Daily Word-Count Quotas, or How I Write so Much

on Monday, May 17, 2010
Per requests of multiple people, I've decided to write a post about how I write however many words a day/week that I do. It's a hard thing to expound on, because I really am not sure as to I got to this point. So, it might actually be helpful for me to talk about how I prepare to write, what I do while writing, and what lead me to this point.

First off, before the blog software decided to nuke my post, I made most of these key points on my now gone Ramblings on Writing about word-count goals. To paraphrase the entire deleted mess, if one make certain to set a goal to write every day, no matter what, and that they cannot go to sleep until they write 'X' number of words, then writing becomes easier.

For me, this was in the form of a "breakthrough" at one point, when I realized I could, essentially, write as long as I wanted and for as many words as I needed, until my brain burnt out (which, I've found, suffers complete meltdown at about 11,000 words, which was what I wrote in one day when I finished Where Gods and Mortals Dance). Last summer, I forced myself to write 500 words a day (then upped it to 1,000 weekdays, 2,000 weekends). I was working full time, but when I got home at night I wasn't allowed to read, play video games, or even sleep until I met the word count. At first, it was hard (but at first I started with just 500). Once I found I could force out 500 words a day, no matter what, I had a "breakthrough," as said above. It was then I realized that, so long as I had a general idea of what was going to happen, I could just keep writing a scene until it reached its conclusion. This was no matter how many words it required.

So, what goes on when I write? Well, first off, I am a very hardcore discovery writer. However, I'm a discovery writer with a few footnotes. Something I've always done before beginning writing is I plan the ending. Usually the ending involves some twist, often to do with the one or two characters I've developed (or the world). Usually it's only in generals; I don't have the exact details of how this twist or ending will work, but I do know what message I want to convey with it. This is consistent over every novel I have written. There are two reasons for this. First is because I think endings are one of the most important part of a story, because it's what the reader takes with them after they finish. So, in that regard, I want an ending that will be memorable. Secondly, since I am so bound to discovery writing, one of the major weaknesses of the writing style is that the novel often falls to pieces before the end. By making sure that ending is already planned, and I have that goal in mind throughout, I can avoid falling off track as I discovery write the rest of the novel.

The other key thing I often do while brainstorming is figure out basic characters, and also plan important scenes I feel will be cool. I have never written an outline, the exception being Paradise Seekers, but even then I haven't looked at the thing since I actually wrote it down. I often simply plan the beginning, the end, and key events I want to happen throughout the books. How the characters get to those points, and how they interact, usually ends up falling on their own shoulders. This week's Writing Excuses actually is about Discovery Writing, and an interesting point Brandon states is about how he (as an outliner) hardly ever lets his characters just "do their thing." For me, that is completely unbelievable. All my writing has been focused on the organic, living and breathing reactions between the characters. If I planned out their interactions, I'd feel like I was programming robots rather than writing people.

Back on subject, when I sit down, that is usually all I have: A beginning, and end, a basic setting, maybe one or two characters, and some scenes I have in mind for them. I then simply just start, and let stuff happen.

So, how do I begin writing, after I have all those very basic elements? Usually the first thing I have is a word count goal. This, recently, has been set at a 3k minimum, and I don't set a maximum. I also usually make sure I have a decent block of time; I make sure my studies and work are done, that I'm ok with not playing video games for the rest of the day, etc. Usually 3k takes me anywhere from 1-2 hours on a good day.

There are a few other things I have to make sure are set up. Since I have a severe case of ADHD, I often "self-medicate" on caffeine (which is like a relaxant for people with ADD). Lots of it. I also close my Firefox all the way, and boot up iTunes. I make sure I'm in a comfy chair (in this case, our loveseat) with my keyboard and monitor and glasses. Then, I'm ready to go.

For anyone curious, I use Pages on a Macintosh computer. The reason for this is simple: Pages has a "Full-screen" option. This fills the document to fit the screen, blacking out everything else on the edges. Essentially, it eliminates every and all distractions. While this might not work for outliners (they probably want multiple windows open to skim notes), for me it is exactly perfect. I can fully immerse myself in this story, and not stop until the characters let me.

At that point, I just go. I write based on things I often have been considering during the day (I usually think of what I'm going to write all day long. Despite what people think, discovery writing doesn't mean you have no idea at all what you are going to put down until your fingers hit the keys. It just means you didn't plan the whole book out far in advance. I often have the general idea for what a scene will be before I put fingers to keys). Now that I know, roughly, how many pages single spaced is how many words, I don't have to stop to check. I also refuse to let myself stop to check until I think I'm close to my goal. If I'm at 2k and feel tired, I force myself to keep going. I also don't allow myself to do any major edits until AFTER the word quota is met. For me, the flow of writing is everything. Full immersion leads to me continuing writing. If I am interrupted, I won't be able to write. However, if I'm left alone, it is very easy to put out anywhere from 4-6k in a single sitting. Assuming I have ample caffeine supplies nearby.

Another thing to note is that, during this time, my dear wife knows to not interrupt me (unless the apartment is burning down or something). I also usually wear noise-isolating headphones and listen to music. Often I pick songs that have a similar "feel" as I want the scene to be, but that isn't necessary. The only thing I have to watch out for is songs that I know too well and want to sing with. This is actually a big problem. If I focus more on the words, then I'll lose my foothold in the story, and have to go through the entire arduous process of immersion before I can begin writing again. This is why most of my playlists consist of music without words.

Probably the biggest thing, and what I think people can take from this, is that if you can set a difficult goal and then keep it, you will be set to write more and more. I swear every night that I won't sleep unless I write at least 3k. Even if I know the 3k will suck, I will write it, no matter what. Then, I get into the habit (and also my pride; I don't want to mess up my "streak") of writing, and it becomes easier and easier. A year ago, writing 500 words a day seemed near-impossible. Now, writing 2,000 is a piece of cake. That is really how it worked for me: I set a goal, and once I felt comfortable with it, I stretched it. I don't know if I can get beyond 5k a day (I was doing that pretty regularly with WGMD as I was finishing it), but if that's my peak, I am perfectly fine with it.

Also, the idea that I might get published and someday actually make money off this, as well as share it with more people, is a good motivator as well.


Anonymous said...

Great post! I should probably up my daily word count. And I think the no-interruption thing would help too, but since I do most of my writing at work (squeezing it between projects) I can't go uninterrupted. (And I refuse to be on a computer more than 40 hours a week, dangit all.)


Derek Bown said...

"I often "self-medicate" on caffeine (which is like a relaxant for people with ADD)."

Suddenly it all makes sense. No wonder I never feel hyper after consuming vast quantities of caffeine, while at the same time I get massively hyper when I used to take Ritalin.

I think it's really fun to see how different people adopt different writing habits. I for one have tried discovery writing, and you've seen the results.

Anonymous said...

Actually, you wrote an outline for Lacrymosa. I know because you mailed it to me. And then you went and wrote something completely different. *grin*

Schlange A. Taube said...

It sucks to be at a tenth of your daily =P

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