This seems doable, but arbitrary.

writing-towards-a-word-countSince my pseudo-New Year’s resolution to actually write this year, I have stayed tightly focused on only a few projects:

Short stories all.

Novel and non-fiction book ideas have floated into the window, settled on my desk and sneezed twice, at which point I squeezed them into my hard drive in some fashion or other.

They remain unstructured, unrefined, and most of all, incomplete.

I should finish one.

And it’s been said that without milestones and deadlines, a project will never be finished. What’s the deadline? What are the milestones?

I asked my grandboss (that’s “boss’ boss”) who used to work at the Times what he thought good deadlines for a novelist would be. As he began to answer, I had to cut him off:

No, no, not deadlines for a novelist whose job is being a novelist. Deadlines for someone with a completely unrelated day job. Someon like…and of course we’re just speaking hypothetically, because I love this company and would never leave…me.

He didn’t know. His wife didn’t know. Everything from “take your time even if you only write a page/year” to “spend every free waking moment writing” seems equally viable good advice on the subject.

I think a reasonable deadline in my case would be the end of 2009. I started off the year with the purpose to write more; this would fulfill that purpose. And it doesn’t give you the cramped-lack-of-quality produced by NaNoMo, where the goal is to finish the novel within a month. Yikes.

So today I did some rusty math. (Footnote: Any math performed by me is rusty; I’m a words man.) To finish a 100,000 word novel, which is a relatively short novel (but I’m aiming for a tighter style than my wordier compatriots anyway), I would have to write 500 words a day.

That’s not a lot. 500 words is about 2 pages double-spaced. I’ve written articles here which were three and four times that length without too much effort.

I immediately thought: HA! I can do this!

…or can I?

A novel is more than a loose collection of words. Writing stream-of-consciousness non-fiction (hereafter to be referred to as either “blogging” or “crap”) is far easier than serious fiction.

Before I know which scene to write next, I have to know the characters, the circumstances, the upcoming events, the past events. I have to reread what came before, I have to visualize what comes after. This means researching, outlining, brainstorming, and in general a lot of activities which are equally part of the writing process, but don’t add to the word count.

Nevertheless, 500 words/day seems like a reasonable goal. To help relieve pressure for all the outlining, I could try to write non-chronologically for me, which has always been a barrier I’d like to overcome. Whatever scene I want to write that day, that’s the scene I write.

Will it work? I have no idea. Will it produce quality fiction? I have no idea. Will it result in publication? I have no idea.

Will it put words on a page?


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  • Broaddus

    It is all well and good to think that 500 words will a novel make, but that is only when you are sure that those particular 500 words in that arrangement will tell the story that you want. It seems to me that arbitrarily writing 500 words and then editting it down to 400, or whatever, will only leave you with a sense of disappointment.

  • Mr. Snuggles

    Just write. That’s the only way to ever get better. As an aside, your boyfriend Orson Skip Cord has some comments that were posted at NR.

    • Jason R. Peters

      My new hero is Brandon Sanderson, who wrote an essay similar to Card’s intro paragraphs here, and who gets the first two honorable mentions from OSC.

      Thanks for sharing, this was a great little read for fans of the genre. I haven’t read Warbreaker yet, and that’s next after I finish George R. R. Martin’s series. It still drives me nuts that certain people *COUGH* will never read it because it has been branded “fantasy” despite the fact it has no elves and is a lot more about war and politics than swords and sorcery. But I degress.

  • Mr. Snuggles

    As a personal favor to you, pick out one stand-alone book (no trilogy bidness, brah) and I’ll buy and read it. No elves, pixies, or Belgians. I hate Belgians. I just know they are up to something.

  • I was never capable of catering to a pre-established word or page goal (daily or otherwise). The most I can do is jot down random inspirations and ephinanies that disclose themselves to me until I can manage stringing them together in some coherent fashion. It usually works out to be something readable (I’ll be it in some far off sense of the word). Anyhow, I must offer my fellictations on your endevor into the murky waters of word counts and goals and such. Don’t be bitten by proroguing parasite of procrasination and keep reaching towards the heavens!!! (or at least keep at)
    Oh and Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrel is a really great read (it was on the bottom of OSC’s list) I highly recommend it.

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