Number Crunching

Sometimes progress is slow.
Sometimes it is very slow.
Sometimes it is so slow you don’t actually want to admit to yourself just how slow it is.

Imagine these:

Herd of tortoises

stampeding through this:

Peanut Butter Texture

and you get the idea.

But sooner or later you have to be brutally honest with yourself. The WIP isn’t going to write itself.
If things do write themselves at your place, you’ve got problems.

Rembrandt - Belshazzar's Feast - WGA19123

I have, over the *cough* years since I started working on Tsifira, accumulated about 18,734 words. (Including some of the excerpts I’ve removed for now, and some of the notes, but not all of them. Basically, I’m counting anything that was worth typing up.)

A novel is, of course, as long as a novel is long, but taking geographical distance as an indicator of word count (it’s a road story) I’m about a quarter to a third of the way there. Not knowing, of course, how many detours might occur.

One step after another

Say 80,000 as a guess.

In the just-over-two months since I started keeping a word count, I’ve written 1,651 words for Tsifira.*

80,000 – 18,734 = 61,266 words to go.

1,651 words ÷ 69 days recorded = 24 words per day (average, obviously).

61,266 words ÷ 24 words per day = 2,553 (to the nearest day).

So at this rate, I will finish the first draft in just under seven years.^

A Frenchman in America

There are only two alternatives.
One: give up.
Two: speed up.

I’m going to go with Two.

It is far easier to write that than to execute it (rather like Rasputin in that respect, although probably not in many others). How do you change gears in your mind and in your life? Is there a human equivalent of a clutch pedal?

I found an interesting exercise on A Cat of Impossible Colour – she got it from The Relaxed Writer.

Basically, you take ten minutes to write down one side of a piece of paper everything you don’t want your writing life to be like.
Then you write the opposite of each thing down the other side, and you figure out how you’re going to make that happen.

Moreless plus minus button

She recommends it as a beginning-of-the-year exercise, but I think we can all agree I shouldn’t wait that long, so I did it today.

I wrote the first column out by hand on folded paper, as instructed, but then I went off-road a bit, ending up with three columns instead of two, all typed up in a spreadsheet.
Column A: I Don’t Want
Column B: I Want
Column C: I Will

It was a bit disturbing to get such an insight into my own mind and misgivings. Apparently I struggle with self-doubt and fear the waste of time. I also fear guilt from doing/not doing, don’t take myself seriously enough as a writer, and tend to defer hope til tomorrow.


That’s rather a lot of personal insight to arrive at in ten minutes.

So, what will I do?
I will increase my writing time, guard it from erosion, and focus on my new-hatched target: finishing the first draft of Tsifira by the end of 2013.

By my calculations, I’ll need to write approximately ten thousand words each month. Two and a half thousand each week.
Half a thousand each working day.

Speed Writing

I can write over four hundred words in an uninterrupted morning half hour. Increase that to twice a week: eight hundred. Two hours, one evening a week: sixteen hundred. Total of 2,400, and the other hundred can be dashed off almost any time a moment presents itself.

It will require discipline and dedication. But it can be done.
I can do it.

And keep up a blog on the side 🙂

* I know this is pretty pitiful for a Work In (supposed) Progress, but over the same period I have also written roughly 6,000 words in Morning Pages, 8,000 words of blog post (not counting this one), 1,187 in a journal, 1,114 in letters and over 5,000 of Other. A total of nearly 23,000 words (that’s equivalent to 332 words a day, 7 days a week).

^ By which time publishing technology will have leapt beyond my comprehension and Neil Gaiman will be the only one who knows that the thing in my hand is called a fountain pen.

Great Expectations

Not the book. Or even one of the dozen and a half films, TV movies and mini-series listed on IMDB under that title. (Why so popular, I wonder? Myself, I much prefer Nicholas Nickleby and A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Genius.)

No, I refer to the expectations we have of ourselves, as writers, and as doers generally. We will work so many hours per week. We will keep our houses in such a state of cleanliness. We will maintain so many relationships to such a degree. We will have hobbies. We will read. And we will write.

As previously mentioned, there are 168 hours in a week. One can only do so much, and if you pack each minute ’til its sides bulge like a spring-loaded suitcase, sooner or later you will wear down, and go splat.

13/365 - Splat!

So Sensible Expectations are key, if not so much of a runaway best-seller.

But how do you know what are sensible expectations to have of yourself? No two people are exactly alike, nor do they live the same lives, so you can’t really base your expectations of yourself on what someone else is able to achieve. They’re not you. You can’t compare.

Trial and error? That sounds sensible (if time-consuming) but we are in a constant state of change, are we not? What tired me yesterday when I did it for the first time may well be manageable today, and even easy tomorrow.

So do our expectations of ourselves need to be continually adapting to our changing circumstances and changing selves? And if so, how do you maintain them as an expectation?

If the standard can be flexed indefinitely, does it still constitute a standard? Does ‘getting out of bed at 6:30am’ count as a standard if it can be adapted to the circumstance of ‘being tired’ which results, in point of fact, in ‘not getting out of bed at 6:30am’?

Bed Time!

Do you see what I mean? And better yet, do you have any nuggets of relevant wisdom you have distilled over a long life? (Or a short life – the indigent mendicants not being noted for their selective abilities.)

This is an issue I have been mulling over a good deal lately, with regards to many aspects of my life, but the only definite conclusion I have come to concerns my Word Count.

I have decided to revise my target from 500 words a day, 6 days a week (a total of 3,000 words a week) to 400 words a day, 5 days a week (a total of 2,000 words a week) – effective 14th April.

To be sure, targets are set to be aimed at, but there is something rather depressing to the spirits about mostly missing, even if you expect to. If you don’t believe me, read an ‘aspirational’ women’s magazine (making sure to look at all the pictures), and see how you feel at the end.

Michelle Moore, America's Perfect Woman 2011

(Unless you happen to be of the male persuasion, in which case think of a situation in which you fork out your hard-earned to have someone point out how perfect you and your life aren’t, and suggest all the self-improvement (and purchasing) you ought to be doing, in order to be as much like the perfection you aren’t as possible. Then let me know what that situation is, I’ve always wondered.)

400 words a day. Five days a week. That’s my Sensible Expectation. For now.

Word Count

Do you think it’s true that each step we take, no matter how enormously life-changing it seems at the time, merely serves to prepare us for the next step – one unimaginable before we took the first?

Lake Annette, Giant Steps - July 2008 178-00

I started this blog in order to provide myself with some form of accountability, and (hopefully) others with useful or interesting material for their own writing journeys.

In order to amp up the former, I have decided to keep a daily account of what I write, with the stated intent of writing something every day – aiming for 500 words.

I freely admit that I shamelessly poached this idea from RobynInNZ.

However, given my propensity for Weaselling Out, I feel the need to lay down a few ground rules.

Weasel Poupette

1) Writing out someone else’s words does not count. (Nor does “blah blah blah” – unless in Morning Pages.)

2) Shopping lists and to-do lists do not count, unless presented in a recognised poetic form (e.g. sonnet, villanelle, pantoum, limerick)

3) Diary/journal* entries and Morning Pages do count, as do blog entries (177, 178).

4) Private letters do count (should I be sufficently motivated to tally the words), but emails do not, unless Sparklingly Composed. Because these are my rules and I can be as inconsistent as I like.

5) Manuscript pages (i.e. written by hand) are harder to word-count, and shall therefore be averaged out, per page or per line.

6) Not writing 500 words (or any at all) shall be honestly admitted to, and (very important from the Weasel perspective) no excuses will be given. Taken. Whichever.

7) Unlike the man who relieved himself in a crocodile-infested river, there shall be no half-assedness. (Donations to medical charities operating in third world countries will be Highly Commended, and may earn a day’s respite from word-counting.)

Crocodile Fright Night

So: Monday – wrote page in journal (101 words). Tuesday: wrote 2 1/2 Morning Pages (502 words) and this blog post (387 words) for a total of 889.

889 words and counting…

And a question for you all: Which is preferable as a reader, lots of short blog posts (a sentence, a paragraph) or a longer post once or twice a week?
Comments on this or indeed on anything else related or interesting are welcomed.

*Does anyone else find it strange that diary carries the connotation of daily entries, when journal doesn’t – even though they both come from root words meaning day (diarius, Latin, and jour, French)?