Writer’s Cave or Fortress of Solitude?

Tuesday’s Scribe PJ Sharon here. I hope you all had an enjoyable holiday weekend, didn’t eat too much “bad” stuff, and remembered to take a moment to relax. For me, the weekend was about two things: Entertaining family and friends, and reaching my goal of 40,000 words on my work in progress. As I write this post on Monday evening, I’m tired, full, and happy to report relative success on both counts. Hi Mom!

That’s my mother-in-law on the left, my youngest son on the right and the happy crew in the back is my best friend and her family. Great food, Good times!Labor day Dinner pic

As for my word count goal, I began the month of August with about 12,000 words written on a book called PIECES OF LOVE. It’s a contemporary YA romance that I had shelved last year to work on the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Since I’m planning to write book three of the trilogy in the coming year, I knew that if I wanted to write Ali’s story, I would have to do it quickly and get back to work finishing the trilogy. I’m pleased to say, that although I didn’t quite reach my goal, I’m pretty darn close at 37,500 words. I suspect I’ll get to the 40k mark tomorrow. So how did I do it, you ask? And even if you didn’t, I’m going to let you in on some secrets—because that’s what we Scribes are all about.

For some writers, 30,000 words in a month is a doable goal. All you have to do is write a thousand words a day. About three pages daily, right? Easy? Um…not really. What happens to having a day off? What if i get stuck on a plot point, need to do some research, or can’t figure out where the story is going? What about when family barges in and expects food and clean clothes for school? Or if you’re like me, you have that thing called a day job that consumes hours a day that you could be writing and by the time you get home, you can barely manage an Amy’s frozen black bean burrito (delicious and nutritious by the way).

If you are a perfectly disciplined writer, then 30k in a month is just about the right pace to finish a first draft in two—maybe two and a half—months. But how many of us are perfectly disciplined writers? I almost want to say that those words are a bit of an oxymoron. Perfectly neurotic—maybe. Perfectly disciplined—not likely. So how does a writer on a deadline do it?

Word count goals are a must, but how rigid do we have to be? Do we really need to lock ourselves away to get the job done? Some people talk about the “writer’s cave.” The place where writers go to hole up, be left alone, and don’t come out until the work is finished. I knew that this would never work for me. Number one, I’m claustrophobic, so even the thought of being forced into a cave makes me want to run screaming into the night. Secondly, it sounds like punishment. I’m picturing Jamie Fraser (for Outlander fans) hiding out in a tiny cave in the hills of Scotland for a year, surviving on rats and roots, in fear for his life and that of his family if he is found out. And then there’s the bats…eeek! No caves for me, thank you.

I’m a big believer in perspective. There is real power in words and thoughts. I think people can say just about anything to anyone if they say it with kindness and positive intention. I also believe that a person can accomplish anything they set their minds to if they are given the right tools and have the right attitude. Call it “spin,” “attitude,” or “perspective.” With the right mindset, a person can accomplish great things. I’ve seen it too many times in my life to discount it as theory.

But when I think about the task of writing an entire book in two months, the magnitude of it seems overwhelming. I know myself well enough to know that if I try to force myself to do anything, it will immediately create resistance within me. Also, giving myself an impossible daily word count that doesn’t allow me flexibility or a day off would make me nuts and constantly reinforce a sense of failure—a sure recipe for burnout and not the way for me to be productive.

I find I do much better with a weekly word count of 7-8,000 words. I might be able to do that in a day if I have uninterrupted time and the story is flowing. Or I might not be able to get any writing done for a full week. I don’t beat myself up for that. Instead, I try to put it in perspective. I look at how far I’ve come, appreciate how hard I work in my everyday life, and cut myself some slack for not meeting a particular goal. I also remind myself how much I love my story. I WANT to write it, to see it completed and in print ASAP. Now that is motivating. It’s why I keep showing up at my computer every day.
One of the best tricks I’ve found for making my writing a happier experience and less of a demand is to re-frame how I think about it and my work space. It’s not my writer’s cave, it is my Fortress of Solitude. It’s not a deadline (which makes me think of a hangman’s noose), it’s a finish line (which for us competitive types invokes visions of ticker tape and a celebration).

I have come to love the Fortress of Solitude metaphor. You know, the place where Superman goes to re-energize, reflect on his journey, and find the courage to take the next step toward his ultimate goal. That feels much more inviting to me than a cave. It also allows me to include others in looking at my writing in a more positive way. My husband is awesomely supportive, but even he has his limits. If he thought I was “hiding” from him, I think he would be less inclined to be so helpful. But knowing that I am on an important mission—something that is meaningful and satisfying to me, and working at a job that has the potential to make us a nice retirement nest egg, he feels like he is part of the process—part of making my dreams come true.

So when your family is driving you crazy and interfering with your writing time or keeping you from meeting a “deadline,” instead of telling them you need to be in your “cave,” put up a sign on your desk that says “Fortress of Solitude”.
When you are there, they need to understand the importance of what it is that you are doing–like Superhero important. Also, let them in now and then to make them feel like they are part of your superhero’s journey. You might find they are much more supportive in helping you meet those word count goals.

So how are you all doing these days with your writing? Are you happy with your progress? Loving your story? Carving out time for family and friends as well as meeting those word count goals? Let’s chat fellow Scribers.

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20 thoughts on “Writer’s Cave or Fortress of Solitude?”

  1. I like your plan of having a monthly word goal. I can always produce pages; my challenge is producing pages I won’t delete the next day. : ) I spend a lot of time outlining for a reason. And I’m with you…having a separate space is so important!

    1. Thanks, Kristan. I don’t suffer from delete mode too often, but I wish I was better about outlining more. I’m still a pantser by nature:-) Thanks for taking time out to comment, sweetie! Miss you!

  2. Thanks for the post, PJ! I’m at a tough place with my current WIP. It’s been a long, dry summer. Well, the weather outside has been overly wet… but in terms of writing, it’s been hard to get words on the page. But… today is a new day, the beginning of a new week, and a new season! Preschool begins tomorrow for my little one, and that’s time I know I can guilt-free dive into my fortress of solitude. And I need to remember that always that first draft is the hardest for me.

    1. I have a love/hate relationship with change, whether it be seasons or the state of flux with my writing. Transition is never easy. It’s maddening when the words are just not coming, but once you settle into the new schedule, I’ll bet you’ll crank those pages out! Good luck!

  3. It’s like you said, PJ, writing 1k words a day is easy, but not if they end up in the trash because you have no idea where your story is going or who your characters are.
    I find my process requires me to get to know my characters through writing and thinking–lots of thinking about the story. And it’s real hard to short-cut it. Once I know them, writing is a cinch and then revisions are a snap–although lengthy. I’m still trying to figure out if writing a novel in 2 months is doable. Not so far.
    One thing I find that does help me is to try and work on the story every single day–write or outline or think or research or something. If I spend too much time away from the story, that’s when I lose it and it’s a gargantuan effort to get it back.
    Another thing I’ve found is that it’s efficient for me to have more than one story to write at a time. I know that sounds crazy, but hey, it IS crazy!
    Thanks for sharing your perspective!

    1. Awesome tips, Stephanie. I like that you include the “thinking” phase as a necessity in your process. I do as well. I also like the working on 2 novels at once. It makes sense for me to be plotting and planning book 3 in the trilogy while I’m actively writing PIECES OF LOVE. My mind is always going…why waste my momentum? Maybe all this plotting will make book 3 a snap as you say:-) Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Great article. I aim for 1000 words a night, but there are days when I come home from work and do a face plant on the couch. Right now, it’s 6:52 pm. I’m just about to finish up my social networking obligations and start writing. And that’s where the coffee comes in.

    1. I hear you, Chris. I’d be up all night if I started caffeinating now, LOL. Did I just make caffeine a verb? Time to chill and decomputerize for the night. Oops, I did it again! Thanks for stopping in Chris. Keep up the good work!

  5. What a lovely post, PJ, although mine is not a writer’s cave – it’s more a writer’s dump. But my Fortress of Solitude is earbuds: if my earbuds are in and Pandora is on, I’m Not Available Unless It’s Fire or Blood (or a forgotten appointment).

    1. I love the attitude, Susan:-) I wish I could write to music, but it is way too distracting for me. TV, no problem…music…I start singing to whatever’s on and lose my train of thought completely, LOL. Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy your earbuds!

  6. Paula, great post. I love your oxymoron, Disciplined writer. What keeps me on track is my outline, my discipline, although I deviated some, I still am able to see where the story is going. I have a few more scenes to write. Each scene has its own outline that I find helpful. I don’t need a writer’s cave to write, just need the time. I can and do listen to music and watch my precious tennis, believe it or not. Thanks for sharing.

  7. There’s a lot of wisdom in this post. It got me thinking about my own process. I definitely need the Fortress for plotting and revision. Composing, for me, has no sense of solitude. It is a raucous activity with characters chiming in, anytime, anywhere.

  8. As always, PJ,, great thoughts. Love your fortress of Solitude idea, unfortunately even when I had put a do not disturb sign on my door, they still came in.

    1. Laughing about the raucous character chatter, Peter. I totally get that. Thanks for stopping by. I’m hoping to shut the boices off and get some sleep. Those teen xharacters are such chatter boxes:-)

    2. Thanks, Donna. I’m thinking that those “interruptor” people just want to know that they are as important to us as our writing. If we let them in once in a while, and find a way to include them in the “mission” (like asking them to help you name a character or work out a scene), they will be more invested in giving us time to accomplish our word count goals. Don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments with them, too! Best of luck!

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