IWSG: Know Your Limits

Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a bloghop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.  It’s an opportunity for writer’s to celebrate their successes, commiserate over their troubles, and share tips and ideas.  Click here to visit other participating blogs.


I like to keep track of how many words I write per day.  It’s a good way to keep myself writing, and I have records of my daily writing totals that go back for almost a decade.  The most words I ever wrote in a single day was approximately 7,200, but a few days ago I went way beyond that.  I wrote 9,600 words.  Before you congratulate me, I want to tell you a little about how this happened and why I don’t want to ever do this again.

Here’s a rundown of the events of that magical and traumatic day of writing.

The day before: I managed to write roughly 2,000 words before I got writer’s block.  I spent the rest of the day struggling to write just one more sentence, but I couldn’t get it done.  I had a deadline fast approaching, so this was extra frustrating.  I went to bed around midnight.

6AM: I wake up after a fitful night of sleep.  I had some bad dreams, which, of course, I can’t tell you about because within five minutes I completely forgot them, but they were really bad dreams, whatever they were.  The good news is my writer’s block is gone, and I quickly set to work on the next two scenes of my story.

10AM: I’ve accomplished a lot already, and I decide to take a ninety minute nap.  The lack of sleep is starting to get to me.  Incidentally, ninety minutes is the amount of time scientists say it takes to complete a normal, REM sleep cycle.  I’ve found that sleeping in ninety minute increments (ninety minutes, three hours, four and a half hours, etc) leaves me more refreshed.  Click here for a YouTube video on the science behind this sleep cycle.

Noon: I’m awake again and ready for more writing, but I’m also starting to realize that I’m further behind schedule than I thought.  To make matters worse, I’m going to have to go back and completely rewrite an earlier scene for the sake of continuity.

5PM: I’ve written roughly 6,000 words, and I feel slightly ill.  My head feels warm, but it is a hot day out and I don’t have my air conditioning set up yet, so I don’t worry about it.

6PM: I reach approximately 6,800 words.  I feel exhilarated, but also very, very hungry.  I can’t remember if I ate lunch or not (I would later determine that yes, I did).  A friend and I go out to the nearest diner for a quick meal, after which I take another nap.

11PM: My nap took longer than I planned, and I don’t feel 100% refreshed, but I’m still exhilarated by the amount of writing I’ve already done, and I’m determined to beat my old writing record.  In fact, I give serious thought to trying to write a total of 10,000 words.  It seems like an achievable goal.

Midnight: I’ve written another 800 words, and my head feels unnaturally warm.  Who knew your brain could literally overheat from too much writing?  I quickly drink several glasses of cold water.  I then take my shirt off and position a fan to blow cool air on my back (blowing air directly on my head or neck would give me a headache).  This seems to work.  The water and the cool air lower my body temperature, and my head no longer feels so warm.  I continue writing.  The story is coming together really well, and I don’t want to stop.  I still feel like I can make it to 10,000 words.

3AM: I am once again really hungry, and my head feels unnaturally warm.  Although I haven’t been doing any strenuous physical activity, I feel like I have.  In fact, I feel weak and a little sick.  I doggedly keep going and manage to write another paragraph or two, but I soon realize that all this writing might put my health at risk.  I stop at 9,600 words.

Conclusions: Within a 24 hour period (21 hours, to be precise) I wrote 9,600 words (9,615, again to be precise).  I’m not sure what emotion best describes how I feel.  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I also feel physically and emotionally drained.

I believe that napping is what made this possible.  It helped break the day into smaller chunks.  It tricked my brain into thinking I wasn’t doing so much in just one day.  It also gave my brain an opportunity to relax and recuperate before the next onslaught of writing.

As for the unnatural warmth in my head that I experienced, I have a theory.  The brain is a kind of machine, and the more a machine works, the more heat it produces.  This could also explain the intense hunger and weariness I felt.  Even though I spent the whole day sitting in my office doing nothing more strenuous than type, my brain was consuming enormous amounts of energy.

I do not recommend pushing yourself this hard, and I do not intend to ever do this to myself again.  The brain may be like a machine, but it’s also living tissue, and causing living tissue–especially brain tissue–to overheat sounds like a bad idea.  As writers, we have to know our limits.  After this experience, I certainly know mine.  I now believe that anything beyond 6,000 to 7,000 words per day is hazardous to my health.

So, my fellow insecure writers, what are your writing goals and do you know your writing limits?

7 thoughts on “IWSG: Know Your Limits

  1. Whoa! I could never do that. Not even on a Saturday. I think you were cooking in your own juices. But hey, you did get a lot accomplished.
    And when I write, it’s usually during NaNo or BuNo so that I have a daily word count to hit.

  2. Stephen King tries to write 2000 words a day, everyday, including Christmas (or at least he used to). I have not lived up to that goal, but I shoot for at least 6-8000 per week. Mornings are best, if I don’t get distracted (which is easy since I’m really ADD). Social media management is the worst offender to the distraction index. See, I’m typing this comment instead of adding words to my current project. Kudos to all who create 2000 words a day and still have a busy day job. I am especially impressed with working mothers who do it.

    • I like the weekly writing quota as well. Some of us need that flexibility. The danger is when it’s the end of the week and you try to do a full week’s worth of writing in a day. Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that.

  3. I don’t know if my brain overheats, but I do know when I write all day and produce a lot at once, I’m not good for the next few days. It’s as if I’ve trespassed on future creativity. Good post!

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