Scott D. Parker
How do you keep going? On anything.
If you're a runner, you lace up the shoes, don your favorite running clothes, maybe grab your phone for some music, and head out the door. If you're a student, you keep studying. If you're lawyer or doctor or just about anything, you just keep doing the thing you either trained to do or are getting paid to do.
So why do we writers and other creative types fall off the wagon?
There are countless posts--like this one--talking about how we writers get thrown off our game. Sometimes the forces are external and uncontrollable. Often, however, they are self-inflicted. We sleep in and miss that 5am writing time. We might always write at night, but the day job took everything out of us and we'd rather just watch TV or do nothing. No brain use tonight, thank you very much.
It happens. It always happens. It's like Houston summers, New York winters, and rain in London. The thing you expect always, always happens.
What To Do About It?
Okay, so it happens. We writers lose our mojo for whatever reason. How do you get it back when you've been thrown off the horse. Get back on the horse.
Ah, but that's easier said than done. Why?
One reason might be that we remember how the mojo felt on our last project. Remember that feeling, when everything was aligned and your fingers could barely keep up with the images in your brain? I've had that feeling and it is like a drug. It's intoxicating. What we always forget about that project were the slow times, the beginning, the part where you had to pause and sort out plot points, and when you struggled with that one stupid chapter.
But you got your mojo back and sailed across the finish line to The End. And, most likely, we celebrated with something bubbly and decided to take a break.
That's not what I'm talking about today. I think breaks are a necessary part of the creative life. Angel said the same thing on Wednesday. What I'm talking about is getting back your mojo. And that brings me to MVWC.
What is MVWC?
I think we're all familiar with the concept of a Minimum Viable Product. It's the phase in the development of a product or service where the inventor can start selling the thing even though all the bugs are not yet ironed out. The MVP can also be called the 1.0 Version. Early adopters love this stuff because you can say "I was there when X was just out." Same is true for the early careers of actors, musicians, writers, and other creatives.
When it comes to us writers, we can use the same concept. What is the minimum word count I need to get back my mojo?
[Keep this bookmark right here in mind. You'll need it at the end of this post.]
The Minimum Viable Word Count, the MVWC, is the word count you can easily achieve without even breaking a sweat. The kind you can type in fifteen minutes or thirty or an hour each day you are working on a project. Because, as we all know, words on a page are words out of your head. We can fix them later, but forward progress was made and the momentum builds. When that happens, we have our mojo back and we can soar through the clouds and get to The End.
I think the MVWC is a key metric you'll need when you get back on the writing horse or after a break or when a project's really thrown you for a loop. You're irritated, you don't know where the story's going, you don't really know how to begin. So you reach for your MVWC and do the bare minimum. It is forward progress. You will feel better. And, soon, the MVWC will rise and grow and the mojo takes over and you hold on for the ride.
But the MVWC itself. That's what you have to find for yourself. For some, it might be 250 words. Maybe 500. If you do NaNoWriMo in November, that daily word count is 1,667 words per day to achieve 50,000 in a month.
A lot of times for me, it's 1,000 words per day. I often keep track of a story's progress by using a spreadsheet. I have it coded with a baseline number and it automatically color codes the numbers green (if I achieve my goal) or red (if I fall short).
That’s all well and good for when you are in the groove, however. What about getting started? Ah, that’s for you to determine. What’s your MVWC you need to reach each day you’re writing a story so that you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment?
Whatever that number is, make it reasonable, easily achievable, and sustainable. Some writers might up their MVWC to a higher number, a goal they can’t reach consistently unless everything goes right. And, come on: how many days do we live through that are perfect?
Keep the MVWC sustainable or you’ll burn out and then you’ll start back behind square one.
Remember that bookmark earlier in this post? I wrote the start of this post on my lunch break, in a conference room, with just me and my Chromebook. I was time-limited after eating so I set a stopwatch and timed myself. In 15 minutes, I wrote 477 words, give or take. So roughly 500 words in 15 minutes. One could extrapolate from there.
Now, when I’m getting back on the writing wagon, it’s always slow going. And I’m almost always time-limited be it part of the 5am writing session or the lunch hour one. I rarely have a long stretch of dedicated writing time so I have to adjust my MVWC.
Now that I’ve been writing this piece, I think my MVWC is around 500. That’s easily achievable in 30 minutes or less. I can blow way past it when I’m flying yet I can struggle to get there when the story’s mired in molasses. But it is consistently achievable and sustainable. When I log off at 5:55am or after lunch, I can always walk a little taller and with a smile on my face when I’ve hit my MVWC.