Saturday, April 21, 2012

Daily Word Count

So, last week, I finished the first draft of my novel, Mythic America. It ended up being close to 94,000 words long, which was 14,000 words more than what I was aiming for. It’s also pretty bloated, too, and when I edit it, I know that there will be lots cut from it. My second draft will be leaner, and stronger for it. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I started this novel during NaNoWriMo last year. I made a great effort to finish it after NaNo was done. And during the past few months, I set myself the goal of writing every day until I was finished. Well, really, I just set the goal of writing every day. I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Anyway, I’ve tried writing every day in the past, and was never very successful at it. This time around, however, I was, and I think I figured out why.

We all hear pro and self-published authors tell newbies that the first rule of writing is that you need to write, every single day, no matter what. Rain or shine, birthday or holiday, in-laws or dirty house, in sickness and in health, till death do you in.

That’s all well and good, but almost none of them tell you how to do it. Well, I figured out the secret.

It’s all about word count.

I know that right now, you’re screaming at the monitor, “but, Chris, I’ve been told not to worry about word count and just to write!”

Well, yeah, sure, that’s true. I’m not denying that. But, what that really means is, don’t worry about the word count of your story, just write it. For example, though I had a goal of 80,000 words, I didn’t let it constrain me. I didn’t try to force my story to fit in those 80,000 words when it wouldn’t. I just wrote until the story was finished.

What I’m talking about is a daily word count goal.

See, the problem I always had in the past when trying to write every day was that I was trying to do what I did during NaNoWriMo every single day for the rest of the year. That wasn’t feasible. At least, not for me. 1,667 words a day may not seem like much when considering an 80,000 word novel, but that represents about an hour and a half, maybe two hours worth of writing. And, for me, that amount of time was difficult to pull off.

So, I would get that done for a day or two, get tired, have a day where the best I could squeeze out was 500 words, and then get frustrated that I couldn’t keep up with my goal and quite writing for about a week.

And that, my friends, is why I kept failing.

Then, I discovered this wonderful little hashtag on Twitter. It was #WIP500. And I discovered that it was an online movement, similar to NaNo, where writers would vow to write 500 words a day. 500. That’s it. That’s about a half hour of work for me, maybe forty five minutes if I’m dorking around on Twitter.

I thought, hell, I can do 500 words a day. In fact, this blog post is already just over 500 words. (for the record, I never counted blog posts as part of my daily word count, only what went into a WIP). 500 is no sweat. And the best part about it is, it’s a minimum. If I write 600, 700, or even 1,000, that’s all just bonus.

So, that’s what I started doing. 500 words a day. And I did that for around three months. Now, my novel is finished, and I’ve started writing two short stories for an anthology I’m working on with some friends. All at 500 words a day.

And it’s working out great.

I get to write every single day, which makes me feel better. I don’t have to stress about not getting time with my family on the weekend, or even during the week when they  want to watch a new movie on the TV. I have time to play a video game if I get my writing done early, and I even get some sleep at night because I’m not forcing myself to stay up late to get 1500 words written. I’m way less stressed, and in fact feel pretty good about myself when I do get some writing in.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve started putting a ‘X’ on my calendar at work for each day I write. And it looks and feels pretty damn good when I get a whole month marked.

So, the lesson I learned about writing every day is that you need to set a realistic word count goal for your self. It doesn’t matter how small or how big that is, as long as it’s something that you think you can commit to every day. 200? Fantastic! 2,000 words? You go! It doesn’t matter, because after you do it for long enough, eventually you’ll get to those sweet, sweet words: ‘The End.’

For me, the sweet spot was 500, and I owe that to a fantastic little hashtag.

That’s all I got for now. I’ll be back later with some other lessons I’ve learned from writing every single day, including that sometimes, it’s okay to NOT write. Until then, keep on writing!

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