Burn Up was the first book I really embraced the concept of punching in for a few shitty words.
I had written Remy and Star’s story (Blow Out) in something of a fever dream. It was my first book and it was enormous- around 100k words! I’d played around on a few concepts but I’d never gone all-in on a finished, published story before. The writing of Blow Out also coincided with me losing my job, so in order to put off the job hunt I became absorbed in writing. It was all I did ten hours a day for months on end. At first it was a distraction, then an obsession as the story developed and I needed to see just how far I could take Remy and Star on their journey and where they would eventually end up.
Burn Up, my second project was considerably different. I knew I wanted to write more and had a rough outline and character synopsis put together when I started; however, the fever just wasn’t there. I had just started a new job, reconnected with close friends and was honestly a little burnt out from coming off the massive undertaking of Blow Out. I started building up steam with this super fun opening scene of Hendrix being the most over-the-top version of himself possible, then the chapter came to a close like running headlong into a brick wall. When I sent Hendrix to prison, the project completely stalled. I mean screeching halt. I didn’t type another word for weeks! Every time I thought about continuing the story, I felt the weight of my last book press down on me and was so overwhelmed with what I would have to do to finish the new one that I let other obligations distract me. How the hell was I going to follow up a monster like that?
The short answer was I wasn’t. After a talk with a friend I realized I didn’t have to write for ten hours a day like I had done previously; I just needed to put down a few shitty words. With that outlook that was exactly what I set off to do. “I’ll just introduce Maya with some placeholder bullshit and call it a day,” I told myself when I reopened the now dusty file. I decided I wouldn’t spend more than thirty minutes messing around on my laptop. It was hard not to justify writing for thirty minutes so it gave me an easy entry point. I wasn’t focused on anything but that one chapter, not the word count, not setting up foreshadowing, tie-ins, call-backs or anything just writing what came to mind. Kind of like a mindful meditation actually. I was in the moment and unconcerned if I got anything salvageable out of it. When I was done, I saved it and just put it away, not even bothering to review my work. The following day I came back with the same approach of not putting too much value on it. I’ll get what I get and I wasn’t going to beat myself up about it anymore.
Fast forward several weeks and, to my surprise, I had a surprising amount of good stuff in there! Some things didn’t work and the story needed some small changes that I hadn’t anticipated, but on a whole I kept the vast majority of what I initially put down. Soon enough I had a first draft, then a second, then something that was editable and before I knew it that Burn Up was complete!
It was all due to showing up every day (hell I even took weekends and holidays off!) and “punching in”. My boss -me- was suddenly way more relaxed with my output. At first he was a slave-driver expecting ten hours a day, now he’ll accept one hour total or five hundred words, whichever comes first. On the days I really get into a rhythm I’ll ride it out until I’m done which might be an extra few hundred words or so. On days that are a slog, I’ll call it a day around two to three hundred words. Punching in every day is my only real goal, everything after that is gravy. Hell, even writing these blogs counts toward that goal. I punched in today and wrote this down. That’s a win I’ll take.
This is still a formula I use with all my books and to date I’ve finished over a dozen novels. By not pressuring myself I’ve found a balance and it’s all thanks to Maya and Hendrix. Don’t let your expectations of a project paralyze you. Just punch in and write a few shitty words.