What I Learned Writing 500 Words a Day

You may remember that at the end of last year I wrote a post called ‘Where Has My Creativity Gone?’ The post started: ‘As another year draws to a close, I am once again thinking about the novel I never wrote.’ Over my Christmas holiday, I sat down to write and found that I simply couldn’t. Through lack of exercise, my creative writing muscle had withered.

I decided that I needed to ease myself back into writing creatively. Sitting down and expecting that I could bash out a few thousand words of a new novel was folly. I realised I needed to start small.

I gave myself a challenge for the month of January. I would:

  • Write down my dreams
  • Write morning pages (stream of consciousness)
  • Read more poetry
  • Listen to more music

So how did I get on?

Challenge 1: Write down my dreams

I only did this twice. I thought it would inspire me, but it didn’t. Turns out that even when you have lots of crazy, vivid dreams, it’s pretty hard to put dream logic onto the page and have it make any meaningful sense. And I have so many long dreams every night, it took me about half an hour to jot the basics down in the morning. I didn’t want to use up all my writing juices on the dream journal before I wrote my morning pages.

Challenge 2: Write morning pages

‘Morning pages’ is a concept outlined by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. Essentially, they are stream of consciousness writings done first thing in the morning, the idea being that you unlock the creativity in your subconscious or get rid of all the distracting thoughts in your head so you can clear the way for creativity. I decided to do this, aiming for 500 words every day.

The concept quickly changed from morning pages to evening pages for me. I’m not really a morning person. I get up and wake up slowly, but once I’m awake the late mornings are usually my most energised time of day – and I wanted to use that energy to do my client work, otherwise the work ends up feeling much harder than it needs to be. As well as that, I feel much more creative in the evenings, especially once the sun has gone down.

I’ve learned that my bath or shower really helps me draw a line under my day and gets me in a more creative mood, so I tried using my shower time as a trigger for my writing habit. Sometimes I’d write before my shower, sometimes I’d write after. I think I wrote more creatively after my shower, but writing before my shower helped me get things off my mind and relax more. To me, this was a fairly interesting observation.

The set-up

I decided before I started the challenge that I wouldn’t write into a notebook, which is the usual ‘morning pages’ advice, the idea being that writing by hand provides a stronger link to the subconscious. The point of my challenge was to start building my writing muscle so I could eventually complete a novel, and I knew I would be writing my novel on my laptop. It didn’t make sense to develop my writing habit using a medium I wouldn’t be using for my larger projects. So I create a new Scrivener document and started a new section for each day’s writing, titling the section with the date. This had the added bonus of creating an at-a-glance summary of my progress.

FreeWritingsScrivener

As you can see, unfortunately I didn’t manage to write every day. (You also might be able to see I wrote an extremely crazy little story on the first day of the year!) I wrote for twenty-one days out of thirty-three (including the last two days of December) – so I only wrote for about two-thirds of the month. Still, that’s 10,500 words in total – more than I’ve written in a long time (not including all the stuff I write for Liminal Pages).

Observations on habit-building

I started off well. Most of the days I missed were towards the latter half of the month. This could be down to the fact I moved out of my mum’s house, where I’d been staying over my Christmas break, and into a new house – where I therefore had more household responsibilities. As well as this, obviously I’d gone back to work after my break.

I’d expected that the habit would become more ingrained as the month wore on, but as soon as I missed a day I became pretty lax about the challenge and it was easier to miss another day. To battle this, I told myself I wouldn’t let myself miss two days in a row, but then I ended up writing every other day. I then told myself I wasn’t allowed to miss more than two days in a week and that those days couldn’t be next to each other, but without looking at Scrivener I couldn’t remember if I’d already used my two-day quota, and rather than look at Scrivener and check I just assumed it would be okay. I got blasé about the challenge.

Disappointed in myself, I said I would write every day for the last week of the month. But one evening I forgot, then the next evening I stayed at my sister’s house (and forgot again) and the next evening we had friends staying (and I got distracted and forgot again). Essentially, as soon as I was out of routine, the challenge became much harder.

Making it personal

I suppose this is the challenge of writing in the evening rather than the morning. Mornings can be pretty much all the same, but evenings vary. So I have a dilemma: write every morning when I’m distracted thinking about work and when I don’t feel particularly creative, or write in the evenings but accept that if I’m out of routine then I’ll miss a writing day. I think I’m going to go with the latter. It makes more sense to me. I’d rather write most days and it feel like the most relaxing and creative time for me than to write every day but not enjoy it.

Challenge 3: Read more poetry

I probably missed a trick by not making my goals specifically measurable – and this was reflected in my results because the one I did best with was writing morning (evening) pages every day. I did read more poetry, though not a great deal.

I bought a collection of poems by John Clare because one of the characters in Penny Dreadful (I frickin’ love that series) recited some and I thought they were beautiful. Because they’re old poems, I do find them quite dense, and I’ve only read a few.

I also started reading poems online and via ThePoetryApp on my iPhone, though only occasionally. For my daily writing challenge, I’d normally type steam-of-consciousness thoughts but occasionally I’d play with silly story ideas or random creative imagery. One time I used a few lines from poems as spring-boards into my own thoughts, and this worked pretty well as a creative exercise. I’d like to continue to read more poetry, but I think I need to find some poets that I really love.

Challenge 4: Listen to more music

I have been listen to more music – largely due to the fact I have a half hour walk to the co-working office I’m currently using and wearing earphones helps keep my ears warm on cold days! (For the life of me I can’t find my big sexy earmuffs.)

I also rediscovered the joy of finding great music to write to. I’ve always preferred listening to film soundtracks because they’re usually very emotive and don’t have any distracting lyrics. The Proposition (Nick Cave) and Tron: Legacy (Daft Punk) soundtracks are a couple of my favourites.

More recently, I’ve been listening to a band called Swans, whose music has been described as ‘drone rock’ – very weird and repetitive and rhythmic in a really primal way. I’ve been loving writing to their album The Seer. I actually saw this band perform live last year and it was awesome. It was the first gig I wore earplugs to, because they have a reputation for being loud, and they still nearly burst my eardrums.

Conclusions and the next challenge

Apart from the dream journaling (which, to be fair, was probably just one too many thing to do), trying to write every day, reading more poetry and listening to more music has made me feel more creative. More than that, the blank page has started to seem less scary. The more I write, the more I know I can write. In other words, I’m building up my writing confidence.

I’ve learned a bit about how I might best fit my writing into my day, so I’m going to continue to write every evening after my shower but not worry about the evenings in which I’m out and about.

Next month, I’ll follow this routine, but instead of writing stream-of-consciousness writing I’ll write little stories, story fragments or story ideas. I’ll aim for around 500 words per session, but I’ll allow myself less than this to try and get me more into the habit of simply starting. 

January was all about starting to develop a writing habit that works for me; February is going to be about continuing to strengthen that habit while also ramping up my imagination.

Want to start your own challenge?

Think about where you are currently with your writing and where you eventually want to be. What would be the first step to bridging that gap? How can you turn that into a challenge for the month of February? If you’re willing to share, post the challenge you’ve set yourself in the comments or email me at sophie@liminalpages.com.

 

Hey, let’s stay in touch.


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By | 2017-09-05T13:43:50+00:00 February 2nd, 2016|Novel Writing|2 Comments

About the Author:

Sophie Playle runs Liminal Pages, where she offers editorial services to authors and training to fiction editors. She's a Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and trained with The Publishing Training Centre. She worked at the largest publishing company in the world before galavanting off to do an MA in creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London (to add to her BA in English literature with creative writing from UEA). She would like to live on a steampunk airship.

2 Comments

  1. Carolyn McBride June 19, 2016 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    I’d never heard of Swans before, I’ll give them a listen. I enjoyed this piece since I’m hard pressed to write 600 words these days. Just a matter of putting my butt in the chair and writing, I guess. Give the self-editor a day off and worry about her tomorrow.

    • Sophie Playle June 20, 2016 at 8:55 am - Reply

      Yup, it’s that switching off the self-editor that’s the hard bit! I’m guessing it takes practice!

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