July was my most productive month of 2020, with 10620 words written across seven projects. I felt good, like I had a handle on living a creative life in the midst of a global pandemic and national unrest.
Then my word count dropped by an average of 4022 words for the next two months.
Let’s examine the data before we start making conjectures about why and how.
I wrote 6026 words in the month of August. The majority dealt with my screenplay, then known as “Untitled Nursing Home Project” with 4244 words. I ran into a fairly significant roadblock toward the end of August. The antagonist of the script is a malevolent ghost named Gertrude who can only be seen by protagonist Helen due to Helen’s recent near death experience. Helen’s loving husband, Larry, assumes that Helen’s talk of ghosts is a symptom of dementia. Gertrude delights in causing the couple strife so she had no motivation to reveal herself to Larry. I needed a way for Larry to start believing in ghosts, without completely ignoring Gertrude’s character profile. (Gertrude’s character is that she’s a bitch.) This problem stopped the script cold for several days, into the month of September.
While trying to figure out how to make a fictional Grandpa believe in ghosts, I wrote 865 words on blogs, most of which are available here, but some were deleted.
I wrote 652 words on Comedy in August, as part of an application for an internship that I did not get and don’t want to talk about. They were good words and I’m glad I wrote them, but not as glad as I would be if they’d done what they were supposed to.
I wrote 2575 words in September, entirely on the screenplay. On September 17th, I figured out how to get Larry to believe in ghosts. SPOILER ALERT: It’s more ghosts. More ghosts, different ghosts, different motivations. Ghosts whose sympathies are with the living reveal themselves to Larry, proving that Helen is sane. Once that’s settled, she and Larry can take on Gertrude.
Why did my output slow to such a degree in August and September? First, without going in to too much detail, August and September were a hard couple of months. Covid continued to affect nearly every aspect of my life, including my extended family. I remain worried about them, my friends, my finances, and my country. The irony is that I am faring better than many of the people I know. I’m young and relatively healthy, with a support system I can depend on if things get worse. Most people don’t have that. Even as my anxiety consumes me, I appreciate the stability I have.
Second, August and September were busy months. In August, I got a job and in September, I started working for it. I am now an In Home Social Service worker, helping a wonderful elderly gentleman with his day to day needs. Because the state provides my paycheck (Thank you, California), there was a mountain of paperwork and orientations to go through. Once my place was secured, I went from working whenever I could finagle it, to working six hours a day for six days a week. While the job was an absolute godsend for my finances and peace of mind, it was also an adjustment. Energy and focus that usually went to writing were, appropriately, transferred to the new job.
Most importantly, I believe I didn’t write as much in August and September because I wrote 10,000 words in July. Most of the time, writing is mentally exhausting. Long word counts require the physical ability to sit at a computer, stare at a screen, for hours on end, and/or the mental energy and focus to write quickly. More than that, writers are not just typing random words or copying from the dictionary. It takes time to come up with a story, to arrange the words in the right order to illicit the correct response in the audience and move the story forward. Due to the factors described above, I simply did not have the energy.
Word count is not the only measure of a writer. I spent a lot of August and September staring out of windows, reading books, talking to friends, and moving around in my city. These are all part of the creative process, experiencing the world around you and allowing yourself to think. It’s just very difficult to put it up on a graph.
If you’ve struggled creatively and need some extra commiseration, check out the Onion article Man Not Sure Why He Thought Most Psychologically Taxing Situation Of His Life Would Be The Thing To Make Him Productive or the Oatmeal’s Creativity is like Breathing. I hope things get better.