Sunday Synopsis: Word Counts and Retirement


I just reread this post and it came across to me as if I am very unhappy, so I want to qualify here before I push the publish button. I am very happy. Most likely the happiest person you know. I have a really good life and know that I am most fortunate to have the support that I do. I am going to post this anyway.

I have a good number of author friends who hold day jobs and have careers. Often, they speak of retirement and writing full-time.

It is a delusion that having more time will lead to more writing.

Before you attack, allow me to explain from my own personal point of view.

writing box 002I was looking for my old Brother word processor, after having found a couple of boxes of floppy disks. The floppy disks hold some writing I did in the 80s that was never printed. I wanted to see if the rocket scientist could, maybe, get the Brother up and running well enough to get a screen, and perhaps print off some of the content. I have at least two packs of ribbon cartridges. Don’t know if they’ll work. They may be too dry. I know there are places that can take your floppy disks and convert the files, but I don’t even know if it is worth the bother/expense. It would be nice if I could remember what all I wrote, but I can’t.

While looking, I ran across an old plastic container and a few shoe boxes filled writing from that era. Now you have to keep in mind that was a time when I wrote during every spare minute I had. Those were far and few between, because at that same time I was going to school 40 miles away in one direction, working a full time job 20 miles away in another direction, (and sometimes a part-time job, too) raising three kids who had school, tae kwon do, softball, soccer, cheerleading, gymnastics, scouts, and so on. Granted, I had some downtime after my youngest son was born in 1985. Two years.

Yet, here’s what I found:

  • 1200 pages (yes pages, not words) of the story of my life. About every memory I possessed at the time; from tossing my New Testament out the window and into the rain at the age of two (when I got my first spanking) to birthing my third child while wearing tennis shoes at age 25.
  • A 300 page story about a young contemporary witch (a pharmaceutical chemist) who inherits a magical ruby ring from her grandmother and her witch family (probably influenced by reading LOTRs, or maybe Anne Rice, can’t recall the exact years I read Anne).
  • Six chapters into an historical fiction about Martha Washington’s relationship with the African American mother of Washington’s mulatto children. (Perhaps based on a true story I read…most likely somebody has already done this).
  • A horror story about a lady with cats I had published at age 17 years.
  • I have this really cool sci-fi fantasy started about this league of aliens from different planets coming back to earth to reclaim the races…in 2020. It’s very interesting reading.
  • Dozens of short stories (or at least what looks like the start of short stories). Lots of them are southern folklore I learned growing up and recorded in my own words. There’s even one where John Lennon lives. (You know, like Elvis.)
  • Tons of dark poetry. (four shoe boxes) We’re talking nuclear destruction, biological and chemical warfare, death and dying, pollution and environmental catastrophe, loss, psychotic mind breaks.

I’m not saying this is good writing, but it is writing. I couldn’t recall having written so much.

Now all of this was written (either on a typewriter or a word processor, NOT a computer) in my twenties, when I had first been diagnosed with bipolar, and before I was stabilized on meds. I don’t doubt that most of this was written in the midst of some manic or depressive episode.

I first started thinking about the story in Red Clay and Roses in 1992. I wrote nothing. The nineties were filled with teenagers, professional career, and divorce. Then I was single, struggling to survive and socialize myself in another state. There was no time for writing. Life just got in the way.

We come to 2012. I’m stable. I’m retired. I have nothing but time and support. Perhaps coming off of a manic episode that followed suddenly stopping a thirty year career; I wrote Red Clay and Roses. Not as a novel, not that formally. It was a story in my head that I had wanted to write since 1992. A visit to Georgia that included reuniting with a cousin whose life intersected with that story in ways I had never known about inspired me to write. In my newfound serenity of retirement I pounded that story out in four months.  I researched and wrote during every waking moment for four months.

98,362 words.  Writing Monday through Friday, that’s roughly 88 days, which comes to 1118 words per day. That’s if I wrote every day like a 9-5 job. That includes research time, which is something I spent a lot of time on.

So I set myself what I considered a reasonable word count goal with my current WIP, 500 words per day.

I thought surely I could at least write 500 words per day. Most certainly I could get my next first draft written in a year.

I was also blogging, so I put myself on blogging restriction for a couple of reasons.

  1. I was getting too intimidated by rules. Writing rules, rules, rules and more rules. Every post I read explained these rules, and advice. I’m capable of learning. I wanted to improve my writing. Seriously. The rules suck. They have thwarted my creativity beyond belief. The perfectionist in me, my internal editor, is too damned concerned about following the rules to get anything much accomplished.
  2. Time. Blogging takes time.

Now I think. I spend the minutes thinking. Hours, days, weeks, I spend thinking. I think all the time. I think about writing. I wake up thinking about writing. I think all day about writing. I think about writing hours after I have laid myself down at night. I think about the rules. I think about the story I am trying to tell. I think about the characters, their motivations, emotions, behaviors, words. I think about the plot, the hook, the pace, the development. I think about the right words, the right phrases, and the right prose. I think about backstory, information dumps, showing, not telling.

Sometimes I’ll have a thought, a really good one, and I can’t hold it. I lose it almost as quickly as the thought occurred. I have no memory. I used to recall phone numbers two weeks after I was given them without ever having written them down, and now, I can’t seem to be able to hold a creative thought from my mind to the screen.

I’m overthinking. Yet I can’t recall my thoughts.

Screw the rules and I can sit down and pump out 3000 words in one day.

Then I spend hours and hours rewriting, revising.

Other days I am lucky to write one sentence.

Many, many days I spend thinking.

Word counts? Pfft!

So what is it that stifles my creativity and cripples my mind? My word count?

Rules, too many years on psychotropic drugs, old age?

I have nothing but time, and yet the clock ticks.

Retirement plans. Word counts. Discipline. Stability. Too many stories in my head.

I just want to effectively tell a story.

I have been working on this since November and don’t have 20,000 words.

Capture                                       Jacob Andrews

43 thoughts on “Sunday Synopsis: Word Counts and Retirement

  1. I think people forget that even though you’re not working a ‘real job’, life doesn’t stop happening. Even in retirement, I’m sure you still have some things to do. Family, friends, shopping, cooking, etc. I’m watching my dad in retirement and he scrambles for things to keep him occupied, which tells me that having too much time is just as bad as not having enough.

    1. It makes me put stuff off, that’s for sure. Not feeling time constraints, I think, “I’ll get around to it, later.”

      I’ll get whole chapters in my head though, and sit down to write and the words don’t flow. It’s frustrating.

        1. LOL…I have my jewelry making and my painting. I have studio that gets filled with storage junk…I have to clean it out every time I get ready to start a new project. I’ll be in the middle of painting or have a tray of beads spread out and all these thoughts start flowing for my writing project, but by the time I put things away and get back to the computer, I’ve lost it. I have tried keeping a notebook handy. Sometimes that works, but sometimes I am not in a position to write down enough. Driving and the shower always do it. How come that is? They must be mind freeing experiences…like bike riding and swimming. I always think of cool things to write when I’m swimming.

          1. I think with a shower it’s because your mind wanders and you kind of go through the motions. Driving can cause this too when it’s a familiar route and not a lot of traffic. What about having a tape recorder or something on hand?

            1. I can dictate into the iphone and I have tried that for short notes, but the whole chapters I get in my don’t always present themselves well in my notes.

              I’m thinking maybe I should move away from the computer and try writing some stuff out by hand. The old fashioned way.

  2. This is such an interesting read. Very true. Sometimes too much time can be a bad thing as not enough. BTW, did you ever get those files converted? It really sounds like it would be worth the cost. (I couldn’t imagine it is all that expensive. It sounds like you have some awesome stuff).

    1. This is what I have already printed. I couldn’t imagine how time consuming it would be to sit down and type it all into the computer, scan each page. I dunno. I’m am not a fast typist.

      The floppies. I have no clue what’s on there. I can’t remember. It may just be the same stuff I have printed. It’s hell gettin old.

      I know I got suspended for subversive activity once…I had a psycho boss. he was asked to resign. He was paranoid and claimed I was a spy for the board of trustees of the hospital I worked at. There is a floppy with that whole ordeal on it. There were half a dozen hearings. It was a nightmare.

      1. Turn that nightmare into a story. It sounds interesting. Drama, suspense and craziness all wrapped up in it. Add aliens though and it will be even more awesome! 😀

        1. LOL…he was sort of like an alien.

          I was on administrative leave for thirty days (paid). But wrapped up in hearings most of that time. He wanted me fired and Human Resources wouldn’t let him. I ended up transferring to med surg and he was asked to resign. He was embezzling large sums of money in deals with his BIL to purchase items for the new psych unit. A financial audit caught that. I was devoted to the unit’s success for personal reasons, but he claimed I agree to work overtime for straight time pay because The Board of Trustees was paying me money on the sly to spy on him. He was a real weirdo. he was sexually harassing other nurses. Fourteen left in 8 months because of him. He made us all sign pledges of loyalty to him and I refused saying the administrator signed my paycheck not him. That’s what started it.

  3. I think a lot of people understand this. If I had a whole day with the house to myself, I don’t think I’d get any more done than I do on days when I can only squeeze in an hour in the afternoon. I always said that once the kids were in school, I’d get SO MUCH done. I have one in full days, one in half days now, and it’s just not happening. There’s always the dog asking for a walk, or a book I promised to read, or blog friends I need to catch up with, or other friends needing to chat, or supper to prepare…

    I’d probably do better if I turned the WiFi off, but I’m sure I’d find other things to fill the time. I’m just not good at focus. :/

    Really interesting post! Your old writing sounds fascinating.

  4. The ‘rules’ can be frustrating, especially when we try to abide them and yet see them ‘broken’ all the time in fiction. I think the trick is to know when to break them and when to follow them at least loosely. And I suppose that skill only comes with more writing. Which we always work to find time for. Kind of a vicious cycle… 🙂

    1. I am reading a really good book right now. Now that I have learned all the rules, ….Stupid things jump out at me. Things that REALLY don’t matter. It’s a great story 🙂 She wrote it uninhibited and that shows through. It’s southern folklore and it reads like southern folklore. I’m loving it. I’m afraid I’ll hone my craft until it no longer reads like my craft.

  5. The first rule of writing is to write a good story. There are no other rules.

    I think constantly as well. Sometimes I think the “psychic” energy all that thinking burns up is one of the reasons I don’t seem to have much energy left over for actual writing.

    Regarding retirement … you’re probably right, but my point about that is that without the 8:00-5:00 job, there will be much more free time to do what I want to do and I won’t be burning up as much “psychic” energy with the job. There will still be distractions and I’m sure I’ll have no problem coming up with reasons not to write on any given day, but a lot of the other roadblocks will be eliminated. I hope.

    1. “Good” is so subjective though.

      “Psychic energy”~I can see that. I suffered from a burn out many times along the way. That is not a complaint I have now, except that I feel less spiritually connected to my writing now than in my youth.

      I am wondering if a drug holiday would help with the creativity, but I know the consequences can be disastrous and I am wondering if it’s worth the risk to see.

      I know if the job wasn’t in the way you would, at least for the first couple of years, feel the freedom of that release. There is; however, an edge that you lose when you are not exercising the gray matter day in and day out with something other than putting words on paper. Hard to explain.

      1. I’ll do crossword puzzles to keep the gray matter exercised. 😉

        I have no doubt it will not be as easy as I think it will be, because frequently my inability to write has nothing to do with time and more to do with getting blocked once I open a document to start working on it. That said, the single biggest cause is the lack of time. When all I have is an hour or two each day and I have other things competing for that time …

        1. So very true. I have block problems.
          I wouldn’t have 20K if I was working and I know that.
          My husband and I work crossword problems every night while I cook.

  6. I was reading War and Peace with my daughter and I kept seeing all of the adverbs Tolstoy used and the passive voice, too!(Of course it was a translation) but it made me realize that I’ve read too many blog posts about adverbs when I could have been writing. 🙂

  7. All those rules are a little intimidating aren’t they? I for one have not followed them very closely for the last month! Time is short right now and my writing will be there when I get back to it. Yes, life sometimes gets in the way. By reading this post it makes me feel a little better knowing I am not the only one this happens to! Thanks for helping me see that.

  8. I LOVED this! I didn’t take you for being downer at all. Maybe because I feel the same way you do about these darn pesky rules. Someone says to do this and someone else says to do that! It will drive anyone crazy even if they thought they were pretty sane beforehand. My thoughts for writing projects always seem to happen when I am dozing off to sleep and I hate to get up because it’s already hard for me to sleep. I pray to my angels to remind me later…hahaha! Thanks for sharing:-)

  9. I can relate to so much of this post, Susan. This is not so depressing, just reality. As stated above, it is helpful to know that we are not alone.

    1. yep! I think I come and go with writer’s block. I asked my doc today if he could tweak my meds, but he doesn’t want to play with them and who could blame him…without them I can become a psychotic basket case.

      1. If I’m having a hard time with writing, I usually use some dumb prompt to get me going. Basket case or not, you have so many here who are in the same’ish boat with you. 🙂

    1. I am fast coming to the realization that I need to just tell my story, be it as it may, with or without following the rules, and figure out all the rest later.

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