Kay: Adding Words

Image courtesy of the Creative Commons

Image courtesy of the Creative Commons

Back when we were talking about writing retreats, Elizabeth mentioned taking a “staycation” during which she’d written 12,000 words. I go on vacation almost every year with my cousin, during which she reads and I write, and I decided I’d use Elizabeth’s results for my goal. I’m usually very productive on this trip; I was looking forward to getting to within a few billion keystrokes of “The end.”

I so didn’t even get close. After a week, I’d written 2,500 words—fewer than when I stay home and work at my day job. In the two weeks since, while I visit my mother, I’ve written maybe another 7,000.

I had been feeling disappointed about this, until I read an article that said Ernest Hemingway wrote 500 words a day, no matter what. That’s about the same daily amount that I write. And I have a day job. Of course, Ernest had a bit of a drinking problem, so that probably diffused his focus a bit. But just knowing that took off a lot of pressure.

Where does the time go, and why don’t I get more accomplished? I can spend more time on the Internet than I probably should but that doesn’t always feel like “wasting”: I read the news; I read blogs I enjoy and learn from; I look stuff up that I need to know. However, sometimes I realize that tasks will fill the time I give them.

I recently started reading Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by Jocelyn Glei. It’s a series of short essays by people who (sigh) tell you how to work smarter, not harder. As you see, I have problems with this message.

On the other hand, if I’m crabby that I went on vacation and all I have to show for it is 2,500 measly words, I should maybe pay attention, right?

One essay that spoke to me is by Linda Stone, a ”former senior high-technology executive.” She quotes some interesting studies about the physical damages that sitting in front of a screen—any screen—will do.

Here’s the one that really struck me: for every hour of television watched by an adult over the age of 25, that adult’s life expectancy is reduced by 21.8 minutes. An adult who spends an average of six hours a day watching TV over the course of a lifetime can expect to live 4.8 years fewer than a person who does not watch TV. These results hold true even for people who exercise regularly.

This is because screen time feeds into chronic stress, which is caused by “screen apnea,” essentially shallow breathing, which evidently everyone does in front of a screen and is exacerbated (but not created) by poor posture. The consequences of shallow breathing and poor posture for extended periods can be huge: the body’s ability to fight viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections and tumors is reduced; the neural transmitters that affect learning, memory, sleeping, the ability to feel pain, and depression are impaired; and inflammation (a contributor to obesity) increases.

There’s a lot more, with footnotes, but you should read if for yourself. Just let me say that the workstation I set up at my mother’s is subpar. At the end of a writing session, I can see when I stand up how it contributes to poor posture, because I’m stretching and creaking like crazy.

There’s a lot more in that essay and in the book overall, and while some of it I really do find tiresome, some suggestions (“create hard edges”) might help me manage time better. I plan to work on it. I’m shooting for 3,750 words per week. If I manage that word count, I’ll at least write faster than Ernest Hemingway.

But not faster than Elizabeth. Congratulations!

6 thoughts on “Kay: Adding Words

  1. Oh, that screen apnea is really true, I think! I’ve suffered from sleep apnea, and getting a CPAP so I can breathe well during my seven to eight hours of sleep has made a huge difference in my life. I try to remind myself to breathe when I’m at the computer, and I think that taking a break to stretch and get a drink/go to the bathroom is a Very Good Idea. (Like many very good ideas, I find it hard to put it into practice each time, though.)

    Sometimes, I think we need a break. It sounds like you’ve been doing the everyday thing which is very good to keep things in your mind (I just read an essay by Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project about frequency), but you’ve been able to let your mind relax and play a little bit for the rest of your vacation. Who knows? This week may be ultra-productive because of the rest!

    As for me, I came back from Tokyo exhausted from too much walking. After going to bed early all this week, I finally feel up to tackling my work again.

    To be perfectly honest, I didn’t re-read my manuscript before I went. Bad me. I sat on a bench in the Inner Gardens and tried to skim quickly through it, figuring out what I should look for. And I hit a really rough patch of first draft — very, very sucky. I was so disappointed that I didn’t look at the ms again until today. I winged it.

    And, starting from the beginning, it really isn’t as bad as I feared. But dammit, I did forget to look for the outlet placements in Narita Airport. I don’t know where my people plug in!

    Nevertheless, vacation was good. Sure, I have regrets, but I think I’m going to have a great couple of weeks before I take off again.

  2. Don’t have regrets about not working on your vacation! That’s what vacations are for, after all, to refresh and recharge. I’m trying to be philosophical about my own lack of output, too, and putting it in context with these essays I’m reading. If we keep working, we’ll finish the books. That’s the bottom line.

    • I haven’t really worked in weeks. A few extenuating circumstances, but still…I should be doing SOMETHING. That said, the break has been good for me. I need to let my mind do other things. I’m looking forward to the beach in two weeks, then RWA a week and a half after that. Maybe THEN I’ll be ready to jump back into the writing pool. Until then, I’m not stressing too much. As you said, if we keep working, we’ll finish the books. 🙂

  3. I bet you got more from your vacation than 2,500 words, Kay, even if much of the good stuff was intangible. And you made progress – maybe slower than you hoped, but it’s still cause for celebration.

    I would love to write faster (I am in awe of Elizabeth’s 12k) but I don’t seem to have found the knack. Hopefully you’ll share with us if anything in the book transforms your productivity 🙂

  4. One thing that really did make me feel better was the decision to write the ending now and worry later about what’s missing in the middle. The end has been a blast to write. As for the “transformative” essays—I must just be a clodpole. I’ve aleady forgotten most of the suggestions. Sigh.

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