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Come Hell or High Water

Atlin Merrick Come Hell or High Water Help for Writers

By Atlin Merrick

Come Hell or High Water Improbable Press blog

A thousand words a day.
One thousand words a day.
A thousand every day every day one thousand.

That. There. The rule I lived by for two years.

Several years ago, in an effort to become a better writer, I promised myself I'd write a thousand words a day for a year. When that went well, I continued on into two years and by early year three…

…I was…


…………falling behind.

Because by year three I'd become deeply involved with fandom, going to meetups and conventions, I'd moved countries, and I'd started a degree program.

So a thousand words a day became difficult, but I would keep track of the words I'd missed anyway, and I'd grouse to myself, "You're three thousand two hundred and four words behind you know," and the number would grow and then wane and I'd complain to myself times forever. Then once, just the once, I made these grumbling mouth noises in the presence of Ms Verity Burns, fellow writer and my friend.

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She said something then that became a mantra for me, is one to this day, and those words were these:

Who made that rule?

Who, asked wise Verity, made the rule that I had to write a thousand words a day? Everyday. No matter what. Who did that?

I blinked at her in surprise and said as softly as I ever get: "Me? Me. I made that rule. I made that rule."

And I had, obviously I had.

I think we all do this, make rules that feel iron tight, unbreakable, important. Like not using the china except for special occasions and the thing is—who made that rule? Once you have the answer to that, here comes my second vital mantra, this time from my wonderful brother Bobby:

How's that working for you?

A thousand words a day come hell or high water was a rule I had made. How was that working for me? Once I asked that question I knew: it wasn't.

Each of these mantras was a revelation and now I take 'em with me everywhere, a one-two punch: Who made that rule Atlin, and how's it workin' for you? The answers have helped guide me to more sensible behaviour for years now and for that I'm grateful.

Before those mantras I'm not sure I could have seen things as clearly as they now help me see. Maybe they'll work for you too, or maybe you have other words that do? Tell me won't you?

This essay originally appeared in issue 60 (5 Sept 2019) of the Spark writing newsletter: Mantras–The Words that Get Us Through. Come along, subscribe to our free monthly Spark newsletter! We pay for contributions and we cover all kinds of cool writerly topics.

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