100 Words

Guest blogger Kameron Hurley does most of her ranting at her blog, Brutal Women. You can find  some of her recent fiction in Year’s Best SF 12, Strange Horizons, and EscapePod. She currently makes a living as a marketing and sales copywriter in Ohio, and has sold or nearly sold or sort of sold or is still in the process of selling a book called God’s War, which may or may not actually be published at some unspecified period from an as yet unspecified publisher. Stay tuned.


When I interviewed for my current job as a copywriter, one of the questions they asked was, “What happens when you’re not inspired? I mean, when you’re not in the mood to write? When you’re not feeling creative?”

I laughed. “Writing is a job,” I said. “You work at it the same way you would any other job. Even when you don’t feel good. Even when it feels like all you’re writing is crap. You endure.”

This has been a great mantra for my day job work. I write copy all day long. I write copy when I’m hungry, miserable, tired, depressed, exhausted, uninspired, stressed out, and under pressure. Because it’s my job. You write copy or you starve.

But when it comes to my second job… when I get home every night and kiss my partner and work out and eat some food and trudge upstairs to start writing fiction… well, that same “write or starve” mentality just doesn’t motivate me.

I worked far better when I was either actually starving… or under contract. Having a book contract makes it feel more like write-or-starve work. When you’re just plugging away for yourself… most days it’s like pulling teeth.

The worst is when I’ve gone weeks or months without writing anything of note. Getting out of the habit of writing is like getting out of the habit of eating well or exercising. You fall back into bad habits and suddently it’s all World of Warcraft and MST3K and coming up with new and interesting ways to eliminate sugar and carbs from common recipes.

And those first few days of getting back into your routine are torture.

These days, my fiction writing has too-often fallen into that category: something tough and time-consuming that I know I need to do because, dammit, it’s good for me. After sitting in front of a computer writing all day, the last fucking thing I want to do when I come home is sit in front of the computer for another 3-4 hours working on writing projects.

Hence, all that dithering.

But what gets me back on track? How do you roll back into a routine after falling from grace?

I tackle writing wipe-outs the same way I tackle work-out wipeouts. So, I haven’t worked out in a week and it’s tough to get back into it. So I say, OK, I’ll just do 10 minutes tonight. Or, I’ll just do half that pilates video, or just one of those weight training circuits (instead of all 5). Then the next day I say, OK, just 10 minutes. You can do 10 minutes. And by day three I’m like, hey 15 minutes, huh. You can do that.

And 15 goes by like a breeze and suddenly you’re at 20, and it’s only a matter of time before you’re back up to 30-40 min a day 5 days a week, and you don’t feel quite so doughy anymore.

Writing is like that.

Cause see, if you sit down after a long break and say, “I’m going to finish this fucking chapter tonight,” or “I’m going to write 2,000 words today,” after six weeks off… it’s like saying you’re going to hop on the treadmill and run 5 miles after playing Assassin’s Creed and World of Warcraft every night for the last four weeks. Chances are, you’ll fail. Then you’ll feel bad about yourself. Then you associate that bad feeling with the actual working out you *did* do, and you’ve totally scarred your writing experience.

When I put together my new writing schedule, it looked a lot like my workout schedule after a couple weeks off. For the next two weeks, I need to write just 100 words a day on Babylon, the third book in my God’s War series.

Yes, you read that right:

100 words.

I got this idea from Tobias Buckell. See, anybody can write 100 words. And chances are, after the first 50, you’ll warm up a bit and write *more* than 100. I cleared 500 tonight without really thinking about it.

Small steps. Little increments. Writing novels, in particular, is an endurance sport, not a sprint. One of my big mistakes after every writing hiatus is to try and attack the issue head on with crazy 5,000 words a day goals that left me burned out and miserable after a few days.

But 100 words?

This blog post is over 700.

100 words about an exiled bounty hunter picking up a contract on a diplomat? I can SO do 100 words about that.

It’s easy to forget that writing isn’t always about big word counts and huge sacrifices. Sometimes it’s just the small, steady, accretion of words.  Even just 100 at a time.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m right there with you on this one. I did something similar during a particularly arduous period in my writing – one paragraph, I told myself. That’s all. Just one. And it’s a terrific little proof regarding what the brain knows it knows vs. what it thinks it knows. If I feel crummy and uninspired but sit down for ten minutes and spit something out anyway, it means that I can transition from *can’t* write to *did* write. Once *did* exists, then *can’t* kinda loses the force of its argument, not to mention its relevency.

    Plus, once you have one paragraph down, you might as well add another, just for clarification.

    And then, how about just one more just to bring us to the close of the scene.

    And then one more so I can remember how I wanted the next scene to begin.

    Aw, hell, why don’t I just add a little dialogue. And so on.

  2. says

    Totally. It’s such a weird brain trick. When I first saw the idea, I sneered a little bit. I mean, c’mon, 100 words? WTF? But 100 words is 100 more words than you would have written if you sat down in front of the blank page and went, “Oh dear god I need to write 2,000 words today and I don’t even know where to frickin’ start,” and then pushed away from your desk and started cleaning something instead.

    100 words is 100 words.

  3. says

    I love this post, but more wrt non-writing obligations. As responsibilities accrue, and my desire to avoid responsibilities accrues, I’ve been saying: just make a start. Sit down, get the files in the right directory, start a Mathematica notebook, load the data into an array. Then you can stop for today.

    Almost always, as you point out, I wind up doing more than this tiny amount I’ve specified. But sometimes I really do do only that tiny amount, and while the difference between having mobilized to do a tiny amount and doing nothing is negligible while measured on the scale of Getting Shit Done, it is _substantial_ measured on the scale of Liklihood Of Me Doing Work Tomorrow. Working, writing, life, are very long games, and making success tomorrow more probable is just as important as finding success today. One-time titanic efforts have rarely gotten me anyplace.