3 Ways to Defy the Basic Rules of Mathematics

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Here– enjoy a pensive parakeet. I’ll likely never write a blog post that includes parakeets in it, so here’s to being spontaneous.

Trick question. I hate to scare off my lovely readers, but it’s even a math one. Ready?

What is 0x2?

You might say, ‘Why of course it’s zero, silly!’ You would be wrong. Cue maniacal laughter.

Disclaimer: Please always and forevermore answer ‘zero’ if this is ever on a math test, but in the writing world, this is apparently false. Read on to determine how to terrify mathematicians and cackle at your multiplication tables.

So. Some of you may be wondering where I’ve been for the past several days. In answer to your hypothetical question, I’ve been writing. And it’s been beautiful.

I might have even figured out the secret to life. Or writing, at least. I’ve always written down my word count, because it makes me, well, happy to see huge numbers at the end of the day. Here’s the issue I’ve been having with that: once I met my measly quota (and I mean measly— I set it to something like 500 words per day when I was more busy), I would just stop and waste time on the internet. Sometimes I would even waste time before meeting said quota to a point where I wasn’t even meeting my 500 each day.

I wondered what was wrong with me. I wondered why I continued to call myself a writer when each word was like pulling teeth. I’ve had easy days before— days where thousands of words practically write themselves, but recently those days have been non-existent.

As it always does, lack of productivity led to story-depression. I started pointing out things that must be wrong with my story, otherwise I would write, wouldn’t I? The issue with this is that I was popping out 2,000 words per day on my first draft, and it was a complete nightmare. There were so many things wrong with that draft, but it didn’t prevent me from writing it.

Since I’m such a perfectionist, I really struggle with drafts, and I have to constantly remind my inner-critic that this is a draft. It’s not supposed to be complete. It’s not supposed to be perfect. It is practice for the final draft. So when I start pointing out issues with my draft before it’s even complete, I know I’m in deep trouble.

When I found this book on writing faster on my Kindle, I was very skeptical. I thought it was a gimmick. I scoffed and thought that maybe she was writing more words, but were they any good? There are few tricks to the writing world— most of it consists of plain hard work. So I’m always suspicious of books or pamphlets or street sellers claiming to ‘double your wordcount’. It’s just like those bad weight-loss commercials.

But still, I went ahead and plopped down my 99 cents and sat down to read my book exactly like this:

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But instead of looking for my frisbee (which might have been better for my mental health), I found that the author made some good points. I had no expectations for hitting 10,000 words per day, but I did hope I would be able to increase my word total some (that being said, technically the double of zero words is still zero…so I did worry).

Anyway.

While her points are not exactly original (they’re things that I used to do, but got lazy about doing recently), I did find that they drastically increased my wordcount and shed light on my number one productivity-killer: The internet. Ah, yes, the internet. Turns out I was writing a sentence, and then checking something on tumblr. Writing a sentence and then watching youtube. Writing another sentence, and checking facebook. Not surprisingly, this destroyed my productivity. Also not surprisingly, I didn’t notice how bad this tendency had gotten until I settled down to actually record my writing time.

When I made a time in/ time out sheet recording the time, number of words, and words per hour, I went from struggling with 500 a day to writing roughly 2,000 per day. And the best part? I’m excited about it again. I’m making stupid faces while I write scenes. I’m making silly little pterodactyl squeals that make my family members stare at me like something’s wrong (Note to all writers— our writerly quirks never become normal, even to family members. Apparently they just learn to love us along with our insanity). Smiling, laughing, tearing up as I write or plot certain spots. My story has life in it again, and I’m not mired in the same scene for days.

It’s amazing.

So, since I want to get back to writing, the CliffsNotes version below:

 1) Know what you’re writing about.

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I’m on a Calvin and Hobbes kick today. So sue me.

This is something I used to do before writing any scene. I would jot out a beat by beat note of how the scene would go. For example:

Calvin takes history test.

Calvin reads question.

Calvin jots down answer.

Calvin makes fun of teacher.

Or something like that. Sometimes I’ll just write down dialogue in an important exchange between two characters. Sometimes, if it’s action, I’ll write out the different points of the fight as I play it through my mind.

This is what I reserve the document notes portion of my Scrivener file for (Scrivener is basically amazing. In the very near future, I plan on writing a blog post completely dedicated to how awesome this program is. And I swear they didn’t pay me to do so).

Again, this is something I used to do that this book reminded me to continue. Knowing what you’re writing about makes it infinitely easier to get down on paper. As I think she mentioned in this chapter, it is excruciating and difficult to both plan and write at the same time.

Now that I think of it, if planning is a more left-brain activity, and writing a right-brain one, it would make sense that my brain wants to self-destruct when I try to do two at once. Multitasking is very much overrated. It is also why I have an inability to learn syncopated piano parts, but I digress.

2) Record your times and wordcounts.

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If you don’t do this already, this is an amazing way to keep yourself motivated. Set a target goal for your book, and plod away until you reach it. Have a daily word count goal. It’s all about staying motivated and seeing small, incremental progress towards the end. Don’t think about your full novel wordcount goal. Focus on your daily one, and in time, you’ll have a book!

Until this book mentioned it, I’ve never kept track of when I write, but I’m finding that to be a really interesting idea as well. When I mark down my times, I can see when I write best— when the ideas flow and when I just need sleep or food.

If you’re feeling really nerdy, you can brag to friends and family about your writing speed. Example:

“Loved one! Did you know I write 2647 words per hour? I could write an entire book in a month and 8 days!”

To which said loved one will either roll their eyes or be genuinely impressed. It’s hard to tell. Make sure it’s a loved one and not a random person on the street.

3) If it isn’t exciting to you, don’t write it.

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My brother’s aptly named ‘Japanese Eraser House of Horror’ would likely make for exciting writing…

This one is more tricky, particularly since we’re often our own worst critics. And it was a hard one for me to swallow. But she makes a good point: If we’re not excited about our scenes, who will be?

As a writer, you created this world— these characters and their stories. You of all people should love and be excited about them. So why aren’t you? Generally, if you can’t get excited about the scene, you should either throw it out or find out why it’s not working and fix it.

That being said, I do have my own addition to this tip: Sometimes lack of excitement just means lack of commitment to the scene. Maybe the scene is exciting or important, but you haven’t emotionally invested in it yet.

You must emotionally invest in your scenes. You have to run through them— play through them in your mind until you don’t just know what’s going to happen— you feel what’s going to happen. Run through these scenes until you are almost experiencing the same emotions as your characters. This is the only way to connect with your reader in any scene.

It sounds like a silly visualization strategy, but it works.

And that’s why 0 x 2 = 2413 (today, anyway). I’m off to write more.

What works best for you? Feel free to leave your thoughts below.

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