Today’s lesson in my writing group was posed like it was a way out for the day, ‘we will forego today’s challenge if you can write a thousand words, any topic. It’s easier than you think.’
At first I asked if we could submit a photo instead of a thousand words, since a picture is worth…
Ah, don’t make me finish the joke, you know where I was headed.
It’s been a few weeks since I made the pledge to write a thousand words a day everyday. I made it public in the writing group to keep myself accountable. I know I can get lazy if there’s no recourse or consequences. It’s not like anyone is going to scold me if I slack off, but I feel more obligated when my word depends on it.
The first few days were tough. I hadn’t written much in the past few years, nothing substantial anyway. Facebook comments and reddit arguments do not count. But really, that is the only writing I have done in a while, stumping and posting and cracking wise where I can. Most of the time when I make a comment or trade quips, I don’t pay much attention to the rules, my main concern is getting the idea typed out before it dissipates from my brain.
So, at first, it was a struggle to get a thousand words out of me. A lot of the words I would normally use were tucked in some dark corner for safe keeping. I would come to the middle of a sentence and freeze. I knew the word I wanted but couldn’t quite pry it from its hiding place in my brain.
I’ve always heard and often said that the brain itself is just another muscle. This experience has reinforced the notion. My brain was so out of shape, my head felt flabby. Not quite literally, but close, a thousand words left me winded, dehydrated and dizzy enough to fall on my ass if someone looked at me wrong.
The puzzle pieces of sentence structure confused me, I sat in front of the screen looking at all the words I’ve gathered but I can’t make them sit in any order that seems to make sense.
My typing as well had suffered, I still typed proficiently, but I couldn’t get that nice galloping pace we sometimes get when the ideas seem to be directly attached to my fingertips and fall down onto the page as quick as I can think them. It also meant my fingers quite often stabbed at the wrong letters, I would get stuck in a loop, typing the wrong letter and deleting it, sometimes multiple times as my finger kept poking the wrong key.
My mind is clearing up though I still struggle to grasp at vocabulary. Grammar and structure don’t seem the impenetrable secrets they had been two weeks ago. Even my typing has improved, accuracy and speed. Sometimes I get into the groove and hypnotize myself with the constant clinking sound of the little plastic buttons pressing and releasing.
I can work myself into a nice trot, and I forgot how much I love this feeling, fingers typing at a frantic pace, I always think it must be the way horses feel when they are dismounted and unsaddled and let free to run through the fields, as fast as their feet will take them.
I can attest that we can relearn our skills after a considerable time away, it’s just like falling off a bicycle. But don’t take this as approval or encouragement for anyone to stop writing or whatever creative or mental hobby they have chosen for themselves. We can recover, but had I not taken a break I imagine my abilities would be even further along than they are.
It feels refreshing and energizing to be getting back into mental shape. My thinking is more clear and focused. And where a few weeks ago I would struggle to find a topic to write about, fiction or otherwise, I’m now pulling ideas out of the air once more, and can turn almost any offhanded remark or comment into an idea for a story or essay.
And a thousand words really is not that much, as you said. I’ve noticed it since I started keeping track of word counts on everything I write. I can easily lay out a few hundred words, at least, on just about any subject thrown at me. Not that this is always a good thing. I see I may have become more verbose than I ever wanted to be.
Last night I wrote what I thought would be maybe three or four hundred words for my blog on the idea I had of changing Columbus Day to Neil Armstrong Day, the piece ended up coming in just over twelve hundred words. Today in the writing exercise I pounded out a little scenario that flashed in my head, I ended up pouring almost eight hundred words into that one.
But I’ve always prided myself on the idea of ‘less is more’. Just because I can write a thousand words on any given subject, doesn’t mean I should. But that is another issue I will address on its own.
In one of the other writing groups where I lurk, the question is often raised how people are able to write a thousand or more words a day, it gets asked more frequently now that November is creeping upon us, the annual writing event,, and all the participants are stretching and sprinting in preparation to write a thirty-day novel.
I answer the question saying a thousand words really is not that much. But, I add, a marathon runner would likely tell me that running a mile is not that much. From my point of view or point of reference, a mile would leave me doubled over and covered in cold sweat on the side of the road.
I could start today, run as far as I could make it, probably not too far down my street, and repeat it tomorrow and every day, slowly adding a little distance to my sprints. I would soon be able to make it to the end of the block. If I continued, and kept consistent about it, in a little while I could make it to 95th street a few blocks south of me.
Then I could tackle a half mile, and then the mile. If I kept working at it, and kept the routine, I would get to the point where I could run a marathon, not like now where the mere idea of twenty-six miles makes me nauseous and gives me dry mouth.
Writing like running is an endurance sport as well as everything else. The mind is another muscle that requires exercise to keep in shape. I don’t want to get down on myself for ‘letting myself go’ and getting flabby in the brain. But I am very glad, I feel like it is where I’m supposed to be, back up that horse, riding once again.
© Robert Emmett McWhorter