Setting a goal to write so many words a day (as Stephen King and many other writers do) can work for you, but only when you’re generating new material. That might seem obvious, but keep in mind, there are six stages in the creative process and in only one of those six stages do you have your fingers on the keyboard or pen on the page.
Trying to hit a word-count goal when in you’re in any of the other five stages will be an exercise in frustration. This is one of the reasons I use the term “Product Time” instead of “writing time” and why I recommend you make commitments to show up for a specified amount of time, not a certain number of words.
What you should do during your Product Time depends on which of those six stages you’re in. I explain the stages of the Creative Process, how they differ and how you can move through them more effectively in my Writing Habit class. I also address this topic in my upcoming book Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance* (*Including Writer’s Block, Procrastination, Paralysis, Perfectionism, Postponing, Distractions, Self-Sabotage, Excessive Criticism, Overscheduling and Endlessly Delaying Your Writing).
I can’t give you that much detail in a blog post, but I can give you the highlights in this and my next post. I do hope you’ll be intrigued and consider taking the Writing Habit class the next time it’s offered at the Loft.
Stage 1: First Insight
In this stage, you’re looking for your next writing project or the next phase of a larger project. You wonder “what if, how about, why not…” You may be reading widely to see what grabs your attention, completing an Interest Inventory (available in the Writing Habit class or by emailing me), freewriting, clustering, mind mapping, and using other brainstorming methods.
Notice that even when you’re freewriting, you’re not drafting the actual piece yet and not likely to produce significant word counts, so this is not that one stage in six to use word counts.
Stage 2: Saturation
In this research stage you seek as much information as you can about the topic, characters, setting, etc. You read, interview people and use search engines, questionnaires, surveys, field research, etc. This stage is much more about input than output, so word counts aren’t much use here.
Stage 3: Incubation
After you’ve gathered so much information, your conscious mind won’t be able to make sense of it for awhile. Your main job is to keep your conscious mind occupied with some small thing so your unconscious is free to search for new associations and connections. You might take a walk or a nap, freewrite questions and answers, try to explain the problem to someone else, cluster, brainstorm, doodle, or get your body busy.
Hazards of Incubation
If you don’t understand what Incubation is and what to do to move through it, this stage can be very frustrating. You might think you’re blocked, even though this is a natural part of the creative process. Unfortunately, if you don’t know how to get through this stage, you might create a block. There isn’t much point in taking in any more information and you won’t be ready to write until you move through the next stage, Illumination, which we’ll review in the next post.
Patience is essential during Incubation; cracking the egg open early to see what’s happening inside only kills the chick.