Writing Odyssey: Lessons Learned

If you want the background for this post, check The Binge post for a description of my recent unintentional astronomical word count adventure. Short version: I wrote one hundred twenty three thousand words in fifty days. Yow.

So, you may ask, what did I learn from writing 123k words in 50 days?

Plenty.

What do you need to know if you’re gonna try for this kind of marathon?

Try these on for size:

First, as you can read in my post about the health problems I developed as a result of crappy Microsoft workmanship, ergonomics are everything. You can actually seriously damage your arms, hands, and wrists if you don’t move around regularly, have a comfortable keyboard, and pay attention to your body. Being in a groove is no excuse.

Second, food. I tried a variety of different styles of eating throughout the ordeal, mostly motivated by whatever I could think to put in the kitchen that week. What I wound up discovering surprised me. I expected to want junk food—pre-prepared high calorie, high density, high-protein, ultra-tasty nibbles supplemented with fruits and finger-friendly vegetables. However, it turned out that I gravitated toward made-from-scratch fare. I actually learned to make wood-oven pizza, sourdough from scratch, knishes, and a few other things during this time, and not just because they were tasty. It’s because it gave me something else to do.

If I was doing anything but writing, I felt a lot of pressure to get back to work. But if I was cooking or cleaning, I was holding up my end of the household. Pouring creativity into the cooking also gave me a chance to spoil my partner rotten in return for the tremendous support she was giving me as I tried to see just how far I could push my productivity. There was a lot of culinary experimentation, and between the quality of the food, the physical activity in preparing it, and the fun of creativity without pressure, it seriously boosted the quality and quantity of my output.

Third, exercise. I didn’t get enough of this, really. I can’t write very well at the walking desk—too many typos—so I was only getting on it two or three times a week. When I did get on, though, I went for the long haul. A couple hours at a stretch, and then within an hour of stopping I’d have a new creative flood. Activity helps supply the brain with oxygen—it also flushes lactic acid out of the system, and when you’re sitting that much the cellular waste sits in your muscles and makes them sore. Like bedsore-level sore. It makes you never want to move again, but once you start moving, it feels SO much better.

Fourth, massage. I’ve been doing massage for a long time now, and I have a friend who’s a pro who I trade with. Lifesaver. Getting them kept my RSI from crippling me before I fixed my ergonomics problem (and I did fix it, resulting in a heavenly experience for the last couple weeks here). Giving them helped me relax and remember there were other kinds of touch in the world besides typing.

Fifth, socialization. Weekly gatherings with my nearest-and-dearest, some festivities surrounding my birthday, impromptu meals with friends, all very important. Getting out to help build a retaining wall or join a moving crew for an afternoon was also lots of fun. All of it kept my mind limber.

Sixth, as Number Five said: INPUT! NEED INPUT! Keep your mind ticking over. Hrab’s new album was wonderful for this (you can buy Trebuchet here—it’s a mind-blower, though not for the easily offended). My weekly doses of P&T’s Bullshit!, True Blood, and The Pillars of the Earth kept me thinking in nicely twisty ways that helped the story. My Region 2 DVDs of the British quiz show QI kept me laughing and distracted during the long hours. Reading a Kellerman novel and Mary Roach’s STIFF during down time when I just couldn’t write, and listening to Steven H. Wilson’s Peace Lord Of The Red Planet (which I plan to review soon) kept me smiling and remembering the larger world outside my little projects.

Seventh, pay attention to what motivates you. For me, sitting at the keyboard wasn’t the hard part; it was keeping the juices flowing so my time at the keyboard was effective that I found difficult. Yes, I put in long hours–tortuously long, sometimes. But it wasn’t to hit a word count–I’ve found that doesn’t work for me consistently. It was to finish a story chunk or an article or a topic-based chapter. I wanted to find out how it ended, and I wouldn’t let it go till I did.

What motivates you might be different–figure out what it is and then keep it in the front of your mind.

At the root of all of this (and the plans I have for the rest of the year) is the realization that my backlist is too small. By lifetime word count, I’ve hit pro level. I now have over 900,000 words under my belt (that means 13.6% of my entire life’s writing output has happened in the last fifty days). But the number of properties I have on the market (everything finished piece since the 500,000 word mark) is simply too small, so I’m changing that. And, I suspect, I’ll keep changing that as long as I’ve got the fingers for it.

Telling stories is life for me. Even this one. Hopefully, if you like telling stories too, you’ll find some of these lessons useful.

Happy writing!

3 Responses to “Writing Odyssey: Lessons Learned”


  1. Scott Roche

    Good lessons.

    When counting your lifetime word count what do you… count?

  2. admin

    To determine my lifetime word count, I did it the boring way: I added up all the surviving stories, essays, articles, novels, and poems I’ve nonfiction books, blog posts, and poems written. I didn’t count correspondence or internet forum participation, since they weren’t time spent deliberately honing my craft.

    Over the years, I’ve lost some material to hard drive crashes, but I’ve managed to keep a hold of a lot of what I’ve done. That which I’ve lost, I can’t count, so I didn’t. I doubt that, in aggregate, it adds up to more than about 40k words anyway.

    FWIW — glad you found the post useful!
    -Dan

  3. Literary Abominations » Blog Archive » Writing Odyssey: The Binge

    […] if you want to do something this ridiculous and write this fast, how can you do it? Click here for a list of the lessons I learned from this little adventure that might make it […]