The Days It Doesn’t Happen

Every writer has a different approach to the process of putting words on paper. Some who write long novels or major works of nonfiction prepare backgrounds or research for months or even years and then binge-write until the work is completed. Afterwards it may be many months before they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard again. This doesn’t work for me; I enjoy writing too much. I don’t like to let a day pass without transcribing the thoughts in my head and the emotions in my heart. For this reason I prefer the methodical approach of a minimum daily word count, and I have kept to this system for decades.

During this period of my writing career, I adhere to a minimum count of five hundred words per day. I maintain this habit, with pleasure, seven days a week. Occasionally urgent life events intrude that make it impossible for me to sit down at a keyboard. When this happens, I don’t get all bent out of shape or force myself to double my word count the following day. I simply carry on when I am able with the five hundred words or more. However, what happens when I complete a piece of writing the day before and then I have to start fresh the following day? This comes up frequently because I write literary works of all lengths: novels, memoirs, novellas, novelettes, short stories, and flash fiction. Obviously it is easier to dive in and compose a minimum word count on a longer work that has already been initiated, but I am particularly fond of writing short stories. This means that I frequently need new ideas.

I try to plan for this by jotting down random ideas in a special file. When I encounter the need to begin a new project and I don’t have anything specific in mind, I peruse this list and see if anything ignites my curiosity and imagination. If nothing does, though, I have a few options. In a perfect world where money is not a problem, I might spend the day attempting various methods of jumpstarting my imagination, but in the real world, I have to go on to ghostwrite another one or two thousand more words of blog posts or articles for which I receive quick payment.

Sometimes I simply give myself a day or two to come up with a solid new idea. There’s almost always a moment of despair after I finish what I consider a good piece of writing when I wonder how I will ever come up with a new idea again. However, that feeling quickly passes when I realize that my imagination and creativity have never failed me yet, and they won’t this time either. Sometimes, depending on my schedule and circumstances, I might make another attempt at the five hundred words in the afternoon or evening. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The main thing I have to keep in mind in these situations is that this is not writer’s block. I am simply finding first gear so I can once again get moving. That initial phrase or sentence can be the spark that ignites the conflagration of a whole new work.

Sometimes I will get a few thousand words into a new story and then be unable to proceed. That’s okay too. I put these incomplete stories aside and come back to them later. Sometimes I am able to continue and complete the story, while other times I realize that the fragment is a dead end. It doesn’t matter. More often than not I finish what I start and am pleased with my work. Maintaining a steady continual flow of words works well for me. If that flow is occasionally interrupted, I am disappointed, but I also accept the inevitability of these interruptions, cast about for what’s next, seize the next idea, and carry on.

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