I loved Star Trek as a kid. Not the one with Captain Picard. The one with Captain Kirk. Yes, I am that old.
The show taught me two things.
First, in the future lots of things will have the word star added to their names. Starships. Starfleets. Stardates. This seemed pretty cool when I was 12, but I am getting impatient. When do we get to add star to everything?
The second thing Star Trek taught me was that keeping a journal of the major events of each day was almost as cool as beaming yourself across space or blasting Klingons with a concealed-carry phaser.
I’ve just never really felt like keeping a journal. This is because journaling takes startime, and I’ve always figured that 1) if I am going to write, it should be about something interesting, and 2) my life isn’t.
You may have noticed that Captain Kirk rarely mentioned any of the good stuff in his journals. Probably he understood that the good stuff would get him courtmartialed. The way I see it, the point of a journal is to prove that you did something worth getting a paycheck for, but not so much that anyone will want to fire you for it. Still, just once I would have loved to hear the show begin with full disclosure. Something like:
“In orbit around planet T-3264. Scanners detect life forms shaped like giant mounds of Hamburger Helper. These are capable of eating through solid granite at the rate of thirty feet per second. Also, they seem to have developed a taste for human flesh. Therefore, rather than sending a team of scientists and security personnel, I am beaming myself to the planet’s surface along with with my second in command, the engineer, the navigator, and our medical officer. While it’s true that if anything happens to us the chain of command will be disrupted and the ship will have no doctor, no one to repair the engines and no clue how to get home, the crew is no longer bored.”
All of which brings me to stardate 2.9.2012. February 9th was the day I went to the future and started keeping a log of how many words I write each day. Aside from making myself look as cool as William Shatner, my goal was to get an honest glimpse of how much I was really producing.
Before this, I’d always used a system I call “Just One Paragraph.” Stephen King reportedly writes 2,000 words a day, 365 days a year. Other, less ambitious writers aim for 1,000 words, or even a single page. These are all well and good, except that the hardest part of writing for me has always been the first few sentences of the day. 1,000 words seems like a reasonable, attainable goal, but how will I get to a thousand if I can’t get to twenty seven?
The main problem is not that I feel blocked, it’s that I feel lazy. Unlike Kirk, I would rather watch the Hamburger Helper monster on a viewscreen than beat it to death with a chair in real life. Similarly, my imagination will do anything to avoid the hard work of telling me a story. So I sit down to write and discover that someone has emailed me a very interesting bit of gossip about the hippos in the Tel Aviv zoo, or a kind gentleman in Nigeria has left me thirty six million dollars and just needs my social security number and bank account number and mother’s maiden name in order to send it to me. How can I write with such matters to attend to?
Thus did I create the Just One Paragraph Rule for Easily Distracted or Lazy Writers. Here’s how it works: the only requirement I have for myself is one teeny tiny paragraph each writing day. A few sentences, that’s all. Then I can read emails or surf the internet or go for a walk or immerse myself in a book or whatever.
This is a trick of course. Once I have the mountainous first paragraph out of the way, the molehill of the next 900 words is simple. Boredom gone, my imagination starts pacing the tiny recesses of my brain and looking for villains to squash.
But I really wanted a way to make that first paragraph easier. I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, the pump-priming process that works for a daily bit of writing could be extended across four or five months. I’ve noticed that the more I write, the easier it is to write more. What if, instead of writing four days a week, I extended it to six?
The problem was, I had no idea how much I was really writing. So I decided to write down my total word count for the day along with whatever projects those words belonged to. It would only take a few seconds each day, and after a while the numbers might be somewhat interesting.
But something unexpected happened. My log started to take on a weirdly motivational clipboard-and-whistle personality. Now it’s almost like being taunted by a gym-coach with beefy pectorals. “Come on, sissy-boy, is that all you got? 304 words?!”
Sure enough, sometimes that isn’t all I’ve got. Sometimes I have Just One More Paragraph in me. Sometimes I don’t have to stop at 840 words. Or 1,130. Or 1,760.
No, the log is never really satisfied, but isn’t that the point? As writers, we need daily kicks in the starposterior. In fact, sometimes I think it would be nice if I had a real life gym coach checking up on me every day, telling me my prose is flabby and riddled with spineless adverbs. But the truth is, a simple journal program on your computer is a lot better. You don’t have to feed it, and you can turn it off anytime you want. Also, it doesn’t smell bad.
The great thing about Star Trek, after all, was that you didn’t have to stay in the future. All those sliding doors and badly furnished rooms, all those nouns covered in stars. You always came back to the now in the end. Back to regular-sized Hamburger Helper with your family, back to your tail-wagging dog, back to real clothing tailored by real human beings.
In the end, isn’t this what writing is about? Isn’t this what we really want from the writing life? Escape…but only for a while?
Stardate 3.2.2012: Wrote a 1,102-word blog entry. My imagination is no longer bored.