Getting the last word

It’s pretty widely accepted in the writing community that it’s vital to write as often as possible… that setting aside time each day to write is The Way To Do It. Even something like NaNoWriMo feeds into this philosophy… challenging people to bang out 50,000 words in a month, like this is the pinnacle of literary commitment. That is something of a fallacy. Fifty thousand words are, more often than not, just 50,000 words. It doesn’t mean you’re magically an author of a novel. (And 50K is actually too short for standard novel-length.) But, hey, NaNo makes thousands of people feel validated and accomplished, so that’s a plus.

The problem? There are some of us who just cannot work that way, who don’t feel validated by beating the clock. And given the overwhelming culture of “write early, write often,” there’s a distinct sense that we few, we happy few, are failures if we go weeks without conceiving a single sentence.

I’ve been writing fiction since I was six years old. (It wasn’t very good OR deep, but, hey, I was doing it.) In the course of twenty-six years, I have had incredibly productive months and, then, I have had months where I write nothing. It took me ten years to complete my first young adult manuscript. My new projects are coming in fits and starts. And that is fine.


See, I’m of the horribly unpopular idea that it’s better to write something of actual worth, that feels organic, than to force yourself to spit words on a page just to fulfill a quota. I don’t write to fill a quota. I write because a story speaks to me in a particular moment, at a particular time. I’ll write snatches of fiction on paper, type into the notepad feature on my phone, ride that wave of creativity as far as I can, and it is a beautiful feeling. My God, it’s such a high. Sitting down in front of a document and making myself write because I “have” to? Is the opposite. It feels tedious and terrible and my creative circuits shut off. And whatever I write in those moments is also tedious and terrible.

That doesn’t just apply to fiction either. My blandest Soapbox columns in WEEKLY result when I’m on deadline and I have no inspiration. My best ones come from passion, from anger, and I usually write those in less than ten minutes. I feel ridiculously energized when I turn in the file.

That’s what writing is for me: energy. It’s my fingers flying across the keyboard as if they’re possessed by something bigger than me. It’s being the most in tune with my mind that I can possibly be. Writing a few thousand words a day might work for some people, but it’s that feeling that works for me. I write because I need to, because I am filled to the brim with words and ideas and my cup runneth over.

So I’m going to do my best not to drink the Kool-Aid.

2 thoughts on “Getting the last word

  1. Wow, Mala, you have no idea how gratified I am to find another person of the “quality over quantity” persuasion. I’ve been writing since I was a teen, and seriously for the past five years, and I’ve always had a hard time with the whole sit-and-write-even-if-it’s-crap philosophy as well. Forcing myself to sit and write when my mind/focus/inspiration just isn’t there leaves me frustrated, and it shows in my writing. I sure don’t want to read the trash I come up with in such forced sessions, so why should anyone else want to either? ;)

    –SilverBirch, not drinking the Kool-Aid either


    1. I’m glad I’m not alone!

      I sure don’t want to read the trash I come up with in such forced sessions, so why should anyone else want to either?

      Exactly! Would you want someone to watch you sweating in the gym? No.


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