Writing is similar to exercising. Your mental strength and stubbornness is more important than your physical capability. What you believe you can do dictates what you’ll accomplish. I think that’s a huge truth. And knowing truth enables me to use it to my advantage.
Writers I know take one of two approaches to writing. The first is allotting a certain amount of time to sit down and write for the day/week. The second is setting a specific word count goal for the day/week. The former puts writing time into a busy schedule. The latter seems more results-focused, but is often construed as a bad thing. Words don’t equal good words. True. But time doesn’t equal productivity, so I think it’s about what works for you.
When I sit down to write, my goal is word count. Some days I write faster than others. By monitoring my progress by word count, I can move on to other things if I finish earlier than I expected, or I can force myself to stay seated if I’m having a particularly absent-minded day. My work schedule leaves time for writing all morning, so I have more flexibility on days I decide to be a stubborn wordless idiot.
Word count works better for me because I can easily rationalize using my time for other things. Something comes up. I browse the internet the whole time. I get tired and promise myself I’ll make up the time later in the day. Someone calls me. Time is easy to justify giving away to meaningless things because the assumption that time will not run out is a lie most of us believe.
I can’t lie about my word count. Trust me, I try. I include chapter titles and headings in with my words, but ultimately the only words I can count are on the page. The numbers can’t be interpreted as something other than what they are. I tell myself I’ll devote time to writing later and never do, so that doesn’t work for me. And when I try to cheat at counting words, the only one I’m cheating is myself.
Most days, I don’t feel like a good writer. I don’t feel like the words on my pages are phenomenal. I don’t feel like writing. But I know that if I honor the goals I’ve set for myself, the goals I know I want to achieve, I will get results.
This week I read a quote by Tom Wolfe. He said, “What I write when I force myself is generally just as good as what I write when I’m feeling inspired. It’s mainly a matter of forcing yourself to write.” I think that’s true. In the moment, it might not feel true. But when I go back an edit, there’s not a huge difference in my work.
Why should I believe in myself? Because mindset is what makes me a writer, not just a dreamer. Because I know that if I follow my plan (or mostly follow it), I’ll get results I want. Because other writers go through the same thing every day, not feeling like writing. But the writers I get to read are the ones who wrote anyways, even on days they didn’t feel like writing or believing in themselves. So really, it’s not optional.