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Upping Word Count and Dealing with Overtraining Syndrome

Hi Everyone!


Just getting started around here and figuring things out. I sent you all a message yesterday, which I can't tell if it went through... But what I meant to do was THIS.


For this month, since our community is still small and I have not yet heard from our $20-level patron on specific questions, I thought I'd talk a little bit about getting in daily word counts.


All of you sponsoring me so far (thank you!) have been following me for some time, so you know how dedicated I am to daily writing rituals and improving word counts through incremental increases. I’m setting this post to public, however, so potential new patrons have an opportunity to see what I’ll offer.  So, I'm going to give a bit of background before I impart today's message: what I learned about my own process recently.


The analogy I always use for increasing word count, or getting back into producing words after a hiatus, is training for a marathon.


We all know the story – or have even starred in it! – of the person who decides to Get In Shape. Often this occurs on January 2nd. Habitual gym users often comment on the surge of new fitness devotees in the first few weeks of the new year – and how quickly they thin out. For those of us who’ve done that exact thing, we know the reason for this. It’s not lack of commitment.


It’s doing too much, too fast.


Sure it’s easy to be excited about running five miles a day, and we might even pull it off that first day. Then we wake up the next morning totally tanked – exhausted, sore, miserable – and with zero desire to try that crazy action again.


Even for the dedicated exerciser, those weeks of sloth and gluttony through the winter holidays, for example, can make that January 2nd workout painful.


What does the smart person do? Right, work up to it gradually. Don’t run five miles that first day. Maybe walk one and run a half. Even if it feels easy, keep to a gradual schedule so you don’t knock yourself into that “I can’t even get out of bed zone.”

Well, I believe writing works the same way. We never think of the brain as a muscle, but it is. It takes energy to write. Just because we aren’t doing manual labor that leaves us drenched in sweat doesn’t mean that we aren’t working hard. You know, we joke about it, but it’s true: WRITING IS HARD.


There’s a reason all those people who say they’d love to write a novel never do it.


So, anyway, I can talk more about this if people are interested, but I absolutely suggest building up endurance for writing. For example, I put up this possible schedule for people considering doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month, where you write 50,000 words in the month of November).

Many writers will tackle the NaNoWriMo challenge by dividing 50,000 words by the 30 days in November, resolving to write 1,667 words day. Unless the writer is already in the groove of writing that much, I suggested a schedule something like this:


1-Nov - 100

2-Nov - 200

3-Nov - 400

4-Nov - 600

5-Nov - 800

6-Nov - 1000

7-Nov - 1200

8-Nov - 1400

9-Nov - 1600

10-Nov - 1800

11-Nov - 2000

12-Nov - 2000

13-Nov - 2000

14-Nov - 2000

15-Nov - 2000

16-Nov - 2000

17-Nov - 2000

18-Nov - 2000

19-Nov - 2000

20-Nov - 2200

21-Nov - 2200

22-Nov - 2200

23-Nov - 2200

24-Nov - 2200

25-Nov - 2200

26-Nov - 2200

27-Nov - 2200

28-Nov - 2200

29-Nov - 2200

30-Nov - 2200


That will net 51,300 words by month's end. Best of all, a writer who does this ends up with a habit of writing 2,200 words each day that will be sustainable after NaNoWriMo is over.


So, all of that is by way of introduction for the new readers. Hi! Thanks for stopping by.


To address what I’ve learned about myself recently extends the analogy: the writerly version of overtraining or burn-out.


Since the day job left me, I’ve been working hard to up my productivity. I’ve been aiming for 5,000 words per day. I did it for a while, too. December was my highest word count month ever – just shy of 75,000 words! That was aided by an impending deadline with my publisher (January 1) and impeded by days of no words due to holiday and family stuff.


But it wiped me out.


I figured it was partially because I ramped up too fast – and was a little stressed – and so I had a recovery period. Which maybe wasn’t long enough because... well, I haven’t gotten back up to that level.


And it reminds me of this project one of my fellow physiology grad students was working on, back in the day, studying how Olympic athletes can OVERtrain. Which meant they’d start underperforming. Sprinters started going slower. Weightlifters could lift less. Figure skaters stopped being able to do moves they’d already mastered.


It was fascinating research, because in that era, overtraining was viewed as an emotional thing, but this research group found it affected the athletes on a cellular level. They literally lost ability.


I think this can happen to writers, too. Elizabeth Bear recently posted about her burn-out and how she’s dealing with it. After my 75K month in December, I did 42K in January – chalking that up to recovery – but it looks like I’ll only hit 40K for February. See? My performance is decreasing.


Let me caveat here that I know full well that this is a really decent word count. A LOT of writers are slower than this and I know I’m lucky that I can write fast. The thing is ... I know I’m capable of doing more. I *have* done more.


So – how do I combat this?


Well, for athletes they have an easy barometer to check for overtraining syndrome. If resting heart rate increases, that’s a strong sign. Particularly combined with other symptoms. But how can writers check for this?


If anyone has great ideas, I hope you’ll share here!


For me, though, I’m learning to respect when I’m just *done*. I make the writing time, turn off the internet, dedicate myself to chipping out the words. Some days are like pulling teeth and I know that. Some parts of the book write slower than others, and I try to respect that.


Some days I just don’t have it.


Today was one. So I wrote this post for you all – and it felt good to write something different. I’m going to put something up on the Reader’s Patreon, too. That’s one of the cures for athletic overtraining, too, to cross-train and work out another way.


I’m also going to take myself back to the drawing board. I’m going to take a couple of days off writing and just read (rest and recover is another bit of advice for overtrained athletes). Then, next week, I’m going to pretend it’s January 2nd and build up to a good level again.


Wish me luck!


And feel free to ask questions, make suggestions. We’re here to discuss writing, so I’m up for anything!

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