Please welcome Laura Ware to the blog today…
THE POWER OF A WRITING STREAK
Over the past few years, I struggled with the most basic part of being a writer – sitting down and actually writing. It was a frustrating situation for me because I wanted to write. It’s something I believed I might be good at and knew I enjoyed.
For a while, life kept getting in the way. I provided care for both my husband’s parents over those years, which drained me in all kinds of ways. Six months after my mother-in-law passed away, while I was still trying to figure things out, the pandemic hit. Again, I was knocked for a loop.
On June 29th, 2020, I found myself participating in a “writing week” with some fellow wordsmiths. According to my records, I wrote 710 words that day.
And sometime during that day I asked myself, “What if I just did this every day?”
At first, I felt apprehensive. I’d tried a streak before, and it eventually petered out. How long could I go? And would it really make a difference this time?
There was only one way to find out.
I cut myself some slack by not having a minimum word count at first. If I got words on the page, it counted whether it was 10 or 1,000. One day in July I only eked out sixty-eight words. But they were new words, so they counted.
What did I write?
I worked on a novel or two, not finishing them but making progress. I revisited my love of short fiction and wrote short stories. I worked on my weekly column, something I’d maintained for over 20 years.
And I noticed I wasn’t stopping.
One thing I discovered in this adventure is that a streak, when it gets long enough, applies a kind of pressure on you. “You’ve written 100 days in a row,” it whispers to you when you’re tired and just want to go to bed. “You don’t want to quit now, do you?”
And I’d grumble and gripe but head to the laptop anyway. And I made words.
At the beginning of 2021, I decided to up the ante. I participated in a program from a mentor of mine called The Great Challenge. The challenge? To write a short story a week for 52 weeks in a row.
I’d written short stories in a week before. But could I maintain that? Over a year? Was it possible to come up with fifty-two ideas in a year?
Again, one way to find out. I took a deep breath and signed up.
The short story challenge gave me words to write every day. Getting words done every day helped me get the stories done, though there have been more than a few late Sunday nights trying to meet the deadline.
As I type this, I’ve written 477 days in a row. I’ve written when life was good, and when my father passed away. I’ve written when the words flowed and when I struggled to express myself. I’ve written during trips. Day after day I’ve managed to get words in – these days at least five hundred before I quit for the day.
And I just turned in my 42nd short story for the challenge. Some of the stories have come to me with no trouble. For some I’ve had to beg my muse to give me something. But I’ve pulled it off forty-two times without a miss.
What have I learned from this?
For one thing, there is always time to write if I look for it. It may be as little as 15 minutes, but it’s there. The pressure of the streak helps motivate me to find that time and get those words typed.
I’ve also learned I tend to write at night when it’s quiet in the house. Finding your ideal time to write is a useful tool in getting words out every day. Nighttime usually works for me, though I also want to train myself to write a little in the morning to get things started. But writing every day tends to show a pattern.
And the words add up. My goal for 2021 was to write 200,000 words. I passed that goal sometime in August or September. My current goal is to hit 300,000 and based on my average word counts for the month I will probably pass that, too.
A streak isn’t for everyone. But if you’re interested in trying it out, here are some tips to get you started.
n Start small. If I had begun by pledging to write 1,000 words every day, I would have bailed on the streak within a week. Maybe you just want to write 10 minutes a day. Or you want to do a page (about 250 words) 5 days a week. The trick is to find something within reach and build on it as your streak grows.
n Make it a priority. There will be all kinds of distractions to take you away from the page. Let those around you know this is important to you. Guard that time the best way you can.
n Build a team. A
team helps with tip #2 tremendously. Involve your family and friends. Let them
keep you accountable. And pick people who will cheer your success.
I’m fortunate in that my husband is totally behind me in this. Before he goes to bed, he’ll ask if I’ve written yet, reminding me to get to the laptop. He even helped me at a family gathering by informing them that we would return in a couple of hours after I finished a story that was due. It helped that he backed me up in that, and my family had no issues with it.
n Keep track. There
are all kinds of way to keep track of your progress. I use two that work for
The first one is a spreadsheet designed by a fellow wordsmith that allows me to track my word count daily. It has columns for words written and time spent and calculates total words by month and year. It also lets me know my average daily word count and time spent and is helpful in charting my progress.
I also have a paper calendar that is on the wall across from my laptop. For every 250 words I write in a day, I get a foil star for that day. On days I write several thousand words, I put a few stars and pen in how many others I’d earned. It is cheering to see those squares fill up with stars day by day, knowing they represent new words.
There will probably come a time when my streak will end (my daily streak, that is. I’m determined to write those last 10 short stories) despite my best efforts. Life happens, and something could come up that totally derails me. I will be sad when it happens. Then, after a day to have a pity party, I’ll start a new streak, hoping to beat the old one. And who knows? Chances are I will.
Streaks can be a powerful tool, and helpful to any writer trying to kickstart their production. If you have questions about it, or just need someone to tell you that you can do it, email me at email@example.com. And happy writing.
Laura Ware’s column, “Laura’s Look,” appears weekly in the Highlands News-Sun and covers news items or ideas she can talk about for 600 words. She is the author of a number of short stories and several novels. Her short story collection Five Female Gumshoes recently came out. Her essay, “Touched by an Angel,” appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness. Laura lives in Central Florida. Check out her website and sign up for her newsletter at www.laurahware.com