Every word counts

Every word you are reading right now has added to my daily word count.

Having a daily word count practice is a new and scary thing for me, something I’ve been hesitant to start. The last year was rough for the obvious reasons and I haven’t been writing at all, never mind daily. There was also a less obvious reason that held me back. See, last February I sent a novel out into the world. I sincerely believe that it was the best thing I’ve ever written. It took me a year to write it, and then another year and a half to edit it. I didn’t have any other irons in the fire that whole time, other than a story for LSQ. I don’t regret that choice because it was what that particular story required.

I released that book and then lockdown happened and I got sick. My creativity dried up along with a lot of other activities. Like many of you, it was enough to show up for work and take care of myself. Later last year I also started a new job that has me working harder than ever before. There has been no engine, no fuel, for me to write anything but code and Slack messages. At some point in that process, I gave myself permission to stop worrying about it. It’s not what I wanted, but acknowledging that my creativity wasn’t available was some of the best self-care I could do and I don’t regret it.

Of course a small, fragile part of me kept a lookout. I know in my heart I’m not done with writing, I know there are stories yet to come. Over the course of this year, I’ve been slowly circling around what it means for me to be a writer. What can I possibly have to say after all that’s gone on in the world? Much to my pleasant surprise, very recently ideas and thoughts have been surfacing. They’re small, wee little things that I hold in my mind like baby chicks. They feel like little miracles, as humble as they are, and I’m doing what I can to protect them from the big, mean world. They’re especially wonderful because they are not the same old, same old. It seems my mind has returned to the land of Storytelling in ways I wasn’t expecting.

The first inkling I had that I may return to writing was a spontaneous story I made up about a few people I saw in a parking lot. It was little more than an “oh, what if” idea, but it was definitely the start of something. Every time I’ve gone back to that spot, I’m reminded of those two people and another little piece of the story formulates in my mind. This is something I haven’t put down to paper other than a single line of a story hook. Doesn’t matter, it’s a seed planted and growing. Conveniently, we’re in the summer here, when such things can thrive and bear fruit.

Next, I worked on a “playbook” for a pastoral RPG called Wanderhome. This was nice, very low pressure work. I’ve been wanting to do some kind of game writing for ages and the gentle setting of Wanderhome was the perfect home for an idea for a character type that I’ve been carrying around for a while. Writing this was more about ideas and shape and character than traditional storytelling. Happily, this led to a further need to scratch the game-making itch I’ve carried for years, and I’m currently in a similar process of designing a humble map-based adventure game. I don’t know that I’ll do any “professional” work like this, but it’s a brilliant hobby.

Itchi.io, despite being focused on indie video game publishing, has become an interesting little haven for writers of weird RPGs and zinesters. I haven’t written a zine in many years, but I’ve never felt like I was “done” with that format. I began to wonder what would happen if I combined my love of zines with my love of writing drabbles. This thinking has led to a series of zines I’m now planning. I also get to stretch my design muscles again, which is pure bonus points.

Finally, just a week ago, one of LSQ’s editors mentioned the miniature 1000 words of summer writing challenge (thank you, Margaret!) and another acquaintance showed me 4thwords.com. I began to wonder, what if I allowed myself to write every day? I’ve done it in the past for things like NaNoWriMo, but that level of word count is not sustainable for the long term. I could definitely do 1k words for a week, though. I also remember quite clearly that NaNo brain was really good at turning off my inner editor. Words just flow, and that’s one of the things that hasn’t been happening for me for the last year.

4thewords is writing, gamified. I know some would roll their eyes at this idea, but I’ve been using Habitica for years now to keep my personal life and LSQ on track. The model works for me. I like battling monsters, okay? Frankly, if I’m self-aware about it, the little dopamine hit I get from defeating the forces of evil with my keyboard fills in the gap that regularly publishing fanfic used to give me. If I want to keep things small, but sustainable, this kind of tool fills the gap when my motivation lags.

When this post goes live, I’ll be in the midst of that 1k per day sprint. I’m excited and a little scared, but in that good way that tells me I’m challenging myself and growing. I also can’t wait to see what comes out of that work, if there’s anything that will be worth shaping further. When that’s all over, the daily 444 word count practice outlined on 4thewords will begin in earnest. How many days can I go? A month, a year? I’ll let you know when I defeat the boss, or put out another book, whichever comes first.

When I look back at the last four months or so, I can see a steady, organic shift back to my creativity. I did this intentionally, noting when inspiration appeared and nurturing it, but this time I put no pressure on any of it. I allowed it to happen, while holding it gently. Most importantly, it centered around things I love: writing that makes me happy, different mediums, and a sense of playfulness that I haven’t allowed myself for a long time. I think that regardless of how 2020 went, I was still going to have to go through some of this process, and that’s okay. I’m returning with more wisdom about myself and I can better recognize the kind of writing I want to do and maybe even how I want to do it.

I encourage you all to take a brief look at what’s driving you, regardless of where you’re using your energy. In your creative work, in the books you read, in any facet of your life that needs a little attention. Look for things you love. There are treasures there, yet to be discovered. Onward! To adventure!