I set myself a target of 4,500 words this week, which would take me up to 40,000 words written.
Since starting the first draft proper in April, I’ve averaged 10,000 words a month, and I aim to continue that, plus two weeks of time off work between now and Christmas, to finish the first draft, which I expect will be about 100,000 words.
I check the word count feverishly, doing calculations in my head (sometimes on bits of paper) and monitoring my progress. My rate is about 500 words every hour and a half, sometimes every hour, and a day’s work gets between 1,500 and 2,000 words written. I feel motivated when I keep to this; depressed when I struggle and watch the cursor blink.
I know it’s not a good idea. Checking the word count is a bad habit that encourages writers to write for the sake of it, not pick the choicest of words, the best of descriptions. But where does that leave me when it comes to getting it down, Stephen King’s mantra for the first draft?
I don’t think I’d be anywhere if I tried to write perfect sentences at all times, but the risk of living by the word count is that you die by it: writing words for the sake of that numeral flip. 1,998, 1,999, 2,000!
So to count or not to count? I count, but I try to compensate by making sure I focus on story and not detail, getting to the next point in the story rather than filling up the pages with needless words. It's hard though.
Two things I read this week were useful: God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin, and this post.
Raisin’s book was great. Tight, tense, taut. Something to look up to and emulate. It was written in the first person, a brilliantly closed and telescopic account of a Yorkshire farmer’s view of the world. It made me realise that the voice is the most important thing when it comes to building a character from a first-person viewpoint – so much can be inferred into other people’s actions from what they say (or don’t say), and quite often plot happens in the way that character sees the world, not how the world is.
And then in her post on the need for concrete story goals, Amanda Patterson writes:
“Characters always have abstract story goals. Never let these become more important than the physical goals, with deadlines, experienced through the senses.”
That’s always good advice. It’s so easy to get carried away with that abstract stuff.
At the moment I want to get to a certain point in the story, a particular scene, but it often evades me, and I become preoccupied with setting the scene, descriptive passages, a thought, whatever. I hope that’s simply the creative result of sitting down and writing, and not garbage that I’m filling my day’s quota with. Sometimes in the midst of a first draft it’s hard to tell the difference.
My policy so far has been to keep it all in, with a few notes if necessary, and it’ll be obvious what’ll need cutting and what’ll need expanding for the second draft. Hopefully in the mean time what I’m writing isn’t getting too bloated, creating an even rougher first draft that needs more of a hammer than a chisel in the rewrite.
What I'm saying is I try to include only things that develop the plot or character, and focus on the story. I won’t be able to tell if I've been successful until I’ve written the whole 100,000 words and read it back through.
I'm not sure I’m ever going to have the stomach to do that though!
Word count this week: 4,616
Total word count: 57,941
First draft: 40,147