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When it’s hard to write: writing versus having written

Hey, there, Friday. I almost forgot: it’s time to check in on our goals.

Still sucking it up over here.

When I made out a production calendar in December, I tried to set my goals at an achievable level. For me, that was a fairly high goal, but it’s a number that’s far less than my peak. The number would have had me sitting on an 18,000 word novella draft at the end of December and 38,000 words of another novel at the end of January.

Reality: 3257 words in December. 26,544 in January.

That does mean that I finished at just over 19,000 words on that novella this month! Hooray!

But it also means that I started February with less than 11,000 words on my next project. That novel is the sequel to a book I began almost one year ago. From that distance, writing that first book looks so easy. I’m sure I could dig out my progress spreadsheet and see how many words I knocked out a day—probably typically 4000+.

Now I’m struggling and usually failing to make half that.

Granted, there are a few other stresses in my personal life these days, but still—it’s doubly discouraging to revisit a character and a voice that seems like it was so. much. easier the first time.

Maybe it was. Maybe that book is magic that will never be recaptured (my persistent fear!). Maybe I’m a failure and I’ll never write a good word again.

I kind of doubt that. Even if I’m not totally feeling this book like I was the first one (or like I think I was!), it’s not the end of the world to struggle with a book. I might end up setting it aside for a while, devoting time to more research and reading, or editing that novella, or other projects. I might even end up setting it aside forever.

But the fact remains that it’s always easier to have written than to write. I have written the first book, no matter how hard or easy that process actually was at the time. I am writing a sequel—and that’s a heck of a lot harder than admiring the polished first manuscript on my hard drive.

And here’s the reality of writing that first novel, as recounted in accountability emails (emphasis added):

[WEEK 1, DAY 2] I’m having a hard time hitting my word count goals because I keep getting bogged down in research, but at least I’m trying to ignore the TV more. Hooray!

[WEEK 2, DAY 1] I was a little short over the weekend, with traveling to visit family (and I already cut my goal back by 75% :\ ), but I’m hoping to make up for it this week.

[WEEK 2, DAY 4] Oy. Anybody else getting tired? I know I am. And I seriously can’t win when it comes to getting sleep: either I stay up late pushing through to hit my goals, or I hit my stride and push back bedtime even later. Oy again.

[WEEK 3, DAY 2, 5PM] It’s been a while since we’ve had a good check in, and I’m struggling a little personally. I have a lot of other stuff coming up, today especially, and right now I’m down 2500 words from where I’d like to be by the end of the day (some from yesterday, some from today).

[WEEK 3, DAY 4] It’s been a tough week for me. I’ve had a bunch of other writing-related commitments crop up: critique group, business stuff. Plus, I’ve come to a very sticky part of my story: I know what happens after this, but I’m having a really hard time getting from here to there. I finally started making a little progress last night, but by midnight, I was too tired to keep my eyes open (thank you, head cold). Then, when I went to make the final file save of the night, my computer did something weird and Word just sat there thinking about saving the file until I finally had to give up and go to bed. I didn’t know if I would have any of my hard-won new words left. I have missed my goal every day this week, for a combined shortfall of an entire day.

There are actually lots of positive emails, too, since I did do a pretty dang good job of staying on my word counts before that (sigh), and I wrote those last 13,000 words in the last 3 days of the month. Obviously I can’t bank on another marathon like that right now (sigh) (sigh), but I’m really glad I have the record of struggling through that “magic” book (not to mention the fresh memory of how tough my last book was to write!).

What do you think? Do you ever forget how tough writing can be? How are your goals coming this year? Come share!

Photo credits: resolutions & goals—Ed Donahue; frustrated at computer—Andrew Catellier

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6 Responses to When it’s hard to write: writing versus having written

  1. Misty says:

    This may not seem very helpful, but remember that memory does not work like a tape recorder playing back an event.. It’s reconstructive. That means your brain remembers tidbits that seemed important at the time (whether or not they were /objectively/ important) and then reconstructs your experience of the event by filling in the gaps with whatever seems to make sense based on the tidbits it remembers. (I think you stumbled upon this phenomenon when you looked back at the entries you wrote while you were writing your first book!)

    So when you’re remembering having written a book, your brain tends to delete (or at least downplay) the long slogs through difficult passages, and focuses on the more rewarding moments when you were excited about the book you were writing. A similar thing happens with women and childbirth, apparently. ;)

    …At least, that’s what I tell myself to feel better when I’m struggling through another round of revisions or writer’s block. ;p

    • Jordan says:

      I dunno; pretty hard to forget three days of labor without pain meds. Not that I’ve been there or anything ;) .

      Another contributing factor is that I wrote a book that was much harder to write in the interim, so by comparison, the first in this series was an easier book to write than that one. And, apparently, this one, if daily word count is an indicator—even on the days I was complaining about being behind last year, I was still writing twice as fast, or more. (Even on that intervening harder book, I was writing faster. :\ )

      • Misty says:

        Hahaha, I can’t say I’ve been there either, but I’m told by family and friends that if women /really/ remembered it accurately, they’d never have more than one child. XD

        If it helps, I’ve found that, for myself, when I get into revisions it’s always the areas that I struggled with that need the fewest revisions. The parts that came easily always require the most rewriting.

        And if all else fails, know that you’re not alone. I’m at the point of tossing my current novel because I’m just having trouble making myself care enough to finish it. :P It’s about to get shelved so that I can work on other ideas for awhile.

        • Jordan says:

          (I was jk; I have been there. The epidural side effects were so bad with my first I chose to have the next two without pain meds. Let me tell you about it next month when I have my fourth. But childbirth is only a couple days, max. The next six weeks? Oy. Now that’s something I have to forget the details of to do it again!)

          I love this >> “I’ve found that, for myself, when I get into revisions it’s always the areas that I struggled with that need the fewest revisions. The parts that came easily always require the most rewriting.”

          That’s what I’m realizing in drafting. I’m letting myself write shallow POV, ignore voice, tell, etc. just to get the story out right now. The words come faster, but I know they’ll need more work later. But hey, I can do that!

          • Misty says:

            Ahahaha! I’m sure the rewards are worth it, though. :) For both the childbirth and the novel drafting. XD

            The problem is that when I’m writing fast, my Muse is in control, and well….. my Muse doesn’t care much about silly things like… grammar. And you know, general coherence.

            Revisions always feel harder than first draft, for me. But that’s probably because I’m currently neck deep in revisions for a story. If I was busy working on a first draft, I might change my tune. ;p

  2. Jordan says:

    LOL, exactly! And I swear, the more and more I learn about writing craft, the harder drafting is, because I have all that other stuff, which are “revision skills” anyway, hanging over my head. “You need to do this in this scene, and don’t forget that, and and and—” Blagh.

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