Daily Writing Exercise

Over on Libby Sommer’s blog about writing, she and I engaged in a dialog following her article “Turning Towards the Inner Critic.”  I had mentioned starting to develop some word counts greater than 2,000 in my “Daily Writing Exercise” that I had derived based on “No Plot, No Problemas well as the ideas of others.  (At this point I should explicitly mention Julie Cameron’s “The Artists Way” also since encountering her “morning pages” circa 2003 was my earliest exposure to this family of ideas.)

Libby, in the course of the dialog, asked this:

“the word counts might be large, but does the writing itself make interesting reading?”

I replied:

“Not necessarily. BUT it DOES create a “farm” of material that can be drawn upon to produce material that *IS* interesting, and it is a innoculation against writers block. And, as an aside, it seems to help organize me. I look back at old exercises and draw the conclusion: “Oh. That was important. I dropped it. Better get on it.” Extra helpful in that way, a bit like the oddball photos I take of people, signs, things around the house, and so forth. (“Hmm. What was that a picture of? Oh, it was the parking garage next to that excellent restaurant that we went to a year ago but never made it back to. Maybe time to go there again.”) Can’t count the number of times a picture like that returned me to somewhere I wanted to go (or warned me about somewhere I didn’t).”

However, some writers (more than a few, notably Hemingway) focused on low word counts (500 words per day for Hemingway) but absolutely the highest quality writing that they could muster.  By the end of their session, the likelihood of future edits was greatly reduced or maybe even eliminated.

So, I offer the idea to my readers: which do you prefer?  Now I know that some will say “both!”  (That is the direction I am heading, and I think that is obvious.  Do the “maximum output” exercise first, to “warm up,” and then “squeeze out” the few hundred words of “high quality” once the “writer’s block” (and excuses) are gone.)  BUT, noting that, consider what you would do if only ONE of them were an option.  Which would you pick?  Why?

Update: Libby has notified me that she has a piece on this topic located here: https://libbysommer.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/exercising-the-writing-muscle/

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Author: Grandtrines

Like so many people, I am a paradox. I am a politically conservative vegetarian. I am from a Christian background, and still tend to like those values, but am a metaphysical astrologer trained in science who has an interest in the magic of ancient Egypt and a weird belief that some piece of our essence can live on a server. I live in Texas, but like chatting with my international Wordpress pals the best. I learn by teaching. Technically, I am a "Leo," but I am very, very Aquarian with a dose of Scorpio. I bitterly complain about Algol (and Algol personaliites), yet it is the one star that defines me most (other than Regulus). (Which, oddly, makes me an Algol personality.) I am a reclusive lover of peace and quiet who has the Ascendant in the Via Combusta (the most conflict ridden part of the zodiac). I am an incredibly private person with a blog with over 800 followers and 50 to 150 regular daily visitors. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

46 thoughts on “Daily Writing Exercise”

  1. I don’t care about word count. A well structured haiku can be just as impressive as a full length novel. If the message is clear, you’re done. When blogging, however, it seems that posts under 300 words simply don’t appear in search results regardless of the message, so if you want to be read on the internet you may have to elaborate on your subject. Happy writing!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. That’s a powerful point: it depends upon the form (haiku, short story, novel, generic blog post) that you are using and the genre you target. (Good point!)

      Liked by 6 people

      1. And there’s another thing. Not being a professional writer, I’m happy to be able to decide on my own production rate instead of meeting agents’ and publishers’ requirements.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. That is an interesting point, also. But, many people who are not writing as an employee or contractor still use target word counts (when writing prose but probably not poetry and certainly not haiku). In the 1980’s I was trained to be a professional writer (NOT creative writing), and we talked about word counts though they were not the MAIN point. (“clarity and conciseness” was (or were?) the main point(s)) Still, aiming for a word count CAN be a way to avoid the “I will write something tomorrow” procrastination slide.

        Liked by 5 people

    2. I just posted something similar. I have to agree. The subject drives the wordiness and as long as the message is clear, the count doesn’t matter unless you are bound by one through your publisher or some such. Good point!

      Liked by 5 people

    3. I have used some of the books you mentioned. But to answer your question, my preference is to minimize. I know I can write 2000 words, but I can almost always get rid of about 1/4 on the first round of edits. Then I go through a few more times to rephrase for conciseness. I am now trying harder to write tight prose on the first pass, although that will take me time to master.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. So, do you do this as a daily practice / exercise? Something like producing the “perfect” 500 words in, say, half an hour?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No. I am not that consistent. In general, I try to get all my writing to be more terse from the start. That doesn’t always work, but I am aware of where I am too wordy and try to go back and tighten when I am finished. Sometimes I just don’t feel like editing. Some things continue to be a problem. Gerunds are an example.
        I am not a natural writer, and words never came to me with ease. As I aged, and with all the writing experience in my past, I started applying all I learned to the greatest degree possible. It’s a conscious task and I doubt that I will ever write with ease. For example, when I can’t think of the right word or synonym, I write a description and hope the word will come to me when I edit. The description adds too much length, but it’s the only way I can get through without losing a train of thought. If I think too long on a single word or phrase, I lose writing momentum. Sometimes writing too much in the initial draft helps keep me on track.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. The argument for what I call “spitting out words” is to move through any blocks in exactly the way you describe. If you encounter a block, then you just use other words until you can change it to something else (later, in another session) to prevent disrupting the flow. The other aspect is that, as a daily practice, over time the “practice effect” (like playing the piano regularly) removes almost all of the blocks altogether. After some time of practice, the blocks simply do not occur any more (unless you quit practicing, then all bets are off). I do like your idea of doing an edit session at the very end. Or, said differently, wrap up the writing exercise, maybe take a short break (go to the kitchen and prepare a beverage or something similar) and then go straight into an edit session. However, what I would probably do is to edit YESTERDAY’s session. (This would develop edit skills IN ADDITION to developing the writing skills, and I see those as two different sets of skills.) Thanks for a smart idea!

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Putting off editing to another session works for many people. I would end up re-writing or, worse, never getting back to it. Right now, I have something like 15 drafts sitting in my blogging space, most of which are from the past six months. Some go back years.
        The only time I put off editing immediately is when my replacement words, phrases, and sentences become too unwieldy to make Then I know I have to stop and come back. Usually, immediate editing works best for me. Different strokes, and all that. I am just one big enigma!
        Thanks for your insights!

        Liked by 2 people

      5. Sounds like the edit process is an “open loop” for you. ANOTHER idea for a blog post. Thank you! (But, sometimes “open loops” can be cured with timers, doing them at a restaurant an hour before closing time where you are forced to quit, etc.)
        Edit: I would like to clarify what I am saying here. (Was interrupted by a phone call.) “Open loop” processes lack feedback to regulate them. In some cases, this means that they can go on endlessly, or when something does eventually shut them down they have caused damage in some way (usually by consuming too many resources). Informally, we see this “in real life” in addiction where, say, a “normal” person has two drinks and quits but the alcoholic simply “cannot stop” until something external (“running out,” police officer, death) shuts down the process. This happens when people (including me) “get lost in the internet.” David Allen uses it informally to refer to what might also be called “unfinished business” that occupies our attention when we should be working on something else. See, also: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/19391/what-is-an-open-loop

        Liked by 2 people

      6. Not sure my reply went through. The gist of it is that, for me, setting aside for later editing usually results in a total re-write or, worse, permanent set-aside status. The only time I set aside is when my edits are worse than the original. At that point, I revert to the original and stop. Sometimes, it helps me to write something entirely different and then come back to the saved draft.
        Most people do better by setting aside for a day or so. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.
        Thanks so much for your responses and ideas, as well as the opportunity to discuss writing. 😀

        Liked by 2 people

  2. i am a fast and furious writer. i have moments when i write 20 or more pieces of flash fiction in 20 minutes then nothing for days heh.

    the thought of a long writing session males me wince. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wait. I think you misunderstand. My daily writing exercises have reached a point where I can (easily) write 2,000 words inside an hour. (I prefer them to be about half an hour, but lately I have been playing with bumping the count up.) I agree about short sessions, otherwise everything turns to poop. (If it becomes drudgery then I might as well clean the toilet. See, also: https://stillanotherwritersblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/damnit-or-we-are-all-just-little-factories/)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. original firefox phone with on screen keyboard. trying it. its awful. no autocorrect, reading stuffs hard, and when i fave wordpress posts it doesnt seem to show on my android tablet.

        i like firefox, i like the idea of the phone, but the first gen one was awful heh.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Working on a phone, or even a tablet, is really challenging. (Are you still trying to blog from a phone? Still using Firefox or something different now?)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. As it goes I do all my writing and blogging from a 7 inch tablet with a keyboard usually. Sounds daft but its worked for me. Been missing tablet and keyboard for last few days though, thats been maddening! ^^

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I think that can be a survivable combination. I have an iPad and Bluetooth keyboard available as an option. But I am old enough to have presbyopia, so I prefer the larger screen / fonts. (I use the tablet / keyboard away from home.)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I tend towards both as well. For me, it is driven primarily by the topic on hand though rather than a concerted effort to limit or expand my word count. For some topics, the wordier you get, the more diluted the topic becomes. Sometimes you do it because you’re maybe in the groove and penning down whatever comes to mind. Sometimes you’re talking about a sensitive topic or something personal and your inner ramblings exhibit themselves in your writing. Either way, maybe save off the writing and re-read/edit before publishing so it is less gushy? I tend to do this a lot. If I didn’t have a choice however, I’d probably pick writing with fewer words. This option forces you to think and channel your thoughts into a more concise prose while still retaining the original perspective. It brings to mind the phrase “a man of few words”. Usually such individuals say just enough to convey the exact meaning without going into a lengthy discourse. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Agreed. On blog postings (even comments), I always (or almost always) CUT before I post for precisely the point you mention. But, before that, (and to be honest) I “vomit words” so that I have something to cut down to produce the finished product. 2000 -> 1000 -> 500 -> 250 to 300. And, yes, depends on the topic. On an astrology blog post about a transit, I like to add in a ton of links to the work of others. Traditional webmasters freak out about this because “people are leaving your site.” But I *GET* traffic because I make my entries highly “value added.” (And, sometimes, people like the work of others better than mine. That’s the price I pay for learning lessons.)

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes I’ve seen a few bloggers link to another story on WordPress or elsewhere to reinforce their topic and I personally love it because it gives me another viewpoint, similar or polar to read. I ain’t leaving your site until I’ve read a post cover to cover!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. So, we agree on this, too! And, it raises another point: it isn’t JUST about word count because it is also about the strategies that “drive traffic” in an internet world.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I am a slow writer and prefer a weekly word count. When it is done I feel I am ‘allowed’ to do something else like watch tv or garden and not feel guilty. I find I need a fair bit of thinking time between words so I suppose I am leaning toward the quality before quantity side.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is an interesting point. I had not thought of a “weekly word count.” FocusWriter does show “streaks,” and this is a bit like what you are talking about. See, also: https://gottcode.org/focuswriter/ Since I am working more on Mac OSX now, and Focus Writer is triple platform, it is what I am using. Off Topic: But what I REALLY like best is YEdit (Windows only): http://www.spacejock.com/yEdit2.html YEdit is the ultimate minimalist editor for producing a focused writing session.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great idea! Coming out of a slump myself (as I explored the depths of my psyche with the help of four heavenly bodies in Cancer) writing a poem about emerging from this wonderful place which was also kind of a time out of time place certainly did help break the block.

    And I can see that taking time to get into some real conversations can be rewarding in addition to being good exercise. Keeping this art of conversation alive is an important thing in a world where people are using text speech all the time to the point of being nearly illiterate!

    That literally drives me crazy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The series of dialogs in the comments to this article are a style of dialog that differs from both face to face and texting. For anybody with the keen eye, they could be a sort of “template” for online dialog in a story somewhere else. (Exmaple: in “House of Cards” (Netflix, Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright), periodically the authors insert “text speech” as part of the story. This is occurring increasingly in more and more stories. Thank you for the insight!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I read this earlier and had to think on it. I’ve not been restricted in years. Since I write for pleasure now. I used to think it’s easier to write pieces short and highlight the main points. Keeping in mind many will skip over interesting articles if they feel overwhelmed by the size of it. However, I’ve found it harder to write with fewer words. Each word has to be exceptional, picking the very best. The larger number of words the quicker to write the piece. That’s just my experience. I hope I understood the post. Lol:)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think I agree, if I understand you. Once you start producing mountains of words, focusing on “fewer words” in the first draft is more challenging. Easier to spit out a large number then cut, cut, cut. (If cutting is needed.)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Not sure, but I think 300 to 500 words for a blog entry and no more than two pictures is probably best. I remember reading, somewhere, that if the “visitor” to the website have to press “Page Down” more than twice then they disappear (stop reading and leave).

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Honestly, I think it’s a matter of doing whatever is the best fit for you. Really, the most important outcome is to have something written. Whether you write fewer words of higher quality or more words of lesser quality doesn’t matter. And who’s to say someone can’t write a massive heap of words of very high quality in just one sitting? It can and does happen.

    I find that I need to write like a demon, to just keep churning the stuff out. The reason for this is that the vast majority of what I come up with is really not very good. Still, it’s a useful process as there will always be a lot of stuff to choose from at the end when I’m cobbling a final draft of something together. It’s nice to have a big lump of stuff there to work with, kinda like working clay on a pottery wheel. It needs to be shaped into something of value to the reader.

    That’s my take anyways. 😛

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We agree. I like the idea of spitting out large numbers of words because it provides something that can be shaped later. If you are not producing much, then you do not have much to work with. But, in the end, it is “whatever works.”

      Liked by 4 people

  8. how true your words are … word count or not, as long as it ‘is’ is what matters. love your thoughts of random photographs too!

    Wonderfully exquisite stuff … keep on keeping on and may your words continue to dazzle us.

    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am flattered! Thanks. I am glad you took the time to comment. It is really the comments that become the spice, if not the lifeblood, of any post like this.

      Liked by 1 person

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