The Rules

21 December 2016

By the end of week x during the year, I must have drafted--zero or first (note that some of the early writing of 2017 will be about the distinction)--5000x words, up to a total of 250,000. A quarter of a million is enough newly drafted words for one year. At that point I should have quarried plenty of marble for my angel-carving.

I will post something every weekday. What that something is can be anything pretty much anything. Anything from a full essay to a blogpost to a picture of my dog. I'm still a writer, though; there will always be at least one sentence of text.

I only promise to post one piece per week. For now that will be my Friday TTW piece. Of course I can always publish more pieces, but obviously never less, and I only have to do the one. This is, you will notice, a substantial change. Even using the term blogpost is a substantial change. But the publishing part of my practice needs to be easier.

22 September 2016

I'm making a bit of a change to the flavor of the rules for this season. Switching gears too frequently between drafting and revising can get a little draining. I'd like to shift toward an approach in which I can take a more expansive view of my drafting, allowing movement towards longer-form writing. So I'm making a small change in how I measure my drafting quota. Instead of needing to complete 5,000 words per week, my quota will now be cumulative: I'll need to complete 5,000 words by the first week, 10,000 by the second, and so on. This means I can get ahead, but I can't fall behind. If during some week I get way ahead on my quota, good for me. Then I can choose to focus on other aspects of writing for a while, or I can push and get further ahead.

In 2017, I'll extend that approach to the whole year. There are 50 writing weeks during the year (I'll continue taking the two weeks around the winter solstice as a period of rest), so that means 250,000 words total during the year. (250,000 is such a lovely round number, don't you think?) Again, I can get ahead, but I can't fall behind.

Why am I not allowed to get behind and catch up? Here's why: I still have anxiety dreams in which I'm in school, and it's the night before the final paper is due, some big 30-page paper demanding a great deal of research, and not only have I not started writing, I haven't even opened the books that I need to read to begin the writing. I have no desire to experience something like that in real life. I won't be waking up some morning in November of 2017 realizing that I've got 200,000 words to write between then and the end of the year. No thank you.

For Season 7, my publishing schedule will stay the same.

A couple of times in the iterations of these guiding rules, I've talked about doing under-the-hood work on Free Refills in order to bring the site more in line with my long-term vision of what I'm trying to accomplish here. This has proved quite challenging. My vision has been like a grand thing seen at a great distance: I know it's there, and I know it has substantial size and shape, but I can barely make it out through the haze. Sadly, this means that I've done nothing beneath the hood at all. (Way to follow my own rules, eh?)

Well, over the past couple of months, the haze has cleared out substantially. I still don't know exactly what this thing is supposed to look like, but it's getting clearer. I can at least begin to do some of that work. Anyway, it's too important to put it off anymore, notwithstanding any lack of clarity--I've got to find the clarity through the work itself. I've stated this as a rule several times during the life of Free Refills and haven't done anything about it, but it's time for that to change. I don't want to make myself a liar another time.

17 May 2016

  • Draft 5,000 words/week.
    • When drafting longhand, a reasonable estimate is sufficient.
  • Publish five days/week.


I've never really tended to zero-draft in a notebook, but about a month ago I woke up in the middle of the night and felt like writing, but didn't want to put myself in front of a screen at 4am. So I took a shot at working longhand and I really liked it. I've done it a lot since then. It feels different and produces different output, compared to working on a computer.

In all likelihood the bulk of my publications will still be M-F, but I wanted to give myself the right to publish on a Saturday or Sunday and have it count toward my pieces for the week. Just so we're clear: the Free Refills week starts on Sundays.

21 March 2016

Happy spring!

The main thrust of the rules stays the same for Free Refills Season 5:

  • 5,000 zero-draft words per week.
  • Publish every weekday.

Also, I'm committing to consistent work on bringing the look of Free Refills as well as the under-the-hood functionality of the site more deeply in line with my vision for the project as a whole. Unfortunately, what I mean by "consistent work" is somewhat nebulous, so as of right now I don't know how to frame it as a particularly clear rule.

I'm not sure how to frame this part either, but it is going to be one of the guiding principles for this season: Since my rebirth as a writer on the 2014 winter solstice, a side-effect of giving myself carte blanche to write about whatever I've felt called to write about is that I've created something of a new kind of clutter in my world. All the printouts of all the drafts of everything I've written since then live in a handful of different colored pocket folders. And the older stuff in those folders is substantially forgotten at this point. (At least they're in folders rather than sitting as piles of paper on my desk.)

So one of my projects for the foreseeable future is to go through the folders and see what's there. I hope to discover a thematic cohesion that runs through the writing that wasn't clear to me when I initially drafted it. In doing so, I'd like to change the energy from the cluttery "a whole bunch of writing i don't know what to do with" to "zero-drafts whose potential I see."

Here's the part that ties in most substantially with the rules: I don't want to create more writerly clutter in my life. That intention has two repercussions. First, I want to try to focus the creative energy I put into drafting more on the topics that are most in line with my short- and medium-term goals. (I wrote about that here.) Second, it means returning to my fiction. I mean, you wanna talk about stuck energy, have a handful of major unfinished projects sitting in boxes around your life.

Again, not sure right now how to articulate any of that as a rule, but it's where my head is at and will drive me forward from here, so clearly it fits here in spirit.

As always, thanks for reading. It means a lot.

22 Dec 2015

It's time to change the rules. For the winter season, I'm going to do two things:

  • Continue to draft 5,000 words per week.
  • Continue to publish something every day.

However, what that something might be will really depend. I suspect there will be times when it feels right to do something like a Daily Refill--some short, silly piece the idea of which pops into my head and basically demands to be written. But a lot of the time I will be publishing bits and pieces from the drafts I'm working on--something that pops out and is interesting enough to be taken out of context.

I also have this vision of assembling larger pieces out of shorter ones. So the daily piece will go on the top of the weird reverse-chronological blog-like publishing thing that I've chosen not to change (so far), but elsewhere there will be the entire piece in its latest iteration, unfinished but progressing.

The point of doing it this way has a lot to do with what Free Refills is and has always been about. I've been promising to share the Free Refills story since the spring, I think, and I've never done it. It's time. Watch for it.

If you've been reading Free Refills all along or if you're new to the site: thank you for giving my words a little of your time. My words and I really appreciate it.

Happy Holidays.

23 Sept 2015

The rules for Season 3:

  1. Publish every weekday. I've been doing that practice for six months and don't intend to stop now. However:

    It's time to switch up the technique and the expectations a bit. The daily pieces have a name now: Daily Refills. (Sexy, right?) You can find your Daily Refill at

    The Daily Refill is an exercise in quick drafting and quick editing and zero perfectionism. I'm aiming for short, interesting and entertaining. I want a place to play with words, a place to experiment.

    The vision of the Daily Refill is that it will be written the morning of. The idea is to write a brief zero draft and iterate it quickly into a publishable piece.

    "Morning of" is a soft rule. I want to be able to get ahead when it makes sense ("Hey, I'm going skiing tomorrow"), when I'm writing about related topics ("Three musketeers!? Let's write three Daily Refills!") or when I can sense ahead of time that I'm going to lose my mind if I have a deadline every day of a week. ("Friday's piece written and scheduled for publication. Thank god it's Thursday. Happy weekend!") I also think I will sometimes play with writing it the evening before, to see if that has a different resonance.

    The hard deadline is the same. 11:59 p.m. every Monday through Friday. I haven't missed a deadline since I started this process back on the spring equinox and I'm not going to miss one now.

    The soft deadline is noon. I don't want the Daily Refill hanging over me. Like I said: short, sweet, and entertaining.

  2. 5,000 zero-draft words per week of which the Daily Refills do not count. It's time to start working on longer-form pieces. 5,000 words is a pretty good chunk.

  3. Begin to create unified projects out of thematically cohesive pieces. Today the Free Refills team is launching, with great pride and fanfare, a new section to the website, called Training Tiger Woods. I'll let you go over there to see what it's about and what its exact structure will be, but for right now I'll say that I've split it into its own subdomain because it's a wholly contained project.

    I'm going to be grouping pieces that make sense together into subdomains of Free Refills. Obviously, keeping thematically unified pieces together makes a lot of sense, but I also want to make space for members of my audience who might not be interested in every damn thing I write. Someone checking out Training Tiger Woods or Transformed might not be interested in Daily Refills and vice versa. If that's the case, well hey, you don't even have to acknowledge that the other exists.