A New Phase of Writing: Life After the Streak

I did my first post-streak writing at lunch today. It was the first time in about 10 days that I’d written anything, after having spent the previous 825 days writing every day. Everything about the writing today was new. Driving home from work a few days ago, I realized that I had entered a new phase in my writing life.

Subconsciously, I needed a break from the old ways. I say “subconsciously” because, although my actions were conscious, I don’t think I realized what I was doing until I sat down to write. Several things were new.

1. I have a brand new keyboard, a das keyboard, the first mechanical keyboard I’ve ever had for one of my Macs, and I love it. I love the feel of it, and the clackity-clack of the keys are reminiscent of a typewriter. It feels different from what I’d been using for the past several years, and that alone made today’s writing a new experience for me.

2. I used Scrivener for my writing. After using Google Docs (and my Google Docs Writing Tracker) for the last 2-1/2 years, I wanted something new. I’d used Scrivener before, and it was nice to use it again. It was like playing ball in an old, but familiar ball field. I especially enjoyed the combination of Scrivener’s distraction-free mode combined with the clackity-clack of the keys on my new keyboard.

3. I started a brand new story writing in a style that I haven’t tried before. It was a a refreshing change, and while I didn’t write much–I didn’t have much time–it felt good.

4. I no longer cared about the stats. Today wasn’t about trying to get in the writing. It wasn’t about word counts. It was about doing something that felt good. It was like stretching my legs by taking a long walk in the woods. I wrote without the streak hanging over my head for the first time in over 2 years, and it was a completely different experience.


“Back it up,” I hear you saying, “you didn’t use your Google Docs Writing Tracker? Are you sick? What’s going on?”

With a little bit of distance, I realize now that writing every day had been phase of my writing career, one that is now over. It was an incredibly valuable phase. Among other things, I learned:

  • That I can write every day.
  • That I don’t need large blocks of time. Ten or twenty minutes will do.
  • That I don’t need preparation. I can start cold, and quickly.
  • That I can work at any time in the day when time is available.
  • That I can write in just about any circumstances. I don’t need quiet.

The streak also served to solidify my own writing process, whereby I write a draft for me, and then a draft for audience. That process has helped me produce more published stories than other process I’ve tried.

The Google Docs Writing Tracker served me well in this regard, because it was wired up to track everything automatically. All I had to do was write. The data that the writing tracker produced from my daily writing was useful to me in the same way experimental results are useful to a scientist studying a problem. I have enough data, and I’ve learned all the lessons I can learn from it. I no longer see a need for me to track things at that level.

At the same time, a new phase deserves a change. A new school year always started with new school clothes for me. The new keyboard and a different writing tool are the new clothes I needed to begin the next phase of my writing education.


Still, there are some aspects of my automation that I am not quite willing to give up. One thing my Google Docs Writing Tracker did was keep track of what I wrote each day: what I added, changed, or deleted from each piece. I like having the evolutionary history of the things that I write, and I didn’t want to lose that. But I also didn’t want to spent rewriting the Google Docs Writing Tracker to support my own personal quirks for Scrivener. So I went in a different direction.

After each writing session, I am now checking my work into Github (in a private repository, of course). Doing this allows me to see the changes I make each time I write, and I can use simple Git commands to see the history of anything I write, if I am interested. This captures the history of my creation in more-or-less realtime, and that is good enough for me.


 

I no longer feel like I need to know how much I’ve written each day. I know now that when I feel like writing, I can write, and it doesn’t matter if I write for 10 minutes or write only 150 words. The accumulation gets the job done. If there is a new coin of the realm it is how many things I can complete, and publish. But I’m not quite there yet. In this new phase of my writing, I am focusing on improving my craft–quality, not quantity. With everything I’ve learned over the last few years, and without the strain of the streak over my head, can I write better stories?

The idea that I no longer need to know how much I write is surprisingly liberating. Instead of the word, I’m free to focus on a different scale: the story.

 

 

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