When it comes to writing, we all seem to have different ideas about what makes a good, productive session. One author I read about has to write a minimum of five pages per day in order to feel like she’s reached her goal. Another writer measures his success by word count – nothing less than a 4,000-word session will do. Other authors choose to focus more on the time put in than the amount of product churned out – as long as they spend a solid hour writing every day, then they feel like they’ve accomplished something.
As for me, I’m not nearly so strict. I’ve never set a word- or page-count goal, nor do I make myself write for a specific duration of time. If I’ve set aside two hours to write, and I happen to reach a natural stopping point after only an hour-and-a-half, then I’m punching out for the day. I’m not going to force myself to start a new scene or a new chapter just because I still have time left on the clock. Same goes for page count – on my best days, I can spew out about two-and-a-half pages, single-spaced. On my worst days, though, when I’ve been wrestling with a difficult scene or some stubborn dialogue, I might reach my limit after only a few paragraphs. If I try to push any further, the writing quality begins to drop. My creative thinking skills plummet off the edge of the Grand Canyon, my brain starts waving the white flag, and I know it’s time to close the laptop.
But if there’s no set word count, no predetermined number of pages, and no specific time window, how do I know that I’ve met my writing goal for the day? The answer: The Cool Thing Rule. Years ago, I was watching the special features on one of my Smallville DVDs (go ahead, you can say it: geeeeeeeek), and the guy in charge of the show’s computer-generated effects said something interesting. He said that as the FX team prepared to shoot each episode, they would always try to come up with at least one effect that made them say, “Wow, it would be really cool if we could pull that off…”
I apply this same concept to my writing. I may not be required to write a certain number of pages each session, but I do have to write at least one Cool Thing. This Cool Thing might be a particularly poetic description, a funny line of dialogue, a unique and quirky simile, or something else entirely, but it has to be Really Cool. And there is no cheating when it comes to this rule – the Cool Thing can’t be something I came up with the night before, or earlier that day when I was out mucking horse stalls. The Cool Thing must be something that sprouts up organically during the day’s writing session, completely unexpected and unplanned. Something that gives my heart a little caffeine-jolt of excitement as the words flow across the screen. Something I can look back on, when I’m done writing, and think, Yeah, I made progress. I wrote something Cool today.
So, that’s how I measure a good, productive writing session – not in words or in hours, but in Cool Things.
How about you?