The Freedom of Writing It Down

Write it Down and Carry On

For the past six weeks, I have been focusing on my Summer Writing Project, which is to complete and submit as many of my short stories already in progress (WiP). Because of this, I have not spent much time on new work and I have been itching to get new stories down.

I’m currently finalizing “Canal Ward”, a zombie story exploring how polite Canadians are in dealing with everything–and anything–live or dead. As there are still a few weeks until the submission deadline, I spent time this week thinking about some story ideas that have been cogitating for a while now, but that had not quite yet come together as a united idea. Just focusing on them seems to have made them more coherent. It has also uncapped a geyser of details about setting, character traits, dialogue, and everything else that I need to get down before I forget.

I cracked open one of my shiny new notebooks and began jotting down notes on what I have dubbed the “Maze Project”, completely unstructured and pell-mell. (One of the brainstorm sessions occurred while I was in the eye doctor’s waiting room after getting pupil-dilating drops, and I literally had my eyes closed as I was scrawling into the notebook.) I have already filled quite a few pages and there is no sign that it’s going to slow down anytime soon. Structure is already coming out of this disorderly brainstorm, chief among them are clear scenes, perhaps even chapters, as this work appears to want to be a novel rather than a short story.

It’s doubtful that I will type all the notes I have written longhand. I suspect this is more of a pre-draft process and, when I’m ready, I will just sit down at the computer and begin writing the story from Chapter One, referring to the notebook only after the first draft is done.

By writing it down, I think it has freed my brain to dig deeper rather than remain stuck on the general idea. It’s quite interesting as I feel the story’s development is tangible, the words spilled on the pages are expanding the idea further, like branches and leaves growing on a tree at an accelerated rate.

Write it down quote (Ornstein)

That’s how all stories come to be, I suppose, but writing it by hand rather than typing it has somehow made it a much more visual process.

One thing that isn’t yet clear is the story’s conclusion (the protagonist will survive, but at what price?), and I can’t wait to find out what comes out at the end of the Maze.


Word Count vs. Productivity

Einstein Quote-Counting

Since Einstein said it, it may just be true.

I used to measure my writing productivity by word count. It seemed the most straightforward way of setting and achieving writing goals (e.g. write 300 words a day, which I almost always surpassed). I even designed an Excel spreadsheet with a multitude of formulas for totalling per month, averaging word count per day/month/quarter, etc.

It worked well for months, until I began revising stories instead of writing new ones. One day, I spent hours reworking a story, taking out entire sections, and writing new ones from scratch. I was in “the zone”, and completely rewrote a story in one intense ten-hour stretch that flew by and felt like no longer than a mere hour. I was also incredibly proud of the end product, where a story had all come together to my complete satisfaction.

Then I looked at the final word count. The net result was exactly minus forty words from where I had started that morning. Minus forty words in ten hours where I felt I had accomplished so much. I dejectedly entered zero in my spreadsheet, and felt like a failure as the pre-programmed formulas spewed the twisted results.

I created another column to note that it was revision/rewrite, and wrote several lines as if to justify that I did indeed write that day. I kept up the database but as I continued spending time on revisions, my averaged stats continued to take a dive, as if all my work counted for nothing.

It reached a point where I made excuses not to write so I didn’t have to open the database. So I put a stop to it and I archived the database, and stopped counting.

I sometimes miss the spreadsheet, especially on days when I write explosively, thousands upon thousands of words. Even if I want to somehow track that successful production, I don’t as the alternative is just not worth it.

Whether it’s new words, revisions, rewrites, or even research, it’s all part of the writing process, MY writing process.

I alone know the work I put in and can only report to myself. I won’t—and can’t—let hard statistics affect what I know I have accomplished, and impact me to a degree that makes me stop doing what I love to do.

So without reporting, recording, or word count tracking, I just keep writing.