Inspirational Posts

Why Word Count Might Just Be Overrated

Why Word Count Might Just Be Overrated

Denise D. Young

 

Okay, so what if word counts just don’t matter as much as we think they do? What if metrics are nice, and they give us the warm fuzzies when we meet them, and they help us meet our deadlines, but maybe they’re way too overrated?

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Because I kinda think they are.

This is something I’ve been pondering for a while now. A while back I drafted a now-shelved novella called Goblins and Grimoires. The characters’ story will eventually be told, but not at all in the way I attempted it.

Don’t get me wrong. Failure isn’t always bad. Usually, failure teaches us.

But when I wrote that draft, I was obsessed with word count. I basically NaNo’d it—wrote a draft of it in a month. Fast drafting, you might say.

Yeah. It was awful.

I mean, not even salvageable. That poor story needs a page-one rewrite.

Now, there are other stories I’ve written in a matter of weeks, and they turned out to be rich, wonderful, layered stories. So, what’s the difference?

Over at Writer Unboxed, Steven James touches on this very phenomenon in his article “From 2000 to 300—Why You’re Writing Too Much.” James writes

Odds are, you’re trying to write too many words a day.

You’ve probably heard that you should write a thousand words per day. Or two thousand. Or five. Or ten.

Or maybe you signed up for a program in which you (supposedly) write a novel in a month. But for whatever reason, you’re trying to hit an arbitrary “word count” each day and if you don’t hit it you end up feeling somehow disappointed in yourself.

I tried that routine for a while.

One day in ten hours I pumped out six thousand words and I felt way ahead. Amazing! So productive! If I could do that every day…

Oh, yeah.

So then the next day I spend the same amount of time writing, and wrote exactly one word.

Yes.

One.

In ten hours.

Of course, I typed in more words, and then revised, deleted, rewrote, and so on, ending the day just one word further into the book.

That was the last time I tried to hit a certain word count. It was just too depressing and the ups and downs of good days and bad days wasn’t helping motivate me.

He goes on to note that writers are the only creative folks who seem to use such arbitrary metrics to “measure” creative productivity.

I’ve written stories in a night that emerged beautiful and fully formed, needing only minor revisions.

I’ve spent months drafting a novella, each word feeling grueling, but it ended up being one of the best things I ever wrote. If I’d forced myself to meet word count goals instead of allowing the story to unfold gradually, I might’ve ended up with a mess.

I am generally in favor of what I call “slow writing,” but I think a better term for it is “organic.”

Here’s the deal. Writing is hard and uncertain work. So, we want a recipe for success. Someone tells us if we write 1,000 words a day, we’ll be prolific and therefore successful. We figure out that if we write 1,667 words a day, we can pen a novel in a month. That’s a pretty tasty carrot to dangle in front of us. Who can resist?

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with word-count goals, but I think some of us do better with a more organic approach. As in, today I wrote 300 words. Yesterday I wrote 2,000. That’s just the nature of creativity.

My goal, instead, is to show up at the page. My goal is to work hard at my craft. My goal is to write thoughtfully and push myself to grow. I am notoriously bad at meeting word-count goals with any amount of consistency anyway, which is probably why they’re lousy for me in the long run.

So, yes, I’m going slow. And it seems to be working. So, yes, I’m allowing my stories to unfold at a more natural pace, and I’m emerging with better first drafts.

I think people worry if they allow word count goals to fall by the wayside, they’ll slip into laziness, and that is a risk, to be sure.

But what if we just change the metric? What if we vow to show up at the page every day and work hard? That might take us further than writing 2,000 words in the wrong direction.

If word count goals work for you, please, stick with them. I just think we need to realize, as writers, that word counts aren’t the only measure that matters.

What about you? Do you use word counts to track your writing progress? What other ways are there of keeping track of our creative processes?

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What Keeps Me Coming…

What keeps me coming back to RoW80

by Elizabeth Mitchell

To my surprise, I realized a few days ago that I have been in RoW80 for six and a half years, having joined for Round Three in 2011. In that time, I have only officially sat out one Round, although, if I am honest, I have been spotty about my accountability in several other Rounds. However, I found that I did not come close to meeting my goals in the Round I sat out, while in the ones where I hung in despite missing check-ins, I got more accomplished than I did on my own.

Therefore, accountability is among the reasons, and perhaps the most immediate one, that I have participated in RoW80 all these years. Having to admit in writing that I spent far too much time bingeing on Netflix or playing video games means that I often will do some writing to avoid the self-inflicted shame.

Flexibility in that accountability is the second reason that I keep returning to RoW80, “the challenge that knows you have a life.” Since July 2011, I have changed day jobs, moved 1,146 miles, rented one house, bought another one, gotten tenure, written four esoteric academic articles, and suffered various slings and arrows of life. The ability to adjust goals when life happens is unusual in many challenges (NaNo, for all its positive values, does not care what life hands one in November), and invaluable to me.

However, the third reason I have remained in RoW80 all these years is the community. When I joined in 2011, I was living in interior northwest Florida, 40 miles away from the nearest RoWer, and more than 100 miles from any local groups of writers. I am lucky now to live in a place with a vibrant and supportive chapter of RWA, a wonderful NaNo group that meets throughout the year, not just in November, and a couple of RoWers who live close enough to meet often. Even so, the online community of Row80 is special to me. I would not have joined NaNo or RWA without my involvement in RoW80. I have made several friends through RoW80, and I am often surprised to realize that I’ve never met them in person. The group is supportive and generous with its time and expertise.  Having a tough time with a plot point or how a piece reads? We have a lot of experts in the group. Send out a hail on the Facebook page or post a link to your blog and you will receive help. In the way that some communities have, RoW80 has its own spirit, its own ethos, that has not changed despite changes in admins and added formats.

Have a day job meltdown or family crisis? No one will chastise you for not meeting your goals, but will cheer you on to start back on them as soon as you are able. Since I have been knocked down by life in the past five years, I can say with experience, don’t undermine yourself by feeling apologetic for not getting enough done, or being laid low by life. Just keep working on it,  knowing you have support, not judgment or negative criticism. Many years ago, I was struck by a statement in a RoWer’s goal post. C. M. Cypriani wrote, “Where before I wrote in solitude, I now write with friends. I enjoy sharing my writing now instead of hiding it, embarrassed, worried no one would like it. The support I’ve gathered has been phenomenal.” I agree wholeheartedly.

 

Round 1 1st Wednesday Check-in

As always, the first check-in of a round can feel a bit… well, pointless might be a good word.  It’s not as if we’ve had time to make serious strides on our goals, nor have we had a chance to see what is working or what isn’t yet… not really.

Thing is, it is important to take stock regularly.  Everyday can be perfect for some people.  Others manage just fine with a once-a-week or monthly schedule.  It’s the consistency that matters.  And…  it also helps to not wait too long before the first review.  The sooner the first chance you take to check in on yourself, the sooner you can see if things are working or not.

The sooner you can figure out if the path you’re on will get you where you are trying to go, or if you’ll have to backtrack a mile or more to find the right exit on the expressway.

Not that missing a turn is always a bad thing either.  Sometimes there are new and fascinating discoveries to be made.

Even then, it helps to know where you were intending to go and how far afield you might be.

So here it is, the first check-in and first linky of a new year.  May you be exactly where you want to be, whether you’re right on target or meandering peacefully for a moment or two.

Oh, and here is a lovely advice/opinion piece a fellow writer from the Facebook iWriteNetwork group posted with an eye to the journey and what it means to be a writer…    Roxanne Gay: Advice to Aspiring Dreamers

Sponsor Post: Are You Ready?

(A gracious thank you to our sponsor Beth Camp for helping us welcome the new year:

Writers: “Ready for 2018?”

By Beth Camp

For writers, each year ends and begins with reflection, and that’s good. For sometimes we feel used up and are uncertain how to reconnect with our writing. Sometimes ideas for stories come so fast, we cannot get them down on paper.

Even if we are immersed in drafting or revision, or floundering a bit between projects, we may question our writing, want to change our writing process, or set new goals to improve our productivity.

Does it matter when we write?
Or how or what?
Do I pack my journal with my lunch,
a physical reminder to write?

You might feel, “I can only write in the morning, when my mind is clear.” But what if the only time in your cluttered day is late at night? What if work and family commitments leave no time for writing at all? How do we ‘schedule’ down time – not just at the end of the day when we are exhausted from all we have managed to accomplish.

  • One strategy is to find pleasure each day in small things. I remember laughing out loud when I read somewhere that even washing dishes can be a meditation. I learned this is true when my grandmother’s lovely Desert Rose dishes were gifted to me, the meandering flowers a reminder of my childhood.
  • We can set boundaries. Perhaps we say ‘yes’ too often. We know it takes courage in the moment to act with intention. Focus on priorities. With many possibilities before us, trust yourself to know, truly, what is best for you.
  • Take time to analyze, list, reflect, and choose. Follow up by asking ‘How am I doing?’ as we check in with A Round of Words in 80 Days.
  • Try out a ‘do it different’ day. Can you write at a coffee shop? Write by hand instead of on the computer? Write late at night instead of in the morning? Set aside one day a week for those projects that have languished all week? Read a writing craft magazine (like The Writer or Writer’s Digest) for professional development? Challenge yourself by scheduling something new each quarter — Join a new writer’s group? Support other writers by writing a review? Teach a workshop? Go on a writing retreat – formally with others or on your very own? Attend a writing conference?
  • Celebrate your successes. Every step takes you closer to reaching your ‘big picture’ writing goal. Recognize that sometimes nurturing yourself may mean taking a break from writing, letting those projects lie fallow. Or maybe, just maybe you want a new pair of winter boots.

And the morning begins
anew, each day, each season, another round,
even as we change.

How do we begin? Meditation? Morning thoughts? An intuitive scrawl that brings our stories to life? Sometimes we are inspired by writing prompts that take us in unexpected directions.

Or, we might pursue a programmed approach: Step 1: Draft the story concept. Step 2: Block that story into scenes. Step 3: Flesh out characters.

No matter what writing process we use, from inspiration, to drafting, to revision, at the end, we are surprised at what we’ve written. Whether we write by hand, draft on the computer, or dictate into our phones, we write. The story takes over; its meaning unfolds as we write.

What really do I need?
A notebook, a pen, my laptop.
Some place separate.
Perhaps a room of my own.

Some writers like to think about inspiration that comes from a muse, as if she were someone separate, a guest somewhat whimsical, who may or may not appear, and certainly who chooses not to appear on demand.

Or perhaps we write on schedule, the blank sheet (real or on screen), a dumping of words on paper, almost an invisible chain from the mind that seeks its own journey to a story unfolding.

Whether we write with a plan or without, we still build our story word by word, layer by layer. ending with often unexpected resolutions and insights about the human condition. That is our condition, regardless of setting. The story is what connects us to others, that creates a community of readers and writers.

Somewhere a door closes,
and another opens.
Each decade we live presents new challenges.

Does it matter how old we were when we began to write? Or how old we are now? The reality is that writing is a chimera, a dream world we create with words, a space and time that we build (and that only exists for us), until we share our words with others.

Perhaps just now, we have young children whose energetic needs pull at that time we have for writing until another week has passed, and we feel bereft at what we lose, even at the same moment, we cherish these little souls who begin their own journey. What gift do we give those who are close to us when we show them that we respect our inner lives? That a parent, aunt, or sister paints, or writes, or does just about anything with creativity, passion, and a snitch of abandon?

Some seasons are cold,
but even the moon rimmed with blue hints at change.

The end of a year invites us to consider: What can I celebrate this year? What would I like to write? What ideas draw me to write?

When I begin a story, something intrigues me. I have no idea, really, what length it will be. Flash or novel. It’s not so much that I think about finishing (though, trust me, I really want to tidy up and finish several floating projects), but a new story grows with each writing session, scene upon scene, some days slower than others. I write about relationships, conflict, setting, those pinch-pins of history that hold the story to a certain place and time, each element tightening that essential line of plot-conflict-resolution. Some stories, like some lives, end in tragedy as I attempt to work out why this character in this particular time and place acted in this way and what this means to us today.

Because I write historical fiction, if one part of the story isn’t working, I can switch to another part, fall back on research, or write more character studies. Alas, my writing style is recursive, circular, and there’s always revision. One thing, though, I’ve finally learned. I can squeeze in an occasional article or poem, but, unlike others, I cannot work on more than one major writing project at a time.

Now that I’m a septuagenarian, I can ask: How long did it take for me to say – without flinching – that I’m a writer? Somewhere between writing that second and third novel, I stopped hesitating when people asked me what I do. All those years of working, teaching, parenting, and yearning for my own writing life, of writing short stories and the occasional poem, and of reading and studying – and yes, living – prepared me for what I do now: I write, and I cannot imagine not writing.

Listen to your heart.
Listen to your mind.
Then write those unique words
that are yours alone.


Beth Camp travels with laptop and writes historical fiction and poetry. Her novel, Standing Stones, set in Scotland during the time of the Clearances, won an award at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary contest (2010). In Years of Stone, Book 2, Mac McDonnell is transported to Van Diemen’s Land in the 1840s (Australia). Rivers of Stone, Book 3, tells the story of Catriona McDonnell, as she crosses Canada disguised as a boy during the fur trade era. Her poetry and stories have appeared in Camroc Press Review, Fickle Muses, Celebrating Spokane Authors, and on her blog:  http://bethandwriting.blogspot.com

 

 

 

Round 4 Check-in 23

Congrats!

Wow…  A whole year of words!  Who would have believed it?

All of you with that little thought bouncing in the back of your head with the piping voice crying “Me! Me!  I knew it would happen!” should be patting yourselves on the back.  It’s that faith in yourself that will keep you moving forward, in writing and everything else you choose to do.

For those of you who now looking back at all you’ve accomplished with a slight glaze in your eyes, as you realize what an amazing year for your productivity it was despite all the delays and distractions and well, Life… you should pat yourselves on the back too.  You persevered in the face of doubts and misgivings.  You faced up to distractions, and you wrote.

For those of you looking at the years with regrets though…  don’t.  Pat yourselves on the back as well.  Comfort yourself in the truth that Life Happens, things is out of control sometimes and whether we wish to or not, we can get lost in the constantly shifting tides of “busy” that hover around us, waiting for a moment to draw our attention.  Did you write at all last year?  Then build on that.

A new year and a new round of words are both just around the corner.

For now, here’s the linky. Feel free to post your check-in blog post at it, or if you just want to quick update us, a comment on this post or at our FB page works fine too.

Remember, Wednesday is the last day of this round and the final check-in of 2017.  Sunday I will be posting the “goals post” where you can make your plans for the next round.

Round 4 Check-in 11

Another week, more words…  well, perhaps not a whole week, but that’s no bad thing, is it?  We’ve got words coming, we’ve got holidays coming…  even if the days are getting shorter, there’s a lot of great things to be excited about.

Here’s a huge cheer for you all and everything you’ve done.

Oh, yeah, and a linky too:

Round 4 Check-in 7

Sunday I asked you all about whether you were joining the NaNoWriMo challenge or just running steady working on your goals.  There’s no one answer you need to choose, just the one that works best for you in this moment and time.  That’s what being the challenge that knows you have a life means.

Still, if I may insert a small caveat emptor in this, consider what makes a person a writer (or anything else for that matter).  Writing like mad for 30 days does not make a person a writer— even adding plotting time in the months before and editing in the months after.  Writers write… repeatedly.  We may not always publish our work, or even like it, but we write, and we commit to writing.  Not for a month or two, but year round, almost every day.

There is nothing wrong with participating in a NaNoWriMo.  I love these challenges.  There is an energy involved in mass scribbling sessions, and the social connections are awesome too.  But then, I’m one of the lucky ones.  Our local NaNoWriMo ML hosts write-ins every Sunday all year round.  When the world goes a bit cray-cray and it seems impossible to get my head into a story, there’s a place and time set aside to get some words written.

And so I write, repeatedly, long after the rush of November passes.

I hope you will too.

Why not tell us how you deal with writing challenges and maintaining a writing practice here in the comments or at the linky when you update us on

Round 3 Wednesday Check-in 11

Are you inspired?

Today, I was reading about two topics that all artists (even writers) hold dear.  I wasn’t reading about them in a book about writing or creativity.  The book, which is filled with a lot of scientific data on how we work, is called Ungifted, Intelligence Redefined, and it inspired this post, particularly Chapter 6, which deals with inspiration and passion. 😀

Did you know that inspiration does a spiraling dance with goal progress?  I do now.  And you can dance upward toward the stars almost as easily as you slowly sink into the earth…  almost!  Of course, there are more variables at play here.  But inspiration the way it’s described in Ungifted is not merely the act of being inspired by something but also the acting on that inspiration.  Inspiration is active, it is doing…  it is creating.

So…  are you inspired?  Tell all at the linky or our FB page (or both, if you’d like):