“There are no insoluble problems. Only time-consuming ones.”
– James Michener
How many words do you write a day?
Every time I travel abroad I pack one huge book. In Belize I read about the history of Brazil. In Nicaragua I knocked out a whole slew of Neil Gaiman books. This time I packed Chesapeake. Knowing very little about the book, I was surprised to learn that the author, James Michener, used to sit down and spend 12 hours a day cranking out words. Assuming that he wasn’t completely incompetent at typing this means that he produced several thousand words every single day.
This fact got me thinking about my own writing habits. As a freelancer I have to constantly write. If I don’t write I starve.
Last week I wrote about 5,000 to 6,000 words a day. This week I’ve been kind of burnt out and will be doing significantly less. Maybe 3,000 on a good day. I need to recharge for a bit.
Real writing verses pretend writing
Writing is only fun if you’re pretending to do. Sitting at the coffee shop with Microsoft Word open is fun. Posting “Working on my novel” to social media is fun. Real writing sucks. Punching out words is mundane. I already know where this post is going in my head. I have the whole thing laid out. The thought has been developed. It is dead to me. Novel when I came up with it last night. Old news when by the time I type it out.
A joke is funny the first time you say it. When you’ve rehearsed it one thousand times it becomes routine. The audience erupts with laughter because they heard it for the first time. The comedian just goes through the motions. Professional writing is the same way. Penning an article about ab exercises or smoothie makers is fun once. Doing it 20 times gets repetitive. I couldn’t sit down and spend 12 hours on a single subject like that.
How to make writing fun
Writing an article or a book can be entertaining. There are ways to make the process fun and enjoyable. Even if you get in a rut you can work your way out easily. Here are a handful of steps and tools that I have used in the past:
- Read a book and try to emulate the author’s style.
You should never rip someone else off, but picking a writing and emulating it can transform “The Top Three Coffee Makers For Under $100” into a lot of fun. I recently read Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century, it was a bit too mystic for my tastes but still pretty good, and tried to incorporate a sort of erotic energy into the descriptions of some toaster ovens I had to write about. Describing features in a way that appealed to the senses. Being vivid. It was fun to do and broke up the monotony of an otherwise boring task.
- Do some actual research.
Modern writers never research anything. The Ukraine is labeled as Russia, quotes get taken out of context, and whole tangents are made up out of thin air. The story is written and the facts are later cherry-picked to conform with it. While reading about something before writing about it might cut into your hourly rate, it pays dividends in the future. I was once hired to write a seemingly boring article about some small beach town. Rather than just re-writing the Wikipedia summary, I actually did an hour of research and found some really cool facts. A famous musician used to stay there to relax, an Olympic athlete had grown up in the area, stuff that people would actually want to read about. My “wasted hour” ended up turning into an article that the client described as being “The best work anyone ever submitted” and I got a bonus and long-term contract. Finding out actual facts might sound like a waste of time, but it can make writing more enjoyable and actually get people to become interested in the material.
- Go off on a crazy tangent.
At one point I got paid a ridiculously low sum, like $3 per 500 words, to do a huge batch of generic articles. Basically I just had to fill the page with whatever I wanted as long as it pertained to blenders. I flew through each piece in record time. I just picked a random crazy idea and found some weird way to connect it to the subject. The client didn’t really care about how I did it anyway so I was free to make up whatever. Although the job didn’t pay much, this was back when I was starting out, it was a lot of fun to do.
Writing is fun when you actually get to be creative. Sticking to a formula and cranking out the same type of work will kill your soul. I enjoy being spontaneous with my work. The second half of this post was going to be completely different, I was going to write down my thoughts from last night, but I decided to delete that and make up a few writing tips that popped into my head. I only started to think of them as my fingers were moving across the keyboard.
Sticking to a routine ruins everything. You wake up one day and realize that you’ve become Willy Loman. Last week I was kind of bummed out over the fact that this year has been a lot different from the past ones. Then I realized that this wasn’t a problem. It was a good thing. If every year felt the same I’d be doing something wrong. It would be mundane. Boring. Shaking things up might be risky, but at least it makes you feel alive.