#100DaysofWriting: A Retrospective

 

 

On 29th December last year, I decided to take on the #100daysofwriting challenge. This challenge was originally created by the novelist Jenn Ashworth, who writes about it here, but I found out about it via Emma Darwin’s blog (which, by the way, is an invaluable resource for those who write fiction). I’ve never been won over by NaNoWriMo or similar challenges, which value word count above all else; neither have I found that telling myself I have to write for a certain amount of time every day is very productive for me, although I like Antonia Honeywell’s reformulation of this, which (paraphrased) suggests that you sit in a chair for fifteen minutes every day and try to write, even if that means spending fifteen minutes doing nothing. In short, this is how #100daysofwriting works; you work on your WiP every day for 100 days, but this could mean as little work as opening the relevant document on your computer, or as much work as a blazing five-thousand-word writing streak. Ashworth calls it ‘gentle productivity’, and for me, it strikes a good balance between the undoubtedly sound advice to write every day and the realities of most people’s writing lives.

Since starting #100daysofwriting, I haven’t managed to write every day. I calculate that I wrote on 100/145 days since beginning the challenge, or 69% of all days. This feels both good and bad to me. I’ve had periods of my life where I wrote every day for a year, or two years; on the other hand, I’ve also had periods where I haven’t written anything creative at all for similar amounts of time. Writing on seven out of every ten days is a pretty satisfying achievement from that perspective. I also decided to write about my progress on Twitter, which was not required by the original challenge. I did this for two reasons: while I suspected that daily tweets about my writing progress would irritate or bore most of my followers, I personally would love to see other writers do this. And secondly, I hoped it would help keep me on track by providing an element of public accountability.

So what did I actually get done, and how far did #100daysofwriting help me do it? First things first: I didn’t spend most of my 100 days working on the Antarctic-set novel I mention in the tweet above, and write more about here. In January, I used Tim Clare’s freewriting exercise to work on two novels simultaneously, freewriting on the new novel while I worked on structural edits for my time-travel novel, A Minute’s Grace, which I also discuss here. Freewriting is another brilliant tool for a novelist who’s feeling stuck: it involves writing for fifteen minutes about anything you like, without stopping or editing, although you can also use prompts to get you going (Clare’s free online Couch to 80k Novel-Writing course and his #weeklywritingworkout emails are full of these). However, by early February, something unexpected but fabulous happened; I was offered agent representation for A Minute’s Grace by Kerry Glencorse at Susanna Lea Associates. After two wonderful meetings with Kerry where we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the novel, it was clear that I needed to focus on A Minute’s Grace, rather than the new project, until these edits were done.

Over February and March, I found it much harder to get going again on A Minute’s Grace than I anticipated, and my #100daysofwriting progress was equally patchy. As I wrote on Twitter on February 21st: “Robin McKinley’s Sunshine has this brilliant line where the protagonist is making cinnamon rolls & is trying to ‘persuade stiff, surly, thirty-hour refrigerated dough that it’s time to loosen up’ & that’s EXACTLY what getting back into editing a draft feels like.” I think I was especially struggling with A Minute’s Grace, which had already gone through a number of edits based on professional feedback by that point (I was lucky enough to have been mentored by Orion editor Sam Eades through the Womentoring Project, for example), because my mind and heart had mentally moved on to my Antarctic novel. Freewriting for that novel turned out to be a wonderful way to wake up its cast, but I wished they wouldn’t insist on talking to me when I was trying to focus on something different. I also had some work issues during this period that swallowed up a lot of time and energy.

 

In April and May, I properly got into a serious edit on A Minute’s Grace, helped by a DIY writing retreat near where I grew up in Wiltshire, and ironically enough, this was when #100daysofwriting became less useful. When I’m in the swing of things, I want to write every day, and I’m privileged enough at the moment to have a job that allows me to do that. So I’m finishing out #100daysofwriting with a completely redrafted MS that will be ready to go back to my agent by my (self-imposed) 31st May deadline! That feels like a win. And even though I didn’t write every day, I think the reward of steadily clocking up 100 days helped me get back on the wagon more quickly when I fell off.

Would I recommend #100daysofwriting? I think it depends what you need it for. I’ll definitely be returning to it as I work through the early days of my new novel, provisionally entitled Old Ice, which I find painfully slow; creating something from nothing is so difficult. However, in general, I enjoy editing and find it easy to do once I’ve sorted it out in my head, so I found #100daysofwriting less useful for the later stages of a novel; at that point, I think I need chapter goals, not turning-up goals, as I’m going to turn up anyway. Similarly, the public accountability was more necessary, but more excruciating, when I was working on Old Ice; I’m worried that my more recent tweets have sounded a bit smug, but I know that some people blaze through a first draft and hate editing, so will have the opposite experience! Importantly, this will be different again for non-fiction and academic writers, some of which I know have been trying #100daysofwriting as well.

Are any of you working on your own writing projects at the moment? Do you have any productivity tips? And would you consider trying #100daysofwriting?

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8 thoughts on “#100DaysofWriting: A Retrospective

  1. First of all, congratulations on getting an agent for A Minute’s Grace – that’s AMAZING. Secondly, I feel very similarly about writing challenges: they’re most useful for getting me to turn up (aka “make something out of nothing”, otherwise known as starting a new book). I’ve never done this one, or Tim Clare’s, but the first few months of writing my novel I made myself do 1,000 words a day before I could do anything else. (This was potentially not a very mentally healthy choice, and I was unemployed at the time so it was viable time-wise in a way that it wouldn’t be now.) At the moment, the process of editing and shaping a draft feels a lot easier to turn up for than the process of pulling things out of my head and getting them on paper.

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    • Thank you! I have tried word count goals in the past, actually for the very first draft of A Minute’s Grace way back in 2015. I can’t decide if they’re helpful for me or not. I feel like I just churn out rubbish and the story gets further and further off track, but on the other hand, I think it can be a way of working through some of the wrong ideas to get to the right ones. It’s just so disheartening producing bad writing and plotting! How are your edits going?

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  2. Congratulations on getting an agent! This was such an interesting read. I’ve never done a specific writing challenge like this, but it’s something I’m curious about.

    My productivity goes through peaks and troughs as well. Because writing is my day job, my creative projects tend to get pushed aside when my freelance work picks up. Perhaps a challenge like this would help me be more consistent!

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  3. Congrats on getting an agent, that is massive! If your blog posts are any indication I’m sure you are a brilliant fiction writer, I hope to read one of your books in the not too distant future!

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  4. I’m so impressed at your progress, and a big congratulations on getting an agent! I’ve always wondered how people balance their fiction writing with other work and being a blogger/reader. I feel like if I ever started a book project I’d be so lazy and daunted and procrastinating that I would just read instead of sitting down to the computer. (But then again, showing up for just 15 minutes at a time sounds completely doable.) Claire Fuller has also posted about this recently — she said that while some authors say they ‘can’t’ read other fiction while writing their own, lest they unconsciously absorb someone else’s style, she compulsively reads fiction, often for atmosphere that will inform her own.

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    • I can only speak for the way I write, but for me, the early stages of a project are always painfully slow, and I can’t spend much time writing at that point. I only build up to longer hours at the end, when I want to work on it! I used to find it helpful doing a short stretch first thing in the morning. Totally agree with Claire Fuller; I obviously haven’t been avoiding fiction while writing! I don’t really ‘get’ that problem to be honest; I don’t find that books bleed into mine, but maybe that’s because I always read several books at once.

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