500 words a day

Grandma Jackie, my husband’s late grandmother, used to say things like, “I can’t tomorrow. We’ll be busy with Richard’s doctor appointment and then we have to go to the pharmacy.” In full retirement, her days became busy when she had any scheduled activity, even if it only took an hour or two from her otherwise unstructured day. My husband and I would joke about being busy as we juggled two kids, their activities, dinners, our jobs, things that we wanted to do outside our jobs.

When I worked at the corporation, my calendar was full of overlapping meetings, scheduled and planned lunches, reminders to pick up dry cleaning or call my aunt. I took days off to write performance reviews or finish work-related presentations that needed my full attention. Now my calendar is blessedly free, and I fill my days with things I want or need to do. I write at least 500 words a day (this blog post does not count), and it’s thrilling to steadily watch word counts increase, especially since I am realizing that in a novel, sometimes I have to write whole scenes or backstories for my own understanding, and that many of those paragraphs will never make it through honest editing.

It took me a while to get here, and when I worked at the corporation I would have been spitting venom reading something like this post, about a woman with whole days free who laments that she can’t quite focus, commit, stick to the thing. After I quit, I became a bit like Grandma Jackie in that if I had a thing to do, like host a dinner party or lead a leadership luncheon, it would consume my day. Prepping myself or my house while still doing the regular things (laundry, dinner, email) generally took precedence over writing. I would rationalize and defer, just as I did in school when I cleaned out my closet rather than finish an essay that was due the next day. I couldn’t settle down to write when people were coming over hours later, when I had to mentally prepare for facilitating a meeting, when I had to go grocery shopping. I treated my writing life like something extra to be fit in around the edges. Maybe that made some sense when I was working, but it definitely does not make sense anymore.

For a while, I thought 2,000 words a day was my goal, a la Stephen King. That was short-lived and unattainable. It actually turned me away from my laptop since I knew I would be grinding it out, plodding miserably along for word count, and that’s no way to write your heart. I thought, “I’ll write in the mornings, from nine to noon, word count be damned.” But then I had a 9:00 a.m. appointment, or I found myself checking the clock, wondering when my time would be up.

For the past several weeks, I’ve committed to 500 words a day. Nothing, really. Two pages, a scene, a stretch of dialogue. I work it in around making soup, making plans, reading, writing other things, submitting a story or essay. Sometimes I even sweep or vacuum, though not nearly often enough. I write sometime between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., and if I skip on Friday I make up for it on Saturday. Sometimes I am still writing when my husband gets home, and he knows to leave me alone while I type, backspace, frown at the screen.

But it’s working. So much so that I hesitate to acknowledge it. I know the bad days will come, when I stare at the screen and I hate everything. 500 words isn’t nearly enough. I am not getting published or putting myself out there enough and I’m getting too old and 723 other things are not right, not enough. But for now, for me, this is working. I am progressing, I am learning, I am working.

It feels so good.


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