A Successful Defeat – How to Feel Good About a Bad Day of Writing

Donald Miller

I got a little bit of work done on my book today, but not as much as I’d hoped. Yesterday, I wrote five times as many words as I did today. And I’d even argue yesterday’s words were better. I doubt anything I wrote today will be published. And yet I feel fine about it.

It’s been a long time coming for me to view a relatively unsuccessful writing day as a victory, but I’m glad this is now my perspective.

What I mean by this is writing is not an exact science. It’s not like screwing bottle caps on bottles, in which each day you can measure your accomplishments. There are too many mysterious forces in writing. It’s more like playing basketball, I’d say. Some days you’ve got a jump shot and other days you don’t. Who really knows why. But like in basketball, there are things you can do to increase the chances of a ball going in. You can practice, for example, and you can stay in shape.

*Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives, Creative Commons

In writing, it’s all about routine. My job is not to get up every day and write two-thousand words. My job is to do this:

    1. Go to bed before 9pm. This assures I will get up early and be ready to write.

    2. Wake up at 5am or so. Respond to a few emails, then turn off my phone. Take the dog for a walk and think and pray about what I’m going to be working on.

    3. Don’t force the inspiration. I sit down and ask myself what I feel like writing. I remind myself that I have a book, and need to stay within that range of topics. I also remind myself that I have some chapters in that book, and that the book has structure. I dig around a little within that structure to see if there’s anything there.

    On most mornings, something, a thought transpires, and I write it down, letting the words come. Once the thought is finished, I try to find a place within the existing structure where that thought might fit. I then file it on my computer for review later when I start compiling the book. I repeat that process until my mind gets just a little bit sloppy, which is normally just before noon. That’s the end of my writing day, and the beginning of my day as a manager of a writer’s life.

But that’s what my writing responsibilities look like. Some days I walk away from the computer having accomplished a mountain of work. Some days just a little pile of words. Today was a pile of words. But I don’t feel bad at all.

Now, I turn my phone on and there will be voicemails and text messages that, had I left my phone on, would have derailed me completely. I have the rest of the day to not worry about the book. I’ll start thinking about this book at 7pm tonight, when tomorrow’s writing day starts with me slowly orbiting my bed, brushing my teeth, walking the dog, reading a few articles, watching a television show before I lay down a little nervous and excited about what might get written in the morning.

(this is a repost from the archives)

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is all about story. His new book Scary Close is available now. Order it here, today. Follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller). To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.