Writing Progress Does NOT Always Equal Word Count

This week’s guest post is coming to you from a fellow writing coach, Anna-Marie O’Brien. Anna-Marie describes herself as a “little bit OCD+ADD+ESP and an INFJ.” And I can tell you from experience that she’s easily one of the most intuitive people I’ve ever met. If you’re looking for someone to help get you unstuck as you write your book, Anna-Marie is very definitely who you’ve been looking for. Big thanks to her for contributing this awesome piece on why your progress as a writer might not fit the conventional norms.

Before I started my memoir, my idea of book writing was that it was a linear process—you show up to the page, you write your 500 words a day in perfect form, and in a few months you have a beautiful, publishable book. According to the writers I was studying, there were no pauses, breaks, or blocks allowed. Daily habit is a big theme among writers, and I was assured that if I showed up to the page every day, the muse would find me and the words would flow effortlessly.

Ahh, the soft delusions of our younger selves. I failed miserably at keeping up a daily habit. I wrote in fits and spurts. I blew my own deadlines. Weeks on fire followed by weeks on low simmer. I wrote around my kids. School schedules. Vacations. Job drama. A Big Illness. It took me five full years to write it, and it was only during the last six months that it all came together as a cohesive book.

I flailed about for a while, and I got stuck all right. So stuck, I couldn’t seem to get past even silly, small details. When this happened, I told myself that I just needed to pause and wait for more information. But I struggled. I started working with a writing coach, our dear Lauren here, who finally explained what was going on. If you are introverted, empathic or intuitive or any other form of HSP like me, you’ll know that we get our information differently than most people. In addition to our five senses, we feel vibes. We have dreams. Some of us have forms of synesthesia or precognition. We process this information throughout our bodies and manifest it in different ways. I’ve known this about myself for years, but not as a writer. Now I understand. I’ve been through the process. As we move through our creative lives, we begin to recognize our own unique ways.

If I had believed my pauses were really blocks, I might have given up entirely. I am OK with being what some would call a slow writer, but I am not a quitter. Instead, I’ve come to find that there is a push and a pull to writing, especially long form book writing with a personal narrative. You have to listen to what the book is telling you and trust it. You have to go with the flow. But then, you also have to steer the ship. This is how you get the book done.

You have to move the energy of the book forward even when you’re paused. What worked for me was to make specific notes of the problems I was having and the work I needed to do. A tough scene that needed clarity. The structure of the book. What else I needed to write to tie back in with an earlier scene. Parts I needed to edit and shift around. How to transition on the timeline. People I needed to talk to. Research I needed to do. Just having a simple, handwritten list to look at during my pauses kept my head in the game. I could poke away at the list and remind myself of where I was.

There is an alchemy to writing things down. It sets things in motion. What showed up for me during these paused writing weeks was, at times, astonishing. The synchronicity was real. I dreamed of people related to the book and they’d show up in real life. Answers came easily. Information would appear in a way that revealed new connections. This magic was profound. Alignment creates ease, and the path opens.

So, you follow the path. The book is showing you the way, so trust it. And when you’re ready to get back to the keys and word count, you will know your purpose, you will purge yourself of this new information and it will be a glorious thing. You’ll smash through the problems with your book and you will feel a little giddy. You’ll chase that feeling down and work in a frenzy until the next pause shows up. It’s OK to do this. That’s just how you’re built.

Look, two opposite things can be true at the same time: you can be writing a book, AND you can pause for more information and not write one word and still write the book. Progress is progress, and progress is not always word count. Liberate yourself from the old notions that if you don’t write every day, or if you have an inconsistent writing habit, or if you come to long pauses in your project, that you’ll fail as a writer. That’s horse-pucky. You’re in charge, here. You go as fast or as slow as you need to go, and on your terms.

You’ll only fail if you quit. Pausing is not quitting. It’s just a place to rest while you gather provisions for the rest of the journey. You go with the flow, and then you steer your ship. You keep moving the energy forward. That’s how you get your book done.

Anna-Marie O’Brien loves a good story and a good heavy riff. She just completed her first book, a memoir about the Los Angeles heavy metal scene in the early 1990s. A little bit OCD+ADD+ESP and an INFJ, she helps people overcome their creative blocks with tarot readings. By day, she is a librarian and lives in Phoenix with her husband and two children. You can follow her on Instagram: @metalheadlibrarian and Twitter, and learn more about her writing at annamarieobrien.com.

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