Patrick E. McLean : Just what it says on the tin.


In the last 108 days of my life I have written an average of 1232 words a day. My goal, initially, was a 1000 words a day. When I was able to sustain that for 14 days, I bumped 100 words. I have done this three, so now I am at 1330 words a day.

The result of this discipline is that I have written 133,074 words in the last three and half months. That’s two novels and good start on a third. I’ve left them to sit in draft and will finish this one before I go back and edit anything.

In doing all this writing, I have learned a few things. Most importantly, I have uncovered a fundamental and eternal truth:

You are either ahead, or you are behind.

That’s it. Binary states of existence.

When you are ahead, you are the hare, you will ease up and lose the race. The danger is too much confidence. And if you think it is hard with writing goals, imagine how much harder it must become with success. Thank God I’ve only had a little. Given what I know about myself, if I had been an early success in life I would be dead, or a monster, or both.

When you are behind, it’s time to fight. It’s time to cheat. The circumstances of your life, the deficit in your will or the flaws in your personality have put you in a bind. It’s 11 pm on a Thursday, you’re drunk, exhausted and uninspired. Your bed is calling, or her bed is calling, or your asshole friend is calling — matters not. Now it’s time to play hardball. Throw elbows. Do the things that civilized people fear to do. It’s the only way.

Civilization: The Jury is Still Out?

I don’t feel as ashamed as I used to about being uncivilized in defense of art or craft. The jury is, in fact, still out on civilization. It may indeed just be an elaborate con so the people at the top get to steal the stuff of the people below them. And all of those nice, civilized, dull people that are your neighbors or you went to high school with? 20% of them are on antidepressants. The rest spend 34 hours a week watching television. A numbing, dumbing drug if ever there was one.

Better a rotting peace than a vital revolution for sure. But these are not a writer’s concern. A writer’s job is to write. Everything else is beyond the writer’s control. To say that it is not is arrogance, foolishness and hubris. Write. That is all of it. Anything else is a lie wrapped in a mistake.

Stay up late, get up early. Ignore social obligations. Place your seemingly selfish, focused, incomprehensible act — for what else is writing — ahead of everything else. There will be a jolt, yes. A shock and recoil of the small-minded, but after that will come respect. You see most people take a stand for nothing. Fight for space for nothing. And the sting of first recrimination you might feel for taking some space for something worthwhile that you want to do is the flip side of their jealousy. Nothing more.

Play for Keeps

If you take yourself seriously, when you are behind, it’s like being in debt to the wrong people. It’s like being the main character in a movie with a bomb. The clock is ticking. Midnight is coming. If you don’t hit the goal by then, the world will blow up. If you smirk at this, it means that you don’t have goals.

There’s no consequence if I miss your daily writing goal? Perhaps, but that’s not the way to play it. Treat every gun as if it is loaded. Treat every day as if it is your one chance to capture greatness on the page or screen. Of course, most guns aren’t loaded, most days are ordinary. But I think it is insanity to look at the world in any other way.

When you are behind, you do whatever you have to to get ahead. When you are ahead, you try to cling to the memories of the sacrifices you made to get there so you don’t fall behind again.

As I write this post I am ahead. But tomorrow morning, I will be behind again, just like everyone else. If you are thinking about doing NaNoRiMo, go for it. Throw your hands at the keyboard with reckless, fearless abandon. When you fall behind, I will cheer for you. When you claw ahead, I will hate you with a jealous passion. If I was a better person, I would think differently, but there you have it.

Good Luck.

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