next to the park. I thought maybe going in there would give my brain a break…but it was closed. Still early in the morning, after all. So I hiked around the park a bit, naturally obsessing further on productivity and goals rather than story. I could also, in principle, have looked at trees, rocks, birds, deer…dirt, maybe. Didn’t do that either. For what it’s worth, I did try. Told myself stories about trying, I mean. Oh boy. Seen this movie before, you know?

Then I went into the library. I got a library card while I was there. But by then I didn’t want to read fiction, because I felt I should be creating it instead. So what was the card for? Just something to occupy my mind, I guess. I was hoping I’d kind of get a brain-reset. Didn’t, though.

So I eventually gave up and went home, feeling like a failure.

Which, let me add, was a bit silly. I mean, 2859 words. That ain’t nothin’. That’s not only a novel a month, that’s a novel a month with weekends off and most of every day free to edit (or even outline?). It was roughly an hour of dictation, and I didn’t time the breaks in between but it couldn’t have been more than an hour and 15 minutes of total elapsed supposedly-real-world time.

But…that sense of failure? It reminded me of how I’d felt when I was stuck, and couldn’t write. You know how I got out of that? Well, I read a really good book on the subject. And did what its author suggested. And he was right: my “block” disappeared in an afternoon.

There was some airy-fairy woo-woo in that book. Maybe that part helped, and maybe it didn’t. I don’t know. The author also proved to me that I could, in fact, write…as long as I could get out of my own damn way. The thing that worked best, though? It was his final, “atomic” suggestion: cut back the time I was allowed to write each day.

See, I wanted to write for about six hours a day. So what I did was set up a time, early in the morning, when I could write. For 15 minutes a day. Only. If I missed that scheduled window, I didn’t get to write that day. If I did it, on schedule, I got 15 minutes.

That was both frustrating and incredibly empowering. I immediately started writing, cramming all I could into that 15 minutes. I expanded it, slowly, and here we are.

So…now I’m converting my writing process to not only mean dictation, but transcription. Not at a desk or table, but wandering around outside. And I’m upset because, um. Because. Um.

Yeah, okay. So, new plan: I can dictate in a session in the early morning. I need to come back inside by 6:15am or 6:45am, depending on what day of the week it is, for reasons that are spelled like “kids.”

That doesn’t change. After that, though? With the whole day available? One more session. Starting right after kids are dealt with, and over by 9am. On weekdays only. Past that, I’m disallowing dictation. I can still edit, or work on a book cover, or whatever. But no new fiction (outside of whatever new words the editing process happens to produce) past 9am. Definitely no new chapters, or substantive pieces of chapters/scenes either.

Sound silly? Yes. It is silly. But I’m thinking…if I’m not allowed to dictate past 9am, that means I’m also not screwing up when it turns out I’m not dictating past 9am. It means my daily obligation is complete, early in the day, and all’s well. If at some point in the future I can handle more than that? Reliably? Without beating myself up about it when things go wrong? If that day comes, I’ll try it out. But not now, and definitely not for the next month or so. And you know what? That second session? If I’m not doing it every day, I may remove it too.

Besides. Let’s do magic-math. If I actually managed two sessions a day, for an hour each, at today’s speed of 3000 words/hour, with a single session on weekend days? Let’s further pretend for the moment that all months are like February, and are made up of precisely four weeks. That’s 6000 words for 20 weekdays, and 3000 words for 8 weekend days. 120,000 words plus 24,000 words, for 144,000 words per month. With tons of time for editing built in to the schedule.

Ridiculous. I don’t believe in that number. But…it’s at least two novels per month. For me, anyway, given that I kind of under-write and add words in the editing process.

So what’s that mean? It means I need to focus on just doing my 1-2 sessions per day. It means I can let edits slide for a few days if things come up. It means I don’t really need to do anything beyond my one or two sessions per day. It means that trying to do more, at least in the realm of creating new fiction, is actually kind of stupid. For now. Until I can do this one thing.

So. Crazy voodoo math, I realize. It assumes consistency in both schedule-adherence and words/hour that I have not achieved, here in the real world. But it does tell me that trying to work harder is not the answer to productivity. Nor is adding work-hours the answer.

It’s all about…wait for it…showing up. To wander and talk to myself for a couple of hours a day, max. Is that too hard? Maybe it is. We’ll see. What if it’s not too hard? Hmm.

Have fun out there!

Yesterday’s dictation count: 2859 words
Time spent dictating: 56 minutes, 3 sessions
Week to date: 6051 words (some via the Neo)
Total words since 1/22/18: 13,557

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