Training to Increase Daily, Weekly and Monthly Word Counts

1_16Jackson isn’t old enough yet to go outside by himself. So, he just watches Isabel from the window, envious of her Big Kitty privileges.

In the past I’ve used the analogy of being in training for producing wordcount.I continue to be amazed at just how well the principle applies. But if you’re sick of this topic, feel free to move on.

(Not that you aren’t always free to move on – I’m just warning you that this might be repeat. I’m like the old auntie who traps you at the family picnic and asks if I’ve ever told you about my trip to Japan. She won’t let you run. I will.)

One of the things I’ve learned about exercising is that it really pays to keep track of what you’re doing and use that record to increase your effort incrementally. I say this as a person who is NOT an athletic type. I hid in the bathroom during gym class. Was always picked last for ANY team. The high school coaches would kind of curl their lips up when they saw me in the hallways. I used to brag that I never broke into more than a fast walk, for any reason.

Now I run on the treadmill three days a week and lift weights the other three, alternating upper and lower body. This is because I, um, got fat. And I’m vain. Plus I have a lot of books I want to write and I’d prefer to live a long and healthy life.

So, you guys know I’m a methodical person – and that I love my spreadsheets. I studied what I should do and started tracking. Knowing how much weight you used to lift and how much you’re lifting now gives you a really good sense of perspective. Plus, when I don’t exercise for a while – due to a business trip or vacation or stuffing my face with Christmas cookies – then I can really see the impact of that. I have to build back up to where I was. It’s a very real and marked phenomenon.

And it happens with writing, too.

I’ve long been tracking my daily wordcount goals and progress. For the last few months, I’ve been tracking my weekly and monthly progress as well. I want to know my patterns and what I’m capable of.

Thus, I have not only spreadsheets, but graphs! 😀

1_13 monthly wordcountThese are my monthly wordcounts for the last four months. October was a big push. I finished a couple of projects by Thanksgiving and then moved into doing a lot of editing. And stuffing my face with Christmas cookies.

I’d planned to hit things hard again in January, but you can see that I did not match my October performance. In a stunning coincidence – I am just now getting back to my pre-Christmas body fat and endurance levels physically, too.

Go figure.

But I think this is even more interesting.

1_13 weekly wordcountThis graph shows my weekly wordcount for January. The first and last weeks were both five day weeks (only counting January days), so they’d be likely lower regardless. Still – look at how I increased each week! This was immensely heartening for me to see, because I’d been focusing on not hitting my October levels and feeling like I wasn’t performing well. But each week, I did more. Even the last week of January, with the same number of days as the first week, shows a much better output.

The other thing these charts show me is that being in training really does matter. I can no more step into producing a high level of wordcount productivity after time off than I can jump back on the treadmill and expect to run as far or as fast as before all that cookie/face/stuffing.

Good to know, huh?

Now, go get your auntie a bottle of wine.

Not Running

I didn’t get good photos of the moonrise last night, but fortunately she hung around until I woke up this morning for a little repeat performance.

I haven’t been getting to run on the treadmill this week.

Yes, I know, I know, at one time in my life – hell, for a good chunk of my life so far – I would have embraced any excuse that prevented me from exercising, especially running.

(As a total aside, one of my all time movie scenes is from The Big Easy, when Dennis Quaid gets his cop cousins to “arrest” Ellen Barkin while she’s out jogging and bring her to a family party. Ellen is in her jogging shorts and sports bra, all sweaty in the New Orleans humidity and his mother looks her up and down, drawling “did he get you out of the bathtub, sugar?” Ellen says, “No, I was running.” And the mother, played by New Orleans native, Grace Zabriskie, gives her this LOOK and repeats “Running.” It’s a brilliant moment, how much incomprehension and pity for the dumb yankee Grace packs into one word.)

At any rate, I messed up my back a teensy bit – I think I compressed my sacrum and pinched a nerve while sea kayaking on the Bioluminescent Bay (still totally worth it) – and my in-house physician (David) says it would be better for me not to run for a few days. I have to admit he’s right. Running usually loosens up my back, but after doing a very low-key run on Monday, my lower back tightened up so much I couldn’t bend over. Which, I’m pretty sure, is a Bad Sign.

(I was also instructed not to wear heels of any sort, but that’s just too painful to discuss.)

(I’m clearly feeling quite parenthetical today.)

So he’s been treating me and that helps a bunch. But it’s interesting to note how much I miss my morning workout. No running. No weight-lifting. It’s not like I’m ahead of schedule without it either. I get up at the same time, but apparently I just blog more slowly or something.


Maybe I can run tomorrow.

Running. Heh.

After the First Mile

David and I have been dragging rear a bit this week. It’s probably a mild virus, possibly something that hitchhiked from the tropics. Not awful, but we haven’t been hopping up and hitting the gym like usual.

Today, though, we mustered up the will power and did the workout. Afterwards, David said, “It didn’t feel good at first, but after the first mile, I got my rhythm and then it felt great.”

You know me – I thought of writing.

I’ve been working my way back into the groove this week with Middle Princess. I know I’ve talked about it before, how difficult it can be to get back into the writing every day and, more, trying to hit at least 1,000 words/day. A lot of people out there are doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which calls for 50,000 words in the month, or about 1,666 words/day.

For me, I’ve really found that that first mile is really the hardest. Wordcount-wise, it’s somewhere around the first 350-400 words. Those can be painful and take forever to get out, but after that, it starts to feel good. Oh sure, some days I have to eke out to the very end, but often if I can just get past the 500 word mark, I can go pretty easily.

David said he thinks the hormones kick in after the first mile and I said, no, that shouldn’t be the case, because I see it with the writing like this.

What I think it is? The subconscious. Our subconscious is like a little kid or a pet. They like to play, to have fun, to run around and enjoy life. It’s the conscious, the left brain, who says “no more goofing off. you’re going to sit down and accomplish something.”

No, the subconscious doesn’t like hearing this. And, like a toddler or a puppy, it will test you.

Oh look! A yummy book to read!

Oh, let’s go outside!

What’s going on in Twitter-land?

If we want to get something done, we have to keep gently steering the subconscious back on task. I do mean gentle. If you scream at it, it’ll shut down and sulk.

But, if you keep running on the treadmill, keep tapping those keys, eventually the subconscious will play along. Then it starts to have fun. And, that, my friends, is when you hit the glory point.

It’s there. Believe me.

Strawberry Moon Interludes

I was so het up to discuss my fashion emergency yesterday, that I forgot to mention that I skipped over to Karen Katchur’s blog, to talk about fitness and writing.

No, I haven’t gotten one of those treadmill desks. Mostly because I think it would look ugly in my office. Priorities, people!

The other thing I’ve been forgetting to mention is that I’ll be in Memphis this weekend. The River City Romance Writers are hosting me on Saturday and we’ll be talking about novellas and “writing tight.” Should be very fun. The rest of the time you’ll likely find me wandering Beale Street with a frozen daiquiri in my hand.

If all goes as planned, that is.

Today I find myself between projects. I remember this feeling, from when I was only a reader. I’d finish a novel and, still swimming in the lovely world the author had created, try to decide what to do next. More often than not, I’d turn back to the first page and start over again. Or go through and re-read my favorite bits – which usually morphed into a full second read anyway.

Then I’d choose the next book. Sometimes this would be dictated by school, or by what was due at the library soon. But every once in a while I enjoyed the luxury of spreading out all the waiting books and selecting whatever seemed most exciting.

I’m kind of there right now.

I’ve sent off all my “supposed to’s.” All my deadlines, internal and external, have been met. I’m holding off until after the RWA conf on one novel. The other is out. I’m all caught up.

Work is quiet, too. I’d really pushed to finish things, both in work and writing, because I anticipated this month would get crazy. But the projects haven’t come in yet. They’re still hovering on the horizon, like storm clouds that will eventually gain enough momentum to swoop down on us.

But for now the sun is shining and I feel like I should be making hay. Instead I’m kind of lying in the grass, lazily eating strawberries.

The Strawberry moon is a gentle moon, isn’t she? Full and sweet, serene in the twilight sky.

I might sit here and enjoy it, just a little longer.

Deadlines, Lifelines and the Test of Personality

“Still Life: Snow on Luminarias”


It’s snowing!!!

Okay, I know a lot of you out there have had way more than enough of the stuff, or have been drowning in rain, but we’ve had an unseasonably mild and dry winter so far. I’m a Colorado girl from way back and I like a little snow with my Christmas. We might even get heavy snow.

We’re snow-globe socked-in and I’m chortling with glee.

Perhaps I should break out into a little mash-up of snow songs. Don’t worry – I’ll lip synch.

I hit a personal best on the treadmill this morning: 1.45 miles in 20 minutes. Yeah, all the athletic people just snickered. I know it’s not much. But going that fast pushed my heart rate up over 170, which is pretty high. I’ll have to stay at this level for a while to try to condition it down. I’d like to get up to 2 miles in 20 minutes, which is the military conditioning threshold. We’ll see. As I’ve likely mentioned before, running is not my forte.

But I’ve been working hard at it, gradually improving, shedding body fat by incremental percentages. When I realized I would cross this barrier while running this morning, something odd popped into my head. Something about the thought that it’s taken me a couple of years to get my conditioning at least this good made me remember a conversation with a friend about writing.

She had done what a surprising number of people do: decided to write a book, sell it and become a successful author. She’d quit her job and given herself one year to succeed.

This also falls under the “after all, it’s only genre-writing, it’s not like it’s hard” umbrella.

When she had not sold in the year – indeed, when she hadn’t really completed a full manuscript, instead constantly revisiting the first three chapters in response to critique – she asked me how long I’d given myself.

The question surprised me. It had never occurred to me to impose a deadline on my work that way. In some ways, it would be like me saying that if I can’t run 2 miles in 20 minutes by next December, I’ll quit running. I suppose at some point in the future I’ll be too decrepit to make that goal. Though that image is kind of amusing to contemplate.

“Just help me out of this wheelchair and onto the treadmill – I’ll be fine!”

For those who know me, this is actually a plausible scenario.

At any rate, unlike ballerinas and football players, writers have no natural retirement age. If we keep our minds sharp, we can keep writing on our deathbeds. Many have.

My friend was shocked when I said that I gave myself as long as it takes. But then, she and I have very different ways of looking at the world.

The subject of personality has been making the rounds of our online community lately. Patrick Alan summed it up yesterday on his blog. It’s fun to look at our astrological influences or the slightly more scientific personality assessment of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), which is interestingly built on Jungian theory.

I come out as an INTJ, which is apparently a small group. It means I’m an Introvert, Intuitive, Thinker, Judger. The other ends of these are extrovert, sensing, feeling and perceiving. It’s apparently unusual for a person who prefers intuition to rely on thinking instead of feeling. And it’s odd for an introvert to use judgment instead of perception, because it focuses on outer instead of inner.

That’s me: an odd duck.

But it’s useful to me to look at the summation for INTJ:

For INTJs the dominant force in their lives is their attention to the inner world of possibilities, symbols, abstractions, images, and thoughts. Insight in conjunction with logical analysis is the essence of their approach to the world; they think systemically. Ideas are the substance of life for INTJs and they have a driving need to understand, to know, and to demonstrate competence in their areas of interest. INTJs inherently trust their insights, and with their task-orientation will work intensely to make their visions into realities.

In some ways, it was a revelation to me to read this. “A driving need to understand, to know, and to demonstrate competence in their areas of interest” is where I live. Why do I want to succeed as a novelist when I’ve arguably already succeeded as a writer, particularly as an essayist? Because I have a driving need to demonstrate competence in my area of interest. For me, the rider on this is that it really doesn’t matter to me how long it takes.

I don’t know that I’d call running on the treadmill an area of interest, but this undoubtedly plays in there, too. My vision of me, sleek as a gazelle running, if not like the wind, then like a brisk breeze.

Remember I’ve got that rich inner world going here.

Apparently most of us writers tend to be introverts, which is why we’re happy sitting alone, writing, in the first place. Patrick Alan says he’s an ENFP, which makes me wonder how he does it. I notice that, though we’re opposites in three of four categories, we’re both intuitives. I suspect most writers are.

So, do you know your MBTI? And has it helped you understand anything about the way you work?

Top Form

I got back on the treadmill today.

In the best possible way. People like to use the treadmill as an analogy for the endless run of effort an unhappy life can feel like. Running as fast as you can to stay in the same place. Exertion without direction. It’s a valid analogy.

But it’s not how I feel.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a natural exerciser. In my vainglorious youth, back when I could eat anything and never show it, I liked to say that I only walk, never run. Hey – I was a teenager. I thought it was cute to say things like that.

Now I run. Because I have to. But I’m not a natural runner. The treadmill keeps me on track. I don’t have to worry about if I’m slowing down (which, left to my own devices, inevitably occurs) or how far I’ve gone. I set my speed and my time; all that’s left for me to deal with is keeping going. Thus, for me, the treadmill is about consistency and discipline. It’s all about daily progress.

No more eating whatever strikes my fancy – like the birthday crab-fest above – or lolling about drinking wine and being lazy. I’ve worked it out of my system. It feels good to reapply the discipline, work back into stretch of muscles and the glow of a healthy sweat.

I might even try to pick up the speed a little.

The Treadmill

Long a symbol of going nowhere, the treadmill seems a creature of tedium rather than agent of chaos that can unseat you. This is the treadmill’s secret weapon. It camoflages itself as the slow and steady, the reliable pace at a given incline. It lulls you with its consistency. Waits for that moment, the brief break of inattention to attack.

This morning, David was running next to me on the treadmill at a steady pace, when he snagged his hand in the cord running from his MP3 player to his headphones. The MP3 fell, hit the belt, which zinged the little box like a bullet. I heard the SNAP crack through my own music and looked over to meet the equally startled gaze of the guy on the elliptical on the other side of David. Between us, David also looked around for his player, and promptly zinged off the back of the treadmill himself.

I’d done it once, too. One of the first times I went to the rec center, back when my lack of fitness and excess body fat confined me to walking the treadmill. I walked slowly, steadily. It was pretty dull, really. When I decided to pull off my sweatshirt, I didn’t give it a second thought. Of course I can keep walking at a normal pace, especially one regulated for me, while pulling off a shirt.

But as soon as my eyes were muffled — I zinged off the end of the treadmill. Nearly into the laps of some innocent people walking around the track. I flailed a bit, still caught in my sweatshirt. A bit confused about what happened, but still pretty much on my feet. Behind me, the treadmill softly chuckled to itself.

I suppose it’s a lesson in attention. That even the most dull and reliable features of our lives can suddenly throw us to the side in a heap. Perhaps it’s the most dull and reliable that bear the most watching. Those things that become so familiar we cease to pay attention to them. We get comfortable, trust them to pace along at exactly the settings we’ve previously designated and turn our attention to other things.

One of these days, we’ll know better.