Writing Targets + Wordcount

Whilst still a novice to writing fiction for others enjoyment, I can definitely see how a daily routine can reinforce the habit of writing and keep a story fresh in the creators mind.

I started writing my first novel at the age of 23. At that time I was still bright eyed and bushy tailed about the adventure and thrill of possibly carving a name for myself in literary circles.

While that hasn’t exactly changed almost seven years later, the person I am now is very different to the one back then. It was only a few months ago that I finally got around to tying up the loose thread that I had hoped would be my ‘breakthrough’ novel and finished it with relief – journey complete.

There was a 5 year hiatus during that period where I lost a father, moved apartment (five times), changed jobs (three times) and travelled the world. I had definitely hardened through several promotions in my career within Sales, as I let work take centre stage, my passion for writing fading over the inactive months and years.

When I began reading the opening seven chapters of the unfinished book for the first time in seven years, it was unrecognisable. The unexplored idea I had had in my head in my early 20´s had since evolved over the years taking clearer shape in my thirties. The story was at odds to those opening pages, and I had to do a hatchet job to synch everything into place again.

Last year, inspired by reading a number of productivity articles and books I stumbled upon a video given by self made millionaire Eben Pagan that struck me. He discussed responsibility and the consequences of not taking ownership of your failings. There was one sentence that he said at the time that really stood out for me.

What do you have to do, to make the result that you want inevitable?

The wording is a little bit difficult to wrap your head around at first, but he went on to explain it. Basically, the premise is that you set up a punishment system where if you DON’T achieve what you set out to do, then you suffer. People tend to do more to avoid pain, than to gain pleasure. Some of these ‘punishments’ could include delaying dinner until you’ve written a certain number of words, eating a scoop of dog food (pretty hardcore!), giving money to a charity that you disagree with  or cleaning a room mates bedroom.

It could be anything, preferably something that is unpleasant. Hence the idea. You’ll do anything to avoid it (including banging out your 2000 words each day). Clearly you need to include others in your commitment. Good friends or family who will hold you responsible on a daily basis.

What I began doing to kickstart my creative juices, was to slowly build my desired habit (writing) into my life again. I began by allocating a wordcount that I needed to reach each day. In the beginning, this was small. Very small. I didn’t want to eat the elephant in one bite. In that first week, my daily target was 200 words. A small paragraph.

As anyone who has just started doing something that usually requires a long, sustained effort (cleaning a sink full of dishes, or clearing the garage) even those first small actions that yield immediate positive results can compel the person to follow it through until completion. A lot of times in those opening weeks I exceeded the word count because the ideas would continue to come and to cut them off at that point because I had hit my target seemed wrong.

I’ve been strict with myself during the past two months with my writing. I have been travelling for seven months now and struggled with fitting in my word counts through a combination of constantly being on the road, a barely workable laptop and…well…having fun! In these cases, I have to cut myself some slack and have lowered the word count. I think the key is consistency and repeating that habit.

There are going to be peaks and troughs in your productivity through the year, but as long as you keep plugging away as often as your schedule permits, even for one or two paragraphs, it could make all the difference between getting that novel finished and not. I don’t know many other people who have written a book on their holidays, and even if it never sees the light of day, I’m very proud of my achievement.

I was saddened to read an article a few days ago about a young man dying from taking the Herbal ‘Drug’ Yage or Ayahuasca in a Colombian Jungle. It´s received quite a bit of media attention in the U.K. as a result, with a lot of false and innacurate information coming out. Last month, I actually spent 3 days with a small group in a forest with several Shaman and also took Ayahuasca. The BBC followed up with another article here.

For the story this Saturday, I’m going to describe my experience, the ritual, the after effects and my own thoughts about the psychedelic brew.

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