Permission to Fail: Word Count, Productivity, and the Commute


Word count.


It used to be the bane of my existence as a writer. If I wrote five hundred words in a day, I was ecstatic. The first day I did a thousand, I vaguely remember being ridiculously pleased with myself. Only in the last few month did Scrivener and I crack the 5,000 words a day barrier. Last week there was a 6,000 word day. Paint me tickled pink.

Why am I thinking about this now?

Because a few hours ago I got a call back from a job interview and they gave me a verbal offer. Full time employment. With a daily commute totally three hours.

You might think after job searching for months and being in limbo for the past month since I landed in San Diego that I’d be kicking up my heels  and rubbing my hands together at the idea of being gainfully employed again. Believe me, the idea of not living off the kindness of my grandmother without her really being comfortable with me contributing to household expenses is really, really good. Having health insurance after a trial period and other amenities, that is also on the side of good.


And I think I’ll like the people I’m working along side. Thank you to everyone who’s commented and encouraged me here, especially the one post where I discussed that horrible job interview!

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to loose any ground that I’ve made in the last four months as a writer, blogger and general contributor to this web of positive connections and thoughtful folks. I’d miss you guys, honestly.

So how am I going to do it?

First off, some of that new paycheck is going towards an editor. Seriously! Skere would have been out months ago if I could have paid someone else to catch typos. Knyght and I will talk. We’ll find a way. Anyone want the job? I have two books due out this summer.

Second, I’m commuting on a train, so hello baby, my laptop is coming along for the ride.

Third, weekends! Man, I love those two days at the end of the week. Everyone here, you’re very important to me and I’ll will be reaching for my keyboard to answer you each and every weekend at the very least! Also, Twitter, my iPhone and I may be making some committed threesomes, trying to stay connected.

Now, back to the basics. Skere, the novel I just released, was written largely at a Starbucks on lunch breaks over a five month period, while I was planning a wedding and working another job with a long commute. If Skere could be written under conditions like that, then Criminal, Pegasus King and Terms can also be written this year. Thank goodness Knyght and I haven’t given in to cute cuddly faces and had a kid yet. (And before anyone yells at me, I know babies grow up. I’m the oldest of eight and the last two called me mom for years. They thought they had two mothers. I’m still helping raise them. Think speed dial.)

In the little mentoring of other writers that I’ve done, word count and just getting something finished seems to be a huge challenge. And it is one that I am facing now, as I realize that before the end of this year, I want to have roughly 355,000 words written.

Watch me gulp at my own audacity. Until just now, I hadn’t actually tallied it up. But now that I’m doing some division, is doesn’t look quite so back. That’s less than 1,000 words a day. And most days, I can spit that many words out in about an hour. Some days are better, some worse. It sort of depends on if I can work without interruptions, earthquakes, serious health impediments or a sibling crisis.  Life is what happens when you should be writing.

But, getting back to third grade math, that’s only 1,000 fiction words a day, with a few days off for national holidays to boot.


This might be doable.

Marketing may wait till next year, after I have a catalog to market, but I can accept that.

So here’s how this post isn’t all about me. Let’s talk about Productivity

In my opinion, productivity is 80 percent decision to do something and only 20 percent tips and tricks. But the tips and tricks really help fill in that last twenty percent.

Sometimes, you just do what you need to do.

Sometimes, you just do what you need to do.

Here’s the habits/tools that helped me crack my self-imposed wph (words per hour) limits:

1. Scrivener. Enough said. If you don’t know about this amazing software, check out mobewans’s post here or another review here.


2. Headphones and music. It takes me straight into the world where I left off, so start up time each session is next to nil. Stick with the same music for the same project.


3. Pick the same time of day or at least the same location and keep doing it. For me, it’s more often been a ritual. If I get coffee and put in my headphones, my brain knows I’m writing. No matter the time, place, country, day, weather, etc. Thank goodness you can get coffee and a plug practically everywhere!

There’s a few things to get rid of as well:

1. Anyone who looks at you and gives you that sad look like you’re mentally ill for writing but they don’t want to kill your puppy dream. DO NOT listen to them.

2. The idea that you need to be the next Stephen King. You’re going to be you. Thank goodness! If everyone was King then he wouldn’t be so special and neither would you!

I’ve saved the best for last. There’s one thing that was the game changer.

Permission to Fail 

That’s it. Last year I told myself that one important thing. For the first time in my life, I gave myself permission to fail, spectacularly if I needed to.

It’s changed everything. That one decision enabled me to write Skere, and everything else that comes out recently from my fingers. I wrote it, I didn’t read back any of it at the time of writing and and I just kept writing, five or more days a week. Yes, there are thirteen thousand words I just chopped off the beginning and left behind. And yes, I stared at the keyboard for a good two or three minutes growling about that, but I did it when I realized it had to be done. There was coffee gulping involved and angst music listening afterwards. Definitely not the worst thing that’s happened to me.

This decision to allow myself to fail, even in little ways is a decision that’s bled out into the rest of my life.

Have I failed yet? Well, my husband and I are sleeping on the floor of my grandmother’s house, carless and without health insurance right now, so possibly in some people’s book, we have. On the other hand, I started this post with a job offer, so obviously, failure can be a temporary state and sometimes, I do believe we have to pass through it.

Failing is freaking miserable. There are some things I would never want to gamble. But I’m more afraid of never even having the possibility of being happy or succeeding than I am of crashing on my face at this point.

I know many of you reading this are working and pursing your own interests. How do you do it? What’s your key to unlocking the fear? To staying the course? To actually producing what you need to be doing to follow that passion?

Ghosts, Demons and Reality Pic 2


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10 Responses to Permission to Fail: Word Count, Productivity, and the Commute

  1. rommel says:

    When I was reading the first part, I was not understanding why you are calculating things. Sorry to say, but I think it’s ridiculous. Because counting “counts”, a way to motivate you, you trying to meet deadline or number goal … I’m not a writer so I guess I won’t understand.
    Maybe just me, but I hope that permission to fail is also coupled with your freedom to not calculate, or perhaps, over-analyze routine. I hope to hear good news in what you do. Good luck! 😀 😉

    • Ciara Darren says:

      Hey Rommel. Your comment totally made me smile. Coming from your perspective, right on. Counting is a motivating factor. Permission to fail has nothing to do with discarding motivation. Permission to fail is all about walking away from fear. I’m very hard on myself about showing up to the keyboard and putting in the time. If you want to get anywhere, an online business, playing the drums, exercise, you have to commit. Permission to fail has everything to do with showing up and putting in the time whether or not its going well. It’s like when I showed up at the gym with a with battered lungs after a long bout of illness. I couldn’t run on the track but I could get out there and walk. As a writer, the fear is centered around whether or not you’re going to have anything meaningful to say when you dig into your soul for a story and try to tell it. That’s where the permission to fail comes in. I’m going to write, whether or not its good, because I won’t become excellent without the practice. So many writers, artists, musicians and dancer give up because the first time they try, they fail. I believe entrepreneurs are the same way. If everything had to go perfectly the first time, we’d have a lot less people out there hustling and shaking the world up in positive ways. Thanks for being willing to use the word ridiculous. I’m glad you spoke your mind.

  2. hannahgivens says:

    I love that “productivity is 80 percent decision to do something and only 20 percent tips and tricks” quote. That’s basically my tip and trick… If I’m feeling lazy, I ask myself, “Do you want to have written this or not?” I may not want to write, but I want very badly to have written, and there’s no other way to get there! I do need to establish some sort of ritual that will tell my brain it’s time to write, though.

    Congratulations on the job!

    • Ciara Darren says:

      Thank you for the congratulations. I’ve studied rituals in various cultures and as much as younger generations may discard the rituals of the past, saying that they aren’t needed, they may not even realize that new rituals are being created in their own lives. We all have rituals, acknowledged or not. Do you have any you haven’t formally recognized?

      • hannahgivens says:

        I like to have coffee when I write, but I can’t drink it on a daily basis (anxiety). Everything else seems to wax and wane. For two months I’ve been writing first thing in the mornings, and all of a sudden for the past week I’ve only been able to write at night. Often I like to listen to music and get stuck if the music goes off, but then other times I can’t focus at all with the music playing. So, I don’t have a routine that I know of.

  3. Hey, congrats on the job!

    This post gave my heart palpitations are a number of different points. Firstly, three hours of daily commuting. Wow – that is a lot, and that’s assuming everything goes smoothly in the commute (i.e. no accidents, road closures, or breakdowns). It’s a good thing you plan to write during your commute because that’s a big chunk out of your day, as you’re well aware. Do you think you might move closer to the job once you’re settled into the position and know you plan to stay?

    And then 355K words this year! OMG, I found myself searching for some nitroglycerin with that one. Even though it’s only 1000 words a day, but that’s a threshold I’ve never been able to crack. I might well be the Slowest Writer Ever(TM), although I try to compensate for this through consistent work habits (she says despite having been home only 3 days in the last two weeks and having not written in word during any of that time).

    I think you’re doing great. I think I’m doing all right myself. We stumble, fall, and get back up again. That’s what life is all about. I have learned to give myself permission to be slow (like your permission to fail). All we can do is our best.

    Glad you’re planning to continue blogging. And I didn’t know you’re on Twitter – why are we not following each other? What’s your handle? (mine is @jannagnoelle)

    • Ciara Darren says:

      My handle is @CiaraDarren. Straight forward. Evidently, it’s not a common name! ^_^

      As for writing habits, turtles who keep at it will win over rabbits any year. So don’t be kicking yourself. Besides, I may have lofty goals, but lets all wait to get excited till I break through that word count barrier. Mobewan gave me a great idea to put a tracker up here, posting my progress, to keep myself accountable. Now I just have to carve out time from writing words to make that happen. Heaven knows I need it! The gauntlet has been laid!

      Oh, and President Obama totally messed up my commute this week. He visited and all kinds of things were out of sink. It’s ok, it was going home, not trying to get there. So as long as the President doesn’t visit too often, I’ll be ok!

  4. mobewan says:

    First up, congrats on the job. Missed your blog on the job interview, but I know how disheartening things can be while trying to find work.

    Regarding failure, doesn’t sound like you’ve failed to me. You are happy, have a plan and have people that love you. And of course it’s okay to want more and to take a shot at getting it. If you need any help just give me a shout. Not sure what I can do but happy to beta read, spur you on and give out kicks up the arse when needed. I’ve found a level of public accountability helps to. You’ve already said you want to crack 355k words this year (are you MAD!!!?!?! :-)), so let us know how you are doing. Keep us up to date with whether you are on track or need to pick up the pace. From what I’ve seen of your commenters you have a pretty cool support group here.

    Accountability then has been the key for me. That and wine.

    • Ciara Darren says:

      Thanks for the congrats. Thank you so much for all the encouragement. I’ll try to live up to it. You all are so very generous. Am I mad? …please submit that question to my darling husband Knight. He might have a more definitive answer. I have been known to show up in China without a clear way to get from the airport to a city several hundred miles away in the middle of the night. I DO need a tracker on this site. Do you have a plug in to recommend? Advice would be awesome. I need to see about getting that running this weekend before work sucks me back in Monday through Thursday. As for failing, my comment to rommel might explain what I meant by that better. It’s more about art than progress. I really should have defined that better! P.S. anyone reading here, go check out mobewan’s site and his beta chapters!

      • mobewan says:

        I’d like to pretend I’m some kind of underground hacker, but all I do is go here :

        Enter your count details then copy and past the code into a text widget (go to your WP dashboard, Appearance, Widgets). I manipulate the code a tad, but you can get away without doing anything. Enjoy.

        Thanks for the plug btw 🙂

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