Thursday, October 23, 2014

Word Count Envy: A Pep Talk for Slow Writers

It’s all too easy to feel inadequate as a writer of fiction. So many opportunities to embrace self-doubt arise during the writing process it’s remarkable any writer has ever managed to complete a book.

Are the characters fully developed? Does the plot make sense? Is the manuscript riddled with continuity errors? Does the sentence structure create a natural flow for the reader? Should the story be told by a first person narrator, a third person limited narrator, a third person omniscient narrator, or a biased, secondary, first person narrator? Is my grammar flawed? Does the book I just finished writing tell the same story as the book I began writing eight months ago?

There’s almost no way to keep some of these doubts from lodging in your brain and festering, but there is one often self-imposed hurdle that should be avoided right from the start: fear of inadequate productivity.

It seems no matter where you turn for writing advice – blogs, books, magazines, chatrooms, social media – everyone has a firm idea about how many words you should write each day to consider yourself a serious writer. Two-thousand words a day and one-thousand words a day are the most common numbers you’ll see handed down as required output. They are preached so frequently and so adamantly that not achieving them can weigh heavily on your authorial conscience.

The problem with expecting to write thousands of words a day is it isn’t always realistic, particularly if you are, like me, not a full-time writer.

When I see comments by other authors on blogs or in group discussion threads in which they tout their daily word count, some reporting as much as 8,000 words during the course of a single weekend, a fleeting sense of envy often surges through me. My current work in progress is thoroughly outlined and my enthusiasm for it is boundless, so why can’t I achieve a similar level of productivity?

The answer is simple. I can’t write 8,000 words in one sitting, or two, or even three. It isn’t the way my brain works, and it might not be the way your brain works, either.

After a maximum of 1,000 words, my brain wants to go back and reread what it just produced. My brain wants to take in the latest effort and consider it, make certain it accomplishes what it should, and ensure it will lead me properly to the next thousand words. I learned a long time ago that forging ahead without the full consent of my brain yields only page after page of substandard writing.

There’s also the matter of time.

I have a job, and three teenage kids, and friends, and family, and a dog, and a house, and a life, and all of the experiences and requirements that come along with all those things. In order to remain a viable activity, writing has to take a back seat to the primary responsibilities that provide steady income and make life worth living in the first place. Not only do some days pass without my having an opportunity to write, sometimes entire weeks will pass without the first word of fiction being set to paper. If I allowed every day that passed without accomplishing any writing to impact my belief that I am a good writer with a good story to tell, then I would have given up trying years ago.

If you need a 2,000-word goal in order to keep motivated, then set that goal and achieve it. Does a one-page-a-day goal work better for you? Go for it. Is it enough that you take the time, when you have it to spare, and do as much as you can? If you don’t have a publisher pressing you to meet a deadline, yes.

The best any of us can do is experiment with writing and find a level of productivity that is sustainable. Just keep in mind, it isn’t how many words you’re able to churn out on a daily basis that matters most. It’s the quality of the final product.

2014 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I'm not one to buy into mass hysteria.

I've never lost sleep worrying that aliens were going to abduct me, or that I would receive an anthrax-laced letter, or a package in the mail with a return address of "Unabomber." I don't have an irrational fear of Obamacare death panels, or a globalized one-world government designed to subvert our Constitution, or the infiltration of Federal government agencies by the Muslim Brotherhood.

I don't believe Amazon is continuously conniving to find ways of keeping the 37 cents in royalties I make on book sales each month, and I don't think McDonalds is doing anything more disgusting to its meat than any maker of ground meat products has been doing for centuries -- ever hear of blood sausage?

Then there's the newest scare, the Ebola epidemic, the edge of which we presently stand so precariously close to we find it necessary to have the TSA taking temperatures of passengers arriving on international flights. I'm sure that process is being handled with the same efficiency TSA employs at all other stages of the screening process. (If they used a rectal thermometer, they could speed things up by taking temperatures and performing cavity searches at the same time. Sounds like good multi-tasking to me.) And Fox so-called News pundits are even calling for shutting down our borders until we all feel safe again, which is ridiculous. So long as middle-aged, overweight French-Canadians wearing Speedos continue to swarm the beaches of upstate New York every summer, I'll never feel safe.

You see, as horrible as Ebola is, it's just one more thing in a long line of things that could, under the proper circumstances, kill me. There were roughly 16,000 homicides in the United States last year, roughly 35,000 car crash fatalities, and roughly 580,000 cancer-related deaths. Even the common flu kills tens of thousands -- in some years hundreds of thousands -- of people worldwide, so Ebola is going to have to kick things up a notch for me to start sizing my kids for HazMat suits.

Under current conditions, I stand as much chance of contracting Ebola as I do of being struck by lightning while a shark bites off my leg in a crashing airplane in the middle of a hurricane.

But this kind of thinking doesn't offer any solace to those who are overdue for a really good panic attack over something beyond their control. Our culture has been conditioned to live in dread of the outside world for so long that we simply don't know what to do with ourselves if there isn't some great bogeyman sneaking around to fear. And what makes Ebola a really meaty candidate for mass hysteria is that there's no conspiracy theory needed to get the public all riled up about it. It's a contagious disease, pure and simple, and because one person has died and another has contracted the disease, we now have to shutter the windows and bolt the doors until the big bad virus goes away.

Well, I will have none of it, thank you very much. 

While I won't do anything silly to place myself in a precarious position -- such as, say, plan a nice holiday vacation to Liberia or Sierra Leone -- I refuse to live in fear. I will, however, avoid blood sausage, but who could blame me for that?

© 2014 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Red Sock, Blue Sock

A tribute to Dr. Seuss, or a glimpse of a day in the life of a busy family? You decide. All I know is we had two mismatched socks and my daughter was cranky (really!), so I wrote a poem. I'm warning you now that this isn't a very good poem, but then I never have liked poetry. You can blame Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" for that. Anyway, here it is:

Red sock, blue sock, one, two, three.
What's up with the day’s laundry?
There’s one sock here where two should be.
Red sock, blue sock, one, two, three.

Sleepy, sleepy, one, two, three.
My daughter’s cranky as can be.
She threw a banana muffin at me.
Sleepy, sleepy, one, two, three.

Inside, outside, one, two, three.
The dog won’t make a poop or pee.
I walked her 'round the block with me.
Inside, outside, one, two, three.

Nagging, nitpick, one, two, three.
The twins are passive aggressively
Sniping at each other incessantly.
Nagging, nitpick, one, two, three.

Red sock, blue sock, one, two, three.
Really  laundry – seriously?
The machine is eating my BVDs!
Red sock, blue sock, one, two, three.

Turn the clock back, one, two, three.
Our daughter looks like a young lady.
She’ll always be a little girl to me.
Turn the clock back, one, two, three.

Check my heart rate, one, two, three.
The dog just scared the heck out of me
By barking at something I cannot see.
Check my heart rate, one, two, three.

Open the window, one, two, three.
The twins’ room smells adolescently,
And now they’re starting to play hockey.
Open the window, one, two, three.

Growing older, one, two, three.
Spend a few moments leisurely
To enjoy the kids before they flee.
Growing older, one, two, three.

© 2014 Mark Feggeler