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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Of Writers and Robots

Two thousand words a day is very good going.
–Evelyn Waugh


It seems like all of Twitter (or at least my writerly corner of it) is excited about Rachel Aaron‘s “How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day.” No, that is not a typo.

Of course, my first reaction when reading the article was “I’m a writer, not a robot!” I’ve never liked wordcounts. They may seem like the most concrete measure of productivity, but obsessing over your daily output feels somewhat counterproductive.

But I don’t want to linger on that. Whether we write 500 or 5,000 words, the point is that we’ve actually focused on our work for the better part of the day. For me (as for most of us, I suspect), the internet is far and away the greatest obstacle to productivity. I know that I get WAY more done when I deny myself WiFi access, and I need to get serious about staying offline while I write. I’ve seen other writers tweet about Mac Freedom, and I used to scoff at the concept–like you can’t just summon the willpower to disconnect?

The thing is, I can’t. I shut down the web browser and resolve to focus, but then I think about just one teensy thing I can look up really quick, and then I’m done for.
Shaming myself into good work habits just got a whole lot more appealing. I’m going to use Mac Freedom as part of a productivity experiment.

No Twitter.

No gchat.

No Firefox.

No Gmail notifier.

Rather, these things will be limited to short periods in between writing sessions–at the beginning, middle, and end of the day. If I think of something I need to look up, an email I need to send, or whatever, I’ve got my notebook at my elbow. Fortunately, I haven’t forgotten how to use a pen.

There’s more to this than the distractive power of the internet, though. Rachel Aaron is not a hack; she is a disciplined writer with real-life responsibilities. She makes every second count. I am a not-very-disciplined writer with no kids, no day job and no mortgage. If I first thought of Rachel Aaron as a robot, it was only because it let me off the hook. It’s time to stop making excuses.

So my own productivity experiment means pulling together the gap between what I want to, need to, or “should” do, and what I actually do. That’s why I went for a run this morning, and why I spent what felt like too much time cleaning, cooking, and packaging up something I promised myself I’d send to someone who did something awesome for me. It’s why I’m going to begin meditating on a daily basis. Steven Pressfield talks a lot about “the resistance” in The War of Art, and man, is he right. You don’t want to do something, but you do it anyway, and afterward you feel amazing. (I also love what Victoria Moran said in her lecture at the NYC Veggie Food Fest back in March: whatever you’re most likely to skip, whether it’s exercise, meditation, or something else, do that thing first. Literally as soon as you wake up.)

I want to lean into that resistance. I want to get up and run when the smaller part of me would rather stay in bed. I want to make conscious decisions about how I’m spending my time, so that I can ultimately live a more creative life. Yes, I’m already living a creative life, and it may seem counterintuitive to use discipline as a creative tool, but there is such beautiful, subtle logic in it.

Apart from using Mac Freedom to stay offline, I’m going to make a list of what I need to get done each day (I don’t routinely do this), and when I’m writing, I’ll make a note of my wordcounts by the hour, because the business manager in Sarah convinced me to take the spreadsheet idea seriously. Today, as Rachel suggests, I’m going to plot out the rest of my YA novel in way finer detail than I ever have before. (That’s how she’s able to write 10,000 words, by the way–I doubt anybody could be that insanely productive without first, as they say, “laying the groundwork.”) When I am surfing the internet I will remind myself that I don’t have time for virtual rabbit holes. (Or, to be more realistic, I won’t indulge in them so often.)

And whatever I said before about wordcounts, I would like to kick my own butt and reach for 10k at some point. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it every single day–I feel dazed enough after 2k!–but I think shooting for it once in awhile would be pretty awesome. (And it would be an ideal strategy for a residency!) But I feel good about these changes for now.

I’ll write about my progress next Monday.

Read more on Rachel Aaron-inspired writing productivity experiments here:

Nova’s The Writing Productivity Experiment of Doom (or Great Success, Depending)

Holly Black: Project: Write Faster

Holly Black: Project: Write Faster / EARLY RESULTS

3 Comments to Of Writers and Robots

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    June 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    There is a certain amount of irony in tweeting and blogging about freeing yourself from the internet 😉 That being said, I completely agree, and now only allow myself to check my e-mail three times a work day.

  2. June 19, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    This both interests and freaks me out, Camille. I will be watching your progress avidly.

  3. June 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    This is another reason I need a Mac. Mac Freedom sounds like the perfect app.

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.