Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Veera: Word by Word

I read somewhere that Hemingway wrote 500 words a day. Needless to say, I'm no Hemingway, but it's good advice. I used to write in inspired bursts. Whenever the desire came over me I'd park myself at my notebook or eventually my Brother word processor, and then at my first laptop which probably weighed more than I did, and write for hours until the words became blurry. After, I'd stop and wait for days, weeks, even months until the next burst came.

If I had a deadline for a class, I usually procrastinated until the last minute and pulled more than a few all-nighters. The fast approaching deadline was the only thing that drove me into a panic of productivity. I remember finishing whatever I was writing, a short story or a paper, sitting at my white Formica Ikea desk, the smell of old coffee lingering in the air, and feel that sweaty and delirious sense of accomplishment as the sun rose, and the huge relief that I actually wrote the damn thing on time.

That was then. Before kids, before I published my book, before a lot of things. Only the pressure of an exciting idea rising to the surface or an imminent deadline could get me to write, that pain-staking creation of word after word, sentence upon sentence, page after page. Now I've seen the light--breaking my work down into a daily word count. It's not the new me, it's the old-er me.

It took me six years to write my recently published novel, THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL, which I produced in my inspired-burst way in between work and having babies and life. Since publishing the book, I've been working on a few different projects, some hopeful, some under contract and the only thing that gets me to hit my deadline now is sticking to a daily word count. After tinkering with amounts, I've found 500 to be the perfect number (thanks Hemingway!). It's enough space to make true progress on the piece, not enough to exhaust the writer or intimidate one to do the work. I can always find a couple hours for 500 words.

This past year I was juggling children, marriage, a teaching job, and those writing projects, two of which had tight deadlines. Fear still gets me to produce, but the difference is that I used to be driven by the fear of the deadline fast approaching. What's changed is now I'm driven by the fear that I just don't have the all-nighters in me anymore. If I do not write a little everyday, it will NOT happen. This fear has allowed me to produce a 25,000 word manuscript in about 60 days. I do it even though I'm not always excited about it. Most of the time the inspiration follows, and when it doesn't, I fix it in revisions.

According to my trusty iPad, this post is exactly 500 words. A good day's work.


  1. My latest manuscript came about because of a novel-writing contest with my son, the only rule of which was that we had to produce 500 words a day. I'm so grateful that he made me do it. But I won't let anyone argue with me about this: five hundred words is only "easy" if you're not simultaneously researching, outlining, plotting, and trying to make the prose pretty. Once you include those things, well, at least for me, it takes all durned day.

  2. I'm beginning to realize I need to do this, too. I think I just needed to hear someone say it.

    Thanks, Veera!

  3. I stopped giving myself a firm word count and just focus on writing SOMETHING each day. By not having the pressure of the word count, I find I write quite a bit when I sit down to write. I think with a firm word count, once I hit the count I felt like I was "done". When I am writing or editing, I do try and write/edit an entire chapter so that I can work on the scene as a whole.

  4. Glad you found a way to keep at writing more consistently. You inspired me in January, and I've been writing almost daily since. Sometimes it's thousands of words--sometimes it's under 100, but I've written a lot. Thank you!

  5. I find that during the work week, I only manage to write "sometimes"...lol. Then, on the weekends, I hammer out thousands of words. But I still agree that you sit down and just WRITE, whether inspired or not, and usually inspiration follows. It's like the Pablo Picasso quote that I love so much: "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working." So True. Thanks, Veera, for all the inspiration!

  6. Great post! I've tried this before, but I think I need to do it again and make it a daily task (Hello, summer...). Having a 500 word goal keeps it attainable, even on really slow days, and I don't get as intimidated. Then I usually end up going at least a bit over anyway.