On Writing

Daily Wordcounts, or, How to Lie to Yourself.

Part of being a serious writer is pumping out some serious words, day after day. You have to have the gumption to sit down in the morning and get a certain amount done regardless of outside distractions (like your university thesis, or… eating), and you need to do it every day of the week. I know some authors that work towards scene completions, or a page total, but most folk I chat to chase a word goal – 500 words a day, 1000, 2000, etcetera.

2000 words a day, every day, for two months, nets you a first draft of a novel. When you break it down like that it doesn’t seem so terrible. But some days you sit down to write and squeezing out even 500 words is an incredible trial. So, how do you do it?

I don’t know how everybody else manages it, but I do it by lying to myself.

See, I wake up and I open my word doc in progress and I look at the current wordcount. It says, for example, 21,562. That’s a lotta words! Not a novel, sure, but a fat bunch waiting to be added to. My goal for the day is 2000 fresh, delicious, plump-arse words. So I pick a point – any point at all – and begin with a small goal. A neat, clean 100.

Woah woah woah. Wait a minute, Ruz. You can’t just start on a shitty random number like 21,562! Make it round, first!

So I sigh, and I start writing, and when I hit 21,600 I relax a little and I say okay, now you start the 100. And I write. It comes pretty easy. I’m at 21,700. I say, lets set a new goal. Let’s work towards rounding that off a little more. Over the next hour, aim for 22,000.

That’s achievable. 300 words in an hour is about my usual rate. You might be thinking, dang, 300 words in an hour is piss-all. But if you apply that five or six times a day, you have a big chunk, and it doesn’t feel half so much like work, so 300 it is. I toil on, and on, and I finally hit my goal of 22,000. I get up, ready for a cup of tea.

Woah woah WOAH. Ruz! You’re in the middle of a paragraph! Sort that shit out before you make the tea!

So I hammer out a conclusion to the paragraph and leave the wordcount sitting at 22,036. Done. I make tea, come back. In my head, I’ve written 400 words so far today – the opening 100, and the 300 that got me to my tea. Time to aim for the big 500, that beautiful quarter-mark that’ll let you sleep well tonight even if you don’t go any further.

Woah woah WOAH WOAH. Stop right there! Round out that goddamn wordcount before you even start! It’s an eyesore!

So, I hit 22,100, and then I allow myself to aim for 22,200, which (in my head) marks the 500 word point. Except, of course, it isn’t. I convince myself I’ve only done a quarter of my daily total, when in truth I’ve already done a third.

There are a hundred little lies you can tell yourself to force out tiny pieces of extra. Like how I tell myself I can’t go piss with a paragraph unfinished, or that sandwiches taste better if the wordcount is rounded to the nearest 500. Or, if you’re an MSN chatter like me, don’t just turn the program off and assume it’ll force you into productivity. Use it. Make yourself write ten words between every reply. Just ten. Consider that over the course of a day, with three or so conversations going on MSN, you’ll have replied to different folk around 200-300 times. That’s a lotta words in the bank, boyo.

You’ll develop your own tactics, in time. All I know is that the method above has allowed me to write seven complete novel drafts over three years, while studying full-time and working to support myself. I make no claim to talent or quality, but those drafts are done. Because I’ve learned the value of getting ten words down at a time, and how important it is to always finish the paragraph before you piss.

Now, I’ve busted out 700 words and my morning coffee isn’t even done. Time to apply that to some real work. Ciao, and good luck. And if you have any of your own wordcount tips, please post them here. It’d be great to know all the tricks.

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