My 750 Words a Day

I’ve been wanting to do more writing, but have had trouble getting in the habit. I got some inspiration recently, though, from a podcast series done by Mike Nelson of MST3K and Rifftrax fame, where he and a friend read and discussed Ready Player One, the best-selling book that’s being made into a movie. I haven’t read it, but based on the excerpts they shared, it sounds as if Tommy Wiseau (The Room) and James Nguyen (Birdemic: Shock and Horror) co-wrote a sci-fi novel. If something that bad can sell millions of copies, I have no excuse for not getting words on paper.

So I’m setting myself a requirement of 750 words per day, which I will be posting here. That seems to be a common limit people use. No particular topic for now, just whatever I can think of. If I can’t think of anything, I’ll write about how I can’t think of anything.

A tip I recall from Piers Anthony’s autobiography: when he was writing (with pencil and paper, back then) and got stuck, it was usually because his mind wandered to something else. So he would just put an open bracket and write about the other thing until his mind came back to his original story, then close the bracket and go on. When writing the final manuscript, he would skip the bracketed sections, but sometimes he would find ideas for other stories inside those brackets. Since I’m writing in org-mode, I can go one better: distracting ideas can be captured into separate tasks which will come up to be refiled later.

I’m always tempted to edit as I write. Most of my blog posts and other writing online are first and last drafts, except for spell-checking and very minor editing. Although I went to what was considered a good school, we really didn’t do much writing that I recall. Most papers were 500 words or so, which I could plan out in my head and then slap down on paper in one go; and I’m still writing that way, editing at the end of each sentence, or even mid-sentence. That’s not really very efficient, which is probably why it’s tiring and seems daunting to start. So I’m going to make myself just write and not try to edit on the fly. This writing isn’t for anything, so it doesn’t have to be perfect, and if I happen to write something with potential here, I can come back and edit and shine it up later.

I’m writing in org-mode, an organizer mode for Emacs that does a whole lot of other things. I should write more about org-mode itself, because it’s great. For this project, it’ll allow me to set a reminder which pops me right into this project. When I finish an article, I’ll hit C-c C-e H H to publish it right to my blog. It’ll be easy to search for ideas later, and it’s already set to back everything up with version control. I also have it on my phone, and though that’s not a practical place to write, I can capture topic ideas there and import them to my workstation later.

I’ve been assembling a list of ways to think of topics. One interesting idea comes from James Lileks. He found a box of old matchbooks that someone had collected from motels across the country. So he created a character called Joe Ohio, a traveling salesman. Each day he would pull out a matchbook and write for 30 minutes about Joe visiting that location. He came up with some pretty good stories, and was talking about turning it into a novel, though I don’t think that ever happened.

So ideas can come from anywhere, but they have to come from somewhere. I think I have enough ideas and ways to generate ideas that I shouldn’t have the “I can’t think of anything to write about” excuse. With gardening season coming up, there’s always that. I also need to write for some work projects, so I could do double-duty on some of those.

I did the podcast thing for a while last year, and I might get back to that when the weather warms up. It was nice to sit outside in the shade, away from my desk, for that. It’s probably not going to be my thing, though. To keep from outright rambling, I needed to have some kind of outline in place, much like I’d do in my head before writing a post, so it wasn’t the labor-saving exercise I thought it would be. It turns out talking into a microphone extemporaneously is a skill that requires practice, not something just anyone can do off-hand.

750 words is a lot of words, when you actually pay attention.