Tag Archives: word count

Not NaNoWriMo (But Similar)

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year. I probably should have waited until later in the post to say that, kind of lead up into it sort of thing, but meh. It’s not like I can go back and fix it or anything.

Okay, I kid. In actuality going back fixing what I’ve already written is the reason I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year.

There’s something Chuck Wendig often repeats on his blog, a phrase, a fundamental axiom of writerdom. That phrase is not, “Complete thy poop,” but you get the idea. It’s good advice, both for writers, and those afflicted by constipation.

Thing is, for the writer completion doesn’t happen all at once. There’s that first stage of completion when you finish your rough draft, and you feel all giddy about finally being done with this monstrosity. Except, of course, you aren’t done. Then come the rewrites, and the editing, the beta reads and the queries, and, hopefully, publication in one form or another.

Put simply, your poop requires polish.

And this year I’ve got some stories that need polish. Two years ago I wrote a story for NaNoWriMo called The Dark Mile about a young man trying to deal with increasingly disturbing dreams and visions that seem to focus around one particularly desolate spot along his nightly paper route. It’s been sitting for all that time, untouched, while I’ve pursued other things. It’s been waiting long enough.

Several years before that, I wrote a story called In the Shadow of Doubt about a holy war that breaks out in a tribe of squirrels living in a tree that fills their entire world. I sent it out to a number of agents, received zero response and eventually got discouraged and shelved it. But the other day, reading back through that story I found that there was a lot to like in it. It needs a little touching up, a little smoothing out, but the bulk of the story really works.

So while the rest of you busy beavers and bashing your heads against your keyboards desperately trying to get to 1,667 words each day, I’ll be hunkered down here with words I’ve already written, trying to make the bad into good and the good into better. I’ll let you figure out which of us has it better. At least you have the luxury of some measurable metric of success.

Oh, and speaking of that:

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about how 50,000 words does not an actual “novel” make. Not according to “the publishers”. I’m not generally disposed to bash of one form of publishing or another, but in this particular case if I were not a man of gentle words I would instruct you on exactly which sexual act you might perform on “the publishers” and in which orifice, and which brand of garden rake might be best for the job. Why?

Because A STORY’S LENGTH IS NOT A SIGNIFICANT MEASURE OF ITS VALUE. Did you catch that? You there in the back, where you able to hear me?

Your story should be as long as it needs to be. You can tell a good and compelling story in 50,000 words. You can go longer if you want —and if you’ve got your eye on traditional publishing it wouldn’t hurt to keep their preferences in mind— but don’t let anyone make you feel like less of a writer because you’ve reached the end of your tale when you wind up at 50k.

So to all of you out there, no matter what you’re doing this month, I hope it works out better than you could ever dream. And to that one guy reading this post on his phone while he’s taking a dump, well…you know.

Of Typewriters and Time

The thing both great and terrible about having a blog like this, is that it focuses your thoughts. It’s great because, somehow the act of putting one thought down on paper gives birth to another, deeper thought. But it’s terrible because most of the time you have the second thought, right after you’ve published the first.

Such was the case with my previous blog post. It was only meant to be an encouragement a word of help to writers who might not be keeping up with the faster ponies in the NaNoWriMo pack. But not more than a couple of hours after I wrote it I came across this blog espousing the benefits of something called fast drafting, and it got me to thinking: what is up with our obsession with speed? NaNoWriMo, Book in a Month, Novel in a Weekend, the list goes on. In fact I’m pretty sure that every single month of the year has some kind of “fast drafting” push writer can get involved in.

Now before I get too far into this, let me say I’ve got no problem with fast drafting or any of these other writing initiatives per say. There is a great deal of wisdom in the idea of silencing the inner editor to a point.

But consider these words: “First drafts are supposed to suck.”

If you’ve been entrenched in the writing world for any length of time at all, you’ve probably heard this mantra. In fact I’ve given this advice myself from time to time. But is it true? Or, asked differently, is it helpful?

From one standpoint, the answer is yes. Every writer struggles with doubts. Every story brings with it a certain measure of uncertainty and apprehension that what is being written is utter crap. As writers we have to move beyond these kinds of uncertainty and press forward to the finish.

But there is a danger, I think, in taking it too far. Your task as a writer is not to simply upchuck sentences until you reach your desired wordcount. You do not get to smear literary excrement all over the page and call it a first draft.

I know, I know, you get revisions and rewrites and edits, and loads and loads of chances to make that story better. But I want you to look at something for me. Just take a minute and look.

Isn’t she beautiful? I mean really. When they made this baby, they distilled the archetype of what it means to be a writer and molded it into a single perfect machine. But think about what it would have meant to be a writer with one of these things. Every mistake you make you had to manually white out. Every edit had to be retyped. And cutting and pasting involved actual scissors and glue.

Do you think writers using one of these might have approached a sentence, a paragraph, a story with a little more caution? Do you think they might have lined up the words in their heads before they started hammering away at those keys, to be absolutely sure they were saying what they wanted to say in the most effective manner possible? I dare say they might.

But now computers have made things easy. And in a sense I’m thankful for it. I’m really glad I don’t have to use whiteout every time I misspell a word. But easy doesn’t always mean better, and it seems that words have lost some of their weight now that they can exist only in the ether of the electronic world.

I do not intend to discourage you from the practice of writing quickly, but rather I want to admonish you to write with purpose. If you are a writer you have chosen a noble path. You have the power to change the world with words. Do not ever use that power lightly, whether you are on your first draft or your fiftieth.

And if you approach that first draft with the proper focus, if you take the time you need to write the best story you can, it will be far easier to build on that foundation in the following drafts.

Nailing NaNoWriMo: Or Not

So NaNoWriMo is under way and I’m sure all of you are demolishing your word count goals, right? Right? Well, for those of you who can answer in the affirmative, I offer you my congratulations.

But it has come to my attention that there are some of you who are struggling. You’ve already fallen woefully far behind in the race and it’s looking more and more like you’re not going to be able to complete things on time. It’s only a few days in, but already you’re thinking you bit off more than you could chew. 1,667 words per day? What kind of masochist would put themselves through that kind of torture?

If you’re in the second group then I’d like you offer you my congratulations as well.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Whatever, it’s not like it matters. I just can’t keep up with the rest of you speed demons. Maybe this writing thing just isn’t for me.”

Hey now, lets not hear that kind of bummery. Turn that frown upside down, fellow-writer. Actually, never mind, that sounds like it might hurt. Instead, why not flex different facial muscles in such a manner that the corners of your mouth turn up rather than down? Because I am about to impart precious nugget of writing encouragement.

Here’s the thing: not everyone writes at the same speed.

Some of you just aren’t “there” yet. When I started writing I set a goal of a thousand words a day, and those thousand words were tough. I looked at NaNoWriMo and thought, “What, are you kidding? 1,667 words every day? That…that’s impossible.” And for me, at the time, it practically would have been impossible. Maybe you’re in the same boat. Speed in writing comes with time and practice.

Some of you just don’t have the time. I know, I know, writers make time to write, and that’s all well and good, but I can testify that making that time is a whole lot harder this year than it was last year. Why? Well for one thing I’ve got foster kids now. Also, my wife isn’t working which means in order to make writing time sometimes I have to say, “No I don’t want to go down and browse though that awesome antique mall with you. Spending time with the characters in my novel is far more important than spending time with the woman I married in real life.” Add on top of all that the fact that I’m working full-time, and trying to get ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I can say to the writers struggling to find time out there, I feel your pain.

And some of you just aren’t cut out to write, 1,667 words per day. Which is fine. Not all writers are cut from the same mold. (For instance, I was cut from that black mold that grows on your walls, and makes you sick sometimes. Don’t bleach me bro!) Not everyone can be Steven King and churn out six pages a days. Somebody’s got to be James Joyce, and obsess over the correct order of words in a single sentence for hours. Can you imagine how he would have reacted to NaNoWriMo?

But no matter what type of writer you are, the most important thing to remember is that NaNoWriMo is a tool. It’s a source of encouragement and common energy among writers, a chance to set an audacious goal and fight to meet it. But not every tool is right for every job.

So keep on plugging. And if you can’t keep up with the rest of the speed demons out there, don’t get too discouraged.

Always remember: NaNoWriMo does not define you. One single month out of the year will not make you a writer. The true test of your mettle is what you do with the other eleven.

Doing Battle with the Green-Eyed Monster of Wordcount Envy

Oh, Twitter. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Let’s see…carry the one…adjust for inflation…taking the Kentucky windage into account…um…seventeen. No wait! Eighteen.

Twitter is a great thing for writers. And I’m not just talking about the whole, “build your platform and get your name out there” kind of thing (though that’s on the list). Twitter is host to a whole community of writers. And I’m not just talking about the big names here. I talking regular people like me and you, people who are still struggling to be published. Maybe they’re even still working on their first book.

When you’re feeling down, they’re there to encourage you. When you feel like no one in the world understands what you’re going through as a writer, chances are someone in your Twitter stream does.

But sometimes Twitter is a double-edged sword. At least it can be for me.

Lately I’ve been struggling a bit with my novel. Actually struggling is probably too strong a word. I know where I want to go with the story, but because of the fact that I’m doing research as I go, added on to the fact that I’m writing a slightly different voice than normal, things just haven’t been moving as fast as I’d like them to.

And then I log on to Twitter and I see Chuck Wendig and Adam Christopher and Kristen Lamb talking about the thousands of words they’re writing each day, and I start to get a little discouraged about my measly 700 words.

Maybe you’ve been there too. But I’m here to tell you not to worry about it.

Why? Because no two writers and no two stories are the same. It may be you just don’t have time to churn out daily word counts in the thousands. Or maybe you’re like me and the story you’re writing requires you to be more painstaking than usual.

The details don’t matter. What matters is you. If you let wordcount envy get you down, the next thing you know you’ll be saying to yourself, “Well, if I can’t write as much as those guys maybe I don’t have any business writing at all.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

Wow. That word looks weird when you repeat like that. Kind of like when you say a word over and over again and it starts to sound like…no wait. I was going somewhere. Yeah okay. You can only write as much as you can write.

Profound huh? But it’s true.

Terry Pratchett only wrote four or five hundred words at a time when he first started. Chuck Palahnuik wrote Fight Club in fifteen minute increments on his breaks at work.

It’s less important that you write a lot, and more important that you write consistently.

If you can only manage a couple of hundred words a day then commit yourself to those couple hundred words. No, you won’t be finished in a month. You may not be finished in a year.

Possibly the most important key to your success as a writer is that you make writing your habit. It should be something you do day in and day out, rain or shine, muse or no muse.

And I think you’ll find that if you keep going you’ll find yourself stretching the limits of what you’re capable of further and further. You’ll look back at those early days of writing and say, “I can remember when I thought a thousand words was a really good day. What was I thinking?”

That’s what we call growth my friend. And growth is what it’s all about.

***

I haven’t done this in a while, but I’ve got a reading assignment for you all today.

First up is a fantastic post by Jody Hedlund about why it’s so hard to be objective about your own work.

Second, go check out Chuck Wendig’s post about the closing of Border’s. It’s powerful stuff.

Scheduling for Success

At the beginning of the year I made this big resolution about writing an average of a thousand words per day. At first things went well. Throughout the month of January I met and exceeded my goal on a daily basis.

But then February got here and something changed. I started writing fewer words in the day. On most days I barely limped past the five hundred mark.

I started to get worried. Was my initial success simply the result of beginners fever? Was I starting to burn out after only half the year was up?

I kept trying to make appointments for myself to write each day, but in spite of having ample time to complete my goals, my wordcount consisted mainly of blog posts and little else. I didn’t know what was wrong. I was starting to doubt my resolve as a writer.

But something more specific had changed between the months of January and February: my wife had moved up to working an earlier shift that required her to get up sometime around five forty-five. Before that change, I had been waking up somewhere around five thirty and writing till she got up somewhere around seven.

After she started working the early shift, I started telling myself that I would write, “sometime this morning.” I set plenty of word goals, and from time to time I met them, but it never felt the same. I found myself frittering away my time with twitter and other online distractions.

And then I read a blog post by Katie Lyn Branson, about the importance of scheduling your writing time, and the light bulb finally came on for me.

It wasn’t that I was lazy, or uninterested in writing. Well, okay, I am a little lazy. But the difference in my output was affected by how I thought about my time. During January my morning writing had a specific starting point and a specific ending point. It wasn’t something I had consciously set up for myself, that was just how it all worked out. February was far less structured.

I realized I needed a schedule. I needed a time limit in which I would say, “Albert, you will write for x amount of time and do nothing else. Then you can quit.”

So yesterday I tried it. It worked beautifully. I wrote to 2,445 words with breaking a sweat and finished off one of the short stories I had started earlier in the month.

If I’d simply set myself a word goal of almost 2,500 words for the day, you can bet I would have poked around on the internet for a while, felt guilty about it, and then tried to come back to my writing, only to crank out a measly thousand words or so. But the schedule worked like magic.

Why? Two words: quitting time. Do not get me wrong, I like writing as much as the next guy, but even so, it can be hard work. It was so good to be able to look back at my writing and say, “Well, that was a good output for today,” and go and watch the Nostalgia Critic without guilt.

In other words, I was able to use the internet as a reward, instead of using it as a reason not to write.

Maybe you’re in the same boat I am. Maybe you’re not writing nearly as much as you’d like to be. Instead of making more and more wordcount goals for yourself, try scheduling instead. Tell yourself, “I will do nothing but write for a whole hour.” You may surprise yourself with what is possible.

A Moral Abdomination

Fellow writers,

I, like you, have enjoyed the tantalizing fruits that hang low from the tree which is called National Novel Writing Month; I have reveled in the unbridled inspiration to productivity that period of time encourages.  But I have become troubled my writing brethren, deeply troubled, by the horrific and insensitive nature of the name of that sacred month.

National Novel Writing Month.  I spit out the words with a sneer of indignation, and a hiss of disgust.  For what one nation may lay claim to such a treasure?  What one country can take hold of such a sacred institution, and claim it for her own?

No, fellow writers, this month of writing should be open to all peoples, of all countries, regardless of skin color, religion, or preferred method of eating Oreos (I myself am partial to scraping the white from the inside of the cookie with my teeth; do not judge me fellow brethren).

That is why I am proposing that we rise up and alter forever the oppressive name of this glorious month.

Let those in Zambia and Lizben and in the Republic of Djibouti no longer quake in fear as they feverishly pound out their novels in the dead of night, hoping beyond hope that the brutal and pernicious NaNo Enforcement Squads will not catch them at their craft.  Let the world write freely and openly, without fear of reprisal.

It has been a long and careful consideration, but at long last I have decided that our great month of writing should be no longer called National Novel Writing Month.  Rather, in the interests of inclusion and the fostering of creativity around the world, I offer the following appellation: International Book Composing Lunar Cycle.  Or InBoCoLuCy for short.

Join me fellow InBo’s, and do not fear their terrible wrath.  Our lives may be forfeit, but the river of our blood will water the garden of creativity for generations to come.  Together we can make the world a better place.

The Long Awaited Day

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the post. I just think it looks cool

 

As you may have heard from the scores of media outlets reporting on the story, today is a very important day to many of the inhabitants of the western hemisphere, sure to accompanied by a celebration of epic proportions.  Today is the day my blog turns 100 posts old.

Also, there’s something about a new year?  I mean I guess if you’re hung up on that whole Gregorian Calendar thing it’s a big deal, but if you ask me, saying “Happy New Year” is prejudiced against cultures who don’t observe the passage of years in the same way we do.  If you want to be politically correct you should really say “Happy Blogcentennial.”  It’s a far more universal greeting.

But all kidding aside, I love New Year’s.  It’s not so much a time of festivity for me, but I treasure the chance to take a look back on a span of time and measure what I’ve accomplished against what I want to accomplish in a future span of time.  And while talking about New Year’s resolutions might not be the most original topic in the blogosphere today, it is one that is very near and dear to my heart.

For me the holiday is less about celebration, and more about introspection.  What did I do wrong?  What did I do right? What can I do better next year?  The New Year’s Resolution is a cliché, but like most clichés it got that way for a reason.  Because, if done right, the New Year’s Resolution can be a powerful and formative tool for you this year.  If you want to succeed with your resolutions the following principles can help make your them as effective as you can.

1. Make your resolutions as concrete as possible.

This is important.  I think a lot of people say, “I’m going to lose weight this year,” or “I’m going to exercise more,” but they don’t set a specific achievable goal for themselves.  For instance, instead of saying, “I’m going to exercise more,” it would be better to say, “I am going to exercise a total of one hour per week.”  That way you’ll know whether or not you’re accomplishing your goal.

2. Make sure your resolutions have some flexibility or room for forgiveness.

This is important because it’s almost inevitable that at some point you’re going to fail at one of your resolutions if you set the boundaries too rigidly. For instance, last year I made the resolution that I would read an average of one book every week. If instead, I had said I would read exactly one book every week by the time I got to The Terror, a 700 page colossus of a story, I might have been tempted to give up entirely.  But because I set myself a more flexible goal I was able to take longer on some books, knowing I could catch up later with others.

3. Make some kind of notation of your progress.

This was a big one I discovered for myself last year, and I’m really looking forward to ramping it up to the next level this year.  Again, I’ll use my reading resolution as an example.  At the beginning of the year, I started making a list in a small notebook I have of every book that I read and the date of completion.  As I went through the year, I realized how satisfying it was to go to my book and note the most recent completion.  If you want to accomplish anything big you’re going to have to do it a little at a time.  The end of your resolution may be 365 days away, and if you’re anything like me, it can be hard to stay motivated for that span of time.  But if you keep a log of your progress, you can split one very large objective into a number of much smaller objectives.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

 

The following are my resolutions for 2011.  I’m listing them here for two reasons.  First, I’m an incurable egotist that loves to talk about himself.  Second, by posting them here, I’m making myself accountable to someone other than myself.  When I feel like giving up, I’ll be able to say to myself, “Yes, but what would all of those people who read your blog think?” and that might give me the motivation I need to keep going.

1. Write an average of one blog post every day.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting myself into with this one.  I know that lately I’ve been really getting into writing this blog, to the point that nearly every morning I’ll wake up around 5:30 with an idea buzzing around in my head that I know would make a great post.  However I don’t want to kill myself with this thing either, and not every post has to be a 1,000 word essay.  It just has to be interesting.

2. Write an average of 1,000 words per day.

This one is a lot bigger.  See, I usually write at least this much when I’m in the middle of writing a rough draft, but then I move on to the editing stage my word count falls off since I’m working with an already finished manuscript.  I’ve got a whole lineup of stories I want to work on this year so I shouldn’t have any shortage of material, but keeping at it week after week and month after month will be a real test of endurance for me.  Still, if I can do it, by this time next year I will have written over 365,000 words.  I went by the store to pick up a wall calendar today, and I’ll be writing my total word count in the square for each day.  In addition to that, I’m toying with tweeting my daily year-to-date word count as well, thus adding another layer of accountability for myself.

3. Finish editing/rewriting/polishing The Mulch Pile.

This is the big one for me.  The Mulch Pile is my novel from NaNoWriMo year before last.  It’s gone through a lot of editing, and rewrites, and I’ve gone so far as to post quite of bit of it on the internet as a serial, but there are things about the story that just keep nagging at me that need to be fixed.  It’s so close to being right I can taste it, but if it’s going to be right, I want it to be really right.  Because if all goes as planned I’ll be releasing the story as an eBook some time near the middle of the year.  Stay tuned for that.

And that’s all for me.  What about you?  What do you hope to accomplish in 2011?  I’d love to hear about it.  Leave a comment, and let me know.