Suck It

Yesterday I finished my second draft of the new book. Moving right along to draft three, and what I hope is my final pass before someone else takes a look under the hood and reminds me of all the shit I left out.

I’ve hit a rhythm, and it goes like this: I started out with a candy dish on my desk, filled with milk chocolate caramels, each candy representing 1,000 words of manuscript I still have yet to write. Every time I pass the thousand word mark, I take a chocolate out of the dish and put it on my desk. (Or eat it immediately, if it’s 4pm and has taken me the whole day move the needle.) The candy does not budge from that dish until the marker passes another thousand, and I don’t stop writing for the day until I have had my chocolate treat. It’s like a vitamin. One a day, every day.

I get that this is hokey. A writer should write, and word counts are a silly sort of thing to reward—as if it’s only the number of words that matters, not the quality of the writing or the coherence of the story. But I also like watching the candy dish empty, and I like that my system allows for some fluctuation: some days I might finish only a few hundred words, but if they take me from 58,883 to 59,265 . . . bingo! I still get my treat. Other days I may pile up two or three chocolates, in which case I save the extras for days when writing even a hundred words is like pounding sand up my ass. Fuck it. I suck on my chocolate and go for a drive and don’t feel remotely guilty about that day’s suckishness.

This morning I counted thirteen chocolate caramels left, not including the one in my mouth. That’s a lot of empty foil wrappers in the garbage.

Any writing gimmicks you’d like to share? Pornographic reward systems, morning threats into the mirror, incense to summon the muse?

Photo by Ellen Von Unwerth

Photo by Ellen Von Unwerth

29 responses

  1. Basically my reward for hitting my daily goal is that I get to stop writing. I wish I could away from the word counts too, but there they are, at the bottom of the document, teasing me, taunting me, daring me to keep going.

    • Word counts and other statistics are unavoidable, and I dislike every last one. But I do like chocolate.

      The main reward, though, is the one you mention. What a relief it is to be able to stop.

  2. I’ve been reporting my wordcounts to Downith these days. We have a minimal goal in mind.

    I might try your caramel trick with transferring marbles into a jar—if I use caramels, I’ll cheat . . .

  3. The gimmick that works for me is called The OS. It’s called that because that’s what I call it; OS standing for Operating System. It’s modeled on computer operating systems and I use it as a daily guide to keep me oriented. I started using it some years ago, deriving it from computer studies applied to earlier forms of personal scheduling I adopted in the mid-90s as aids to help me cope with being an addict who needed to do more than wallow.

    The OS is divided into five levels; each level is further divided into what functions as a dynamic triskelion of three categories of related activities. My interpretations of those activities can be liberal. In the morning, exercise can include writing because exercise includes taking a walk and taking a walk includes going to Rogers Beach Park and contemplating existence in the face of the waters and that can give rise to writing. Marketing comes a little later and it can include writing, as it did today, if a piece I’m sending to market needs polishing or more major rewrite. A little later there’s a “relief-valve” miscellaneous category that can be used to justify a movie or a show or dining out or more writing. The top level includes the actual writing category. It’s at that level so I at least glance at all the other stuff I should attend to before I get there. When it is necessary, I zoom through everything else and sit my ass down and write; for instance, if a book needs a rewrite. But whatever else is happening, I try to touch on all fifteen categories daily (The OS was disrupted during the move, but I’m back on it now).

    Yes. I know I’m crazy. But I’m really not very dangerous, and that’s what counts on the crazy scale.

    • Your OS sounds like the routine of a soldier. (I started to write ‘Your soldier is showing,’ but that sounded dirty even to me.)

      I like a certain amount of routine myself, but mainly this shows up in the morning and evening—I get up very early and go to bed before 10pm. I used to fight this schedule because it has always seemed to me so nerdy. But now I just get up when I wake up, around 5am, get my coffee and start writing. I’m happiest then, much more creative, and anyway I’ve embraced my inner nerd so what the hell.

  4. but…what kind of chocolates are they?

    right now, my gimmick is that if i blog now, i may actually write something else of value eventually. i think it’s working as i finally submitted my first essay to a literary site today. of course, i immediately blogged about writing and all the vulnerabilities that go with the submission process. of course, then by the time i was done writing the blog post, i decided it was best not to publish it until i find out if they’re even interested b/c i’d hate to sway an editor on anything more than whether or not they liked the essay. (vs the editor coming to my site undecided on the essay only to read a post where i’ve predicting they will most likely reject my submission…which in turn would lead to the essay being rejected.)

    i think i need a gimmick to qualm paranoia.

    • They are Dove bite-sized caramel milk chocolates, in gold foil wrappers. Yum.

      Paranoia goes with writing, and to reinforce yours, I will tell you that my editor reads this blog. What she thinks of me, god only knows. Every time I bitch about writing, I want to add disclaimers.

      I’d love to read your essay.

      • awww..thank you. you’ll get to read it either on my blog when they reject it or from a link on my blog should they find it worth posting.

        i am now remembering a box of chocolates you sent me once that were so delicious and barely lasted through 50 words.

        • Editors are often writers, and if they aren’t, they are intimately familiar with writers. They nod in agreement when you post about your vulnerabilities, because they have them too. (Speaking broadly here.) Also readers/editors have a hard enough time reading the slush pile in addition to all the other things they do that they don’t do a ton of research into the author, they just read the work. At least that is my experience.

  5. I love your method! I’ve used the 1,000 word count for quite some time – until this latest WIP. Having said that, I’ve been itching to get back to it b/c for the first time since I can remember, I’m not getting it done like I have before. I’ve had more than one false start for one thing.

    Either way, I’ve never rewarded myself like that – with a candy. My potential issue is only taking one. I might have to devise a different method. Maybe I can have…three. My self control these days is nil.

    • Maybe your pieces could just be bigger. Or not chocolate? I use the Dove pieces because although they are delicious, they’re not my favorite treat. I couldn’t use lemon drops, for instance, or butterscotch, because I’d be out of control.

      • That’s a good idea…to use something that is “not my favorite treat.” Hm… I’m thinking maybe Werther’s. They last a long time too.

  6. And to think I had strawberry shortcake for dessert.

    I don’t think the whole food as a reward thing would work for me.
    The only system that works at this point is ‘deadline’.

    I think I’ll go find my husband and see if he wants some strawberry shortcake 😉

    • Deadlines are excellent. But I’ve learned that for a big project I have to break them down and pack them together so that it feels perilous, as though I might not finish. Otherwise I get lazy.

  7. Being the Least Organised Human in the World, I was constantly angry with myself for getting nothing done, my sleep was all over the place because I never took my meds at the right time, my pain was out of control, and around the horrible cycle went, the days, weeks, etcetera flying by, soon to result in me being old, dead, and nothing having been done.
    So Ms iSkirt says, “This is silly. You just need a decent alarm system.”
    “I’ve tried that, bla bla fucking bla…”
    “Try again Ugly Fart Face.”
    Okay, that last one wasn’t a direct quote. She’s actually way too nice, just thought I’d spice her up for the story…
    So I download this app into my ipad, it’s called Alarmed.
    Then I set a Ding-dong…Ding-dong for 7.55am that says Wake Up, Drink Coffee, Read Emails.
    A Jingle-jangle Jingle-Jangle Jingle-jangle for 9.11am that says Eat Breakfast, Take Meds.
    A Foghorn for 12.11pm that says Start Writing. Internet Off as it Steals your Life and your Dreams.
    A Whistle for 5.11pm that says Stop Writing.
    Another Jingle-jangle for 9.02pm that says Medications.
    A Dreamy Meditation Music for 10.20 pm that says Go to Bed, Read a Paper Book.
    The trick that makes these things work for me is, I have the alarms set to repeat constantly until I do the thing, and I don’t tick them off until it’s done.
    My life is now organised. I am slave to an alarm app, but I am well rested, well medicated, as pain free as I’m likely to get without obliterating myself into a state I can’t write.
    And that five hours I devote to writing, editing, writing index cards, or sitting in front of various writing materials staring into space, that gets a lot accomplished, because I’m actually there.
    See? I had time to write this Too Long blog comment, because it’s 9.33 am and I don’t have to write at the moment, or feel guilty about it.
    Lucky boy, me.
    I really should go online and review that Alarmed app. Its changed my life.

    • Wow, Mr iPants! That is quite a nifty gadget. I could definitely use a foghorn that reminds me: The Internet Steals Your Life and Dreams.

      What strikes me about all these comments is that, for all the gimmicks we come up with to keep us on track, it still is a matter of willpower. You could ignore those alarms, I could dive into the candy dish, Sarah could make excuses to Downith, etc. The gimmicks only work because we want them to so badly.

  8. I like the sound of your system, but I’m afraid chocolate wouldn’t do it for me. A whip, a chain and a deadline are what I really need – which sounds way more exciting than it is 😉

  9. I love it! My problem is limiting time on other things so I can write. It’s just where I’m at now. I’ve been writing a long time. I finally enjoy it, but have trouble balancing everything I need to do every day, so for me it’s more a matter of the writing time being the reward.

    Congratulations on finishing your second draft. That is awesome!

  10. I envy your chocolate reward system. Will Work For Chocolate. 🙂

    Trying to set word count goals and trick myself into getting words on the page has never ever worked. In fact, it makes it even harder for me to get anything done. I could spend hours just thinking up ways to make myself work, without actually working. You see the rub? And I know I’m going to give myself the chocolates whether I do the work or not.

    I am much better off feeding myself in advance, getting a fresh cup of coffee, and simply opening the document. Once I open it, something in me won’t leave it until I add a scene or work on a section that’s been bugging me.

    • “I am much better off feeding myself in advance, getting a fresh cup of coffee, and simply opening the document. Once I open it, something in me won’t leave it until I add a scene or work on a section that’s been bugging me.”

      This is because you are a grown-up who does not have to resort to gimmicks. Badass chickadee…

  11. You’re killing me Averil! I used to do an espresso and dark chocolate when I reached the real battleground of the writing day, but the coffee on an empty stomach killed me. Now I just charge through. Or sometimes reward myself with a spin of Haydn on the piano.

    • Haydn sounds like a wonderful reward. I so wish I could play the piano. But not enough, unfortunately, to suffer through my own ineptitude.


  12. I am totally superstitious when it comes to writing. I have to go through a full routine every night: a couple candles, a beer in the exact same kozie, total silence, and–up until recently when it snapped in half–my rubber FTF bracelet. *Sigh.* Teri: Are you out there? Any chance you have any extras? I swear my writing hasn’t been the same since it broke.