A word on writing chains

I’d like to comment briefly on writing chains, in part because I find them helpful and utterly destroying.

A broad metal chain.
A broad metal chain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing chains are generally a reference to the number of consecutive, successful days of writing you have. The intent is not to break the chain – to write every day. It is an admirable and motivating force.

Writing chains are good. They help provide focus, a reminder that you must work every day if you want to improve your craft. There is a satisfaction to writing chains that only grows over time, because they are a marker of dedication and success. I may not be much, my stories may not be well known, but I’ve written 11 days in a row (155 of the last 184), and practice makes perfect. My skill is getting better, my story telling improving. There is also evidence that in my stats that the more you write, the more you write. When I started out tracking in July, I was average 4-500 words a day. By December, I was up to 650 words a day. So far this year, and I admit this is a wild streak even by my own standards, but I have been writing an average of 1208 words a day. Sure, that’s not going to net me a book that’s saleable any faster, but that’s despite returning to work and life in the fast lane.

Writing chains can be bad. If writing is  a secondary career, though, then you can’t write every day without losing the meaning of the chain. In your day job, no matter how much you love the work you do, you need breaks. Weekends. Vacations, even. Times when you are not working, but doing something else, something unrelated. These breaks away help provide you with clarity, recharging your batteries so you can return with renewed vigor.

So too it should be with writing, whether you are the rarely fortunate who calls writing their career, or like me, aspiring only to weave a coherent story or two that others might enjoy. I still have a ways to go with the current novel project, so I don’t expect to be breaking that chain any time soon (current estimates have me wrapping up in about a month with the first draft), but after that I completely intend to take a slight break. If nothing else, my brain will need me to take that break, so I can shift gears. I have an inkling of what I’d like to work on next, and it’s a departure from epic fantasy and into space opera.

I’d like to suggest to other folks who are trying to write, that writing chains are a good thing – but they should be relevant to a project, not a calendar. Keeping the chain going while working on a single piece is crucial, in my mind, because otherwise you begin to slip out of character and lose track of where you’re headed. Your brain, which is working on the next bit of creative wizardry even when you’re not aware of it, is going to let go of those unrealized ideas if you sideline your current project(s). However, forcing your to keep the chain alive when you are between projects, just for the sake of being able to say you wrote every day, is beyond my kenning.

But then, maybe my problem is I don’t have enough projects lined up?

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2 thoughts on “A word on writing chains”

  1. You have to find what works best for you. Streaks work well for some people and can be intimidating or stressful to others (what happens if I break the streak!!?). Find your comfort zone, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

    The chain works for me. What I have found is that projects tend to line up like airplanes coming into an airport for landing. The typical patter for me goes like this:

    1. Work on a new project.
    2. Work on 2nd draft of project.
    3. Work on 3rd (and usually final) draft of project.
    4. Go to 1.

    If I don’t know what I’ll be working on next when I’m in step 1, I almost always know by the time I get to step 2. In those rare instances that I don’t know in step 2, I’ll figure it out in step 3.

    What I have tried–and doesn’t work for me–is to work on the 1st draft of a new project while working on the 2nd draft of the previous project at the same time.

    And I fill occasional gaps with nonfiction writing and various other small writing commitments. This helps if, for example, I finish a big fiction project and need to give my brain a few days rest. I’ll write my book review column or another piece of nonfiction during those few day. Usually, I’m itching to get back to storytelling when the nonfiction is finished.

    1. I know I’m not alone in the sense of awe at tracking your chain – sincerely, it’s inspiring. I wonder if my perception on writing chains relates to the general length of fiction I write ([failed] novel vs short story). Which would almost hold up if you hadn’t written a novel and novela in the last 8 months, I know 🙂

      Of course, its crazy to think there’s any one formula, and it wasn’t my intent to be down on chains. BAH! I should wrap these posts in caution tape. Of course, the biggest problem with following a schema like you’ve laid out is that until only recently, I was brazenly stopping with step one on everything, so there was no second or third draft, and therefore no cycle to work through. Maybe I’ll see things differently moving forward, but knowing how my day job can be at the end of the year, I’m not sure I will ever be in a position to write every day in December and November.

      (this comment was, admittedly, edited, to finish my thought and to remove what looked like a pattern of emoticons at the end of each paragraph)

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