Week Two

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Hello and welcome to my creative writing blog. As always, I’ll start with this week’s statistics and then a little chat.

The weekly statistics*

Work on the first draft of my novel:

Total words for the week:  5,136
Total words in draft to date:  51,109
Number of sessions worked on novel this week:  7
Minimum words per day this week:  656
Maximum words per day this week:  1,418

Other writing completed:

3 Blog posts for Pam Alison Knits:

Related activities:

After each session I wrote a notebook entry documenting my word counts along with a brief note about how the writing went.

The chat

I thought today I would chat a little about word counts, why I think they’re important and why, conversely, I think they have the potential be counter-productive.

I always try to set myself the target of writing a minimum of 500 words a day which is, of course, an entirely arbitrary figure. I chose it because it’s an amount I know I can reach in a session, it pushes me a little on days where I’m feeling lazy, and I can easily exceed it on days where I’m inspired. I know that I achieve much better when I set the bar quite low and regularly exceed it than when I set it higher and often fail, and that was a big factor in the decision of how much to write in a session. The most important thing about the figure for me is that it’s a target I can achieve whether or not I have a regular job to go to, and that’s very important because adding to our writing regularly is the best way to see progress on our projects. That holds true for all kinds of activities from learning the piano to becoming a marathon runner, keep the practice going and we will get steadily to our goals.

I know only too well that even setting a realistic target doesn’t guarantee success. Some days I’m tired, or more likely just feeling lazy, and I have to push myself to write. I often go long periods without writing at all which is why I’m 60 and only just getting serious about writing my novel. When I get into the groove, though, as I have the past couple of months, these writing sessions get to be a habit and it feels good to try and keep it going. Am I going to drop off the wagon again? Yes, of course I am. I know that. I hope that I am gradually becoming less likely to wander completely away from the railway line, but I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by beating myself up if I miss a few days.

That brings me to a possible down-side of aiming for a “minimum number of words per day”, which is that we might use it as an excuse not to work at all. We might say to ourselves that we haven’t got the time to write our minimum today, so we will skip entirely, where in fact we might actually have time to add just a few words, a sentence, and still be making progress. There is also the possibility of looking at the word counts that other writers are achieving and feeling our own puny efforts are not worthy or, worse, knowing we can’t achieve that much so not bothering to try at all. This is particularly true when the big writing competitions like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and the associated Camp NaNoWriMos are being held. Social media is full of people trying to write 50,000 words in a month which looks daunting when you just see the number, and if you actually look at any of the media these writers put out you’d probably never pick up a pen or set fingers to keyboard. Just for the record, you have to write 1,666 words a day for the entirety of November to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo; it’s not for the faint-hearted and I wonder if it is for anyone even vaguely sane.

There is another word of caution about aiming for high word counts: just writing a lot of words doesn’t make a story. There is a fine line to walk between simply churning out the words in your first draft and then cleaning it all up later, and trying to write reasonably ‘well’ but taking a long time over your drafts. I err towards the latter, I have to say. It would offend my middle-aged, middle-class brain to stop caring about spelling and puctuation as I write, but I do see the benefit of holding back from revising too much as I go along because that inevitably comes at the cost of never reaching the end of the story.

As for the total word count for a novel, I’m aiming for 100,000 words in this first draft, but we have to take our cue from the story we’re writing. If it’s done before we reach a particular word goal, then it’s done and we probably can’t just pad it out to fit with our estimated length. Similarly, if we reach the word count we estimated for the novel and we’re nowhere near the end of the story we want to tell, we need to decide whether we’ve got an epic on our hands and want to extend the word count or consider a series rather than a standalone novel.

I have to say that I enjoy statistics, but I know they’re not for everyone. I like reaching the goal I’ve set myself, trying to keep turning up regularly, watching something grow bit by bit. It’s how I do my knitting, and it’s how I do my writing. I’m not sure if setting word count goals is vital, I imagine for other people it might seem more natural to aim for a particular amount of time spent on their writing each day or each week and the actual number of words would be of secondary importance. For people who enjoy writing flash fiction, 500 words might well seem ridiculous. No-one can set our targets, or even decide whether we should have targets, but each of us individually.

Thanks for dropping by. See you again next week.


*Explanatory Notes

  • For the purpose of the statistics, my weeks run from Sunday morning to Saturday night, and that’s why these blog posts will appear each Sunday.
  • I use Scrivener by Literature and Latte for my creative writing and take my statistics from there.
  • The working title of my novel is The Pen Emporium, it’s a fictional romance set in a small English town in contemporary times but referencing a trip to New York in the early 1970s.

 

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