500 words of drivel a day

Dictionary.com definitions of drivel:

1. saliva flowing from the mouth, or mucus from the nose; slaver.
2. childish, silly, or meaningless talk or thinking; nonsense; twaddle.

When my I committed to my ROW80 goal at the beginning of April, my stated aim was to write 40,000 words of my novel-in-progress by July 1, what I estimate I need to finish a first draft.

The good news: At the halfway mark in time I am only a bit shy of 15,000 words from my goal.

I have never written this way before: full steam ahead, plowing onward, plunging into the abyss, charging forth, a full-court press—however you might want to describe moving forward relentlessly without much regard to quality.

In other words, I’m a virtual crap-generating machine!

In the past, my writing routine included spending the first half of each day’s allotted time editing the previous day’s work before writing new material. Now, on my way to the goal, there’s no editing (well, maybe a tiny bit, now and then, when I just can’t help it.)

This approach has turned out to be both immensely satisfying and immensely anxiety-provoking. Satisfying because, at the end of each writing session, I tally up the word count and find myself closer to my goal. Anxiety-provoking because I hear a little voice in my head that says, “Don’t get too attached to all those words. You’ll be throwing half of them away when you go back and edit.”

But even the inevitable throwing away won’t be a bad thing. For the first time in my life I feel capable of jettisoning large passages that might not work (already I have chucked—well, cut and pasted into my save-for-some-other-time file—large sections of chapters that just didn’t fit). It’s much easier to toss a quickly scribbled passage than one I spent hours polishing until I fell in love with it simply because of how much time I’ve spent on it.

When I’m done shoveling in the garden I’ll come in and shovel through my manuscript.

The writing-to-goal approach also has kept me writing on days when I feel, shall we say, less than inspired. In the past I might have simply stopped after a few sentences in hopes that the muse would visit again tomorrow. Now I force myself to write on. Often what comes out seems like drivel (either definition 1 or 2 will do), uninspired prose that nobody would want to read. Yet often, by the third or fourth paragraph, something shifts, and I find myself in a groove, writing on past the 500-word mark to 1,000 or more. Even if I eventually throw away the first 500 words, I never would have gotten to the good part without first wading through the crap.

So I say, three cheers for drivel. And for the shovel I’ll use to toss it away when the time comes.

What about you? Do you edit-as-you-go or all at once? And where do you shovel all that stuff that doesn’t belong in the story?

12 thoughts on “500 words of drivel a day

  1. I’m more of a hybrid. I tried a draft 1000 words a day 5 days a week when I’m drafting. But usually around the 20,000 to 30,000 word mark, I start to lose my way. That’s what I regroup and edit everything I’ve written. Then I’m usually more focused and able to knock out another 20,000. this also means that my beginning is in way better shape than my ending. 🙂

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    • So interesting that you need to regroup around 30K… My next blog post will probably talk about how I recently reached what felt like a stopping point in my words-per-day momentum. I’m doing exactly what you said–going back and editing (albeit from the beginning since I think I’m almost done). But it’s odd how the story will speak out about how long it wants to be, regardless of the goals one sets.

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  2. I do edit as i go, I can’t seem to help it, but I don’t think it is the best approach for me. I can get stuck in one spot and keep going over and over it rather than pressing on. I lose the motivation and motion this way.

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  3. I’m an edit-as-you-go person (all hail the word processor!) I would never want to keep count and judge myself by how many words I’d written. For me, it’s about getting the story right. I’m sure this is just an individual thing, though. Everyone should do what works for them.

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    • Thanks for sharing what works for you. It’s so interesting to hear how different writers approach the process. For me, hitting the word count (or not) hasn’t involved any judgment. I’ve used it as a tool to keep me driving toward my goal.

      The other shoe has yet to drop, however. If I find that EVERYTHING I wrote by this method was drivel and I essentially have to start all over when I begin editing, then I will probably return to my former edit-as-I-go method–even if it means taking seven years to finish a book. Stay tuned!

      (How did we ever write longhand or by typewriter, I wonder? I know some people still do!)

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  4. I think that you’re almost at your goal is awesome! Truly.

    I find that I do best when plowing ahead, writing without editing and then later revisiting.

    I can be my own worst critic, my own biggest barrier to writing anything at all. So I write. And write. And write.

    And while much of what I write may not be useful, some of it will be wonderful.

    Some of it will not only be useful and wonderful but, also, through the act of climbing, one step at a time, I’ll get somewhere unexpectedly beautiful. And for that, it’s worth it!

    So, I say: Write on!!

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    • Write on is right! I had the slightly depressing experience today of cutting out a couple of pages that I knew would never work and watching my word count go down :-(. But it had to be done…

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  5. I used to edit-as-I-go, but I don’t think it was the best approach for me. I am too Type A. So, although I’m still in the outlining phase of my newest novel, I recently finished the first draft of an 11,000 word short story. No editing. Just straight writing. Now I’ll go back to edit, and hopefully lose at least 10% of what I wrote (Stephen King’s advice) and tighten things up. As I haven’t started editing yet, I can’t give you my final verdict, but I will say it is much more liberating to just write with abandon instead of going back and critiquing everything I wrote the day before.

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  6. Hi Audrey,
    You make such a brilliant point about how much easier it is to jettison passages you wrote quickly, than those you agonised over. If ever there’s an argument for this kind of free-flow writing then that’s it. I used to find it impossible to cut anything from my writing, and I’d put off editing because I knew I’d want to keep everything – so what was the point? Now I have learned how to be comfortable (ish) with cutting – in fact, so much so that right now as I’m doing my final-final read-through before publication, if I come across a line that doesn’t work I’m just thinking, ‘Oh, what the hell – just cut it out!’. And it’s quite liberating really 🙂
    Good luck with the ROW80 x

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