Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wordy McWorderson: From 0 to 1k a Day or Bust

by Allison Pang

I have a love-hate thing going on with word counts.

On one hand, yes - they are excellent measures of daily progress. But sometimes I have to pull that back and decide if it's quantity or quality that I want.

And of course, that all depends on timing. Am I on deadline? Am I just dirty drafting?  That's pretty basic stuff - and quite frankly, what it comes down to for me is if I'm accountable to anyone. I write more when I'm on deadline. I write more when I've got someone with me. (Even if it's virtual.)

So far this week, we've seen some excellent posts on the best ways to improve word count - which is great if you're already writing regularly and are maybe looking to boost your level of productivity.

But what if you're not really writing at all? How do you go from procrastination station to a completed work? This sort of ties into what James said on Tuesday - we've all run into those people who say something about how they'd love to write a book, but only if they could find the time. (This post isn't really directed to those people - if you want to write, you'll find the time, because writing is something you *must* do. Lip service doesn't get you anywhere.)

But what if you've set aside the time? You've got your clean work space, you  have your software and your books on craft and an uncluttered mind.

And yet nothing happens. Or maybe you manage a few hundred words, but suddenly cleaning the toilet becomes a much more important task. You know - since you will write that much better if you've got a clean place to pee later.

The ugly worm of procrastination has reared its head to stare you in the eye.

And sometimes procrastination is okay. I tend to procrastinate quite a bit - but I also tend to pad my time accordingly.

If you really want to write, but you always keep coming up with excuses not to - then it's time to sit down and try to figure out why you're not getting the words down. Outside stressors are always going to be there - jobs, money, family - sometimes it can take a while to figure out the balance that works best. As Linda noted yesterday, sometimes real life really does have to come first. For me personally, I find it much less stressful if I just accept that and do what needs to be done and *then* worry about the writing. Otherwise, I'm miserable and full of guilt. And that's a crappy way to create anything.

I suspect for a lot of people - myself included - it's about doubt. Fear can quash dreams pretty quickly. It's easy to sit there and fret that you suck, that you'll never be able to get this story out the way you envision it.

And if you do get it down  - will it be rejected by agents or editors or readers?

What if no one reads it at all?

And these are all very valid fears, but it's also a bit like putting the cart before the horse. You have no control over other people's reactions, but you definitely have control over what you produce.

If you're producing nothing, then the rest of it is moot.

So, how do you motivate yourself into writing?

1) Figure out your writing style - this only comes with practice, but the more you do it, the more apparent it becomes. If you find yourself staring into space more often then not because you don't know where you're going, you may need an outline. Some writers work best if they have a roadmap. They've already figured out the plot points and know where they're going. Writing the story is just filling in the gaps.

On the other hand, if you outline your story and immediately lose interest, you may be more of a panster. Some writers require something a bit more organic. They've got a vague idea of what's going to happen and they just make it up as they go.

Some people are a bit of both. Sometimes it varies from project to project.

2) It's not a competition. Word counts can be intimidating and if you haven't done much writing, 500 words can seem like a mountain, let alone 5000. It may feel as though everyone is cranking out words left and right, but that's not always the case. Don't worry about what other people are doing - everyone writes at their own pace. If 500 words feels scary, start with 250 at a time...and break them into sessions. Not everyone can just sit down and push all the words out at once. 250 words is about 1 page, give or take. Break that up into 5 mini sessions and you've got 1000 words. Build up from there. Or don't. Whatever works for you.

3) Make room for mistakes. First drafts often suck. They're supposed to. Sometimes second and third drafts suck too. That's where edits come in. Some people edit as they go. Some people wait until they're all done. If you're finding yourself freezing up because it has to be perfect before you can write new stuff, it might be better to leave the editing until later. There are plenty of would-be authors who can't get past those first few chapters, simply because they go back and edit and edit and edit. While that can be tempting to do, don't use it as an excuse not to finish writing the story. As avoidance techniques go, it's fairly insidious because you have all the trappings of an author...but nothing to show for it. Make your words count.

4) Multi-tasking.  When you're starting out or struggling to make a daily word count, be careful of spreading yourself too thin. It can be very tempting to be writing multiple books at once - and there are plenty of people who can do it. If you're getting stuck on one story, it can be nice to switch gears into something different for a bit and then switch back. But if you find yourself starting a new book every time the writing starts getting hard? You're going to be the proud owner of a lot of beginnings...and no ends.

5) Understand that writing is hard. Any creative process is, really. Sure there are fun parts, when a scene just falls into place, but often it can feel like you're herding plot bunnies up a river made of molasses. There are days I hate every word I've written...but I still sit down and keep going, because I can't fix what I don't have. Some people are in love with the idea of being a writer more than they are in love with writing. That's okay. Not everyone is cut out to *be* a writer and sometimes it can take a while to discover that. Figure out what you love and handle accordingly.

Like all things, the above advice is subjective. Take what you want and leave the rest. In the end though, there's only one thing that's going to improve your word count.



  1. Great post, Allison. Those outside stressors have really got me this month (as evidenced by how little I've been commenting lately). And I know I need to take care of real life first right now.

    But yeah, I'm miserable and full of guilt, too.

  2. Great post Allison. And it is so on the mark, at least for me. I have struggled with staring off into space. Until recently when I realized that I write best late at night, when the daily stuff has gone to bed. Not that I am nearly done with my book the nerves are setting in, I am stressing over where to go next and what to do and the oh so real fear (that you mentioned above) of everyone hating it and it will never see the light of day.
    So thanks for made a difference for this girl!