I think a gigantic mistake an author may make is impatience with themselves. Too many appear to adopt a need to hurry to write. Some of that may come I sense from what they see now all over social media (on Twitter, Instagram, etc.), which leads them to compare what they are doing to what others post that “they are doing”:
And I saw it yet again this morning. On Instagram, I noticed another writer was posting about how “happy happy happy” s/he is at writing “40,000 words” since the beginning of the year… or some time frame like that. I won’t say who posted it because based on what I see otherwise I respect the person as a writer.
Instantly, though, I had also thought (realizing I was rolling my eyes impolitely, for which my now late mom would have told me off): Golly, good for you. But I don’t care about your “word count.” This isn’t high school where the teacher says “Gimme 1,000 words by Friday on why I like or don’t like mountain climbing…” Did Jane Austen talk about “word counts”? I want to see a finished product. Just write the damn book.
And then I also recalled this and I shuttered: Good grief, my uncle
the occasionally nasty piece of work used to talk like that.
Well, but at least I didn’t actually say it to the person’s face as he might have; I just thought it momentarily. All kidding aside, “word count” carryings on tell one NOTHING about what someone has ACTUALLY been writing. All books are, uh, not created equal. For example, this novel took me some 18 months to write:
Indeed its roots in some ways go back a couple of decades: it is a product of years of reading and thinking and, finally, deciding actually to write it. In some ways, if I never wrote another thing I would feel I’ve written a novel I had long wanted to see written someday. How many words does it have? Does that number actually matter?
I began vaguely tinkering with a follow up starting in late 2017. I did not really start to go at it until probably about a year ago. Frankly, that Conventions: The Garden At Paris wore me out and I felt for about six months or more that I needed to “recharge”.
How many words have I written now for the new one? Seriously? Do you actually really care? Is its “word count” as of today truly relevant? It will be finished when it is finished… and after it is I will probably want to collapse yet again. I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon writing, fighting with, fiddling with, arguing with – from a blank page – mostly these three paragraphs. Three paragraphs:
There is a lot there. They are full of once living real people and real events: trying to research just those, then to keep it all straight, and then work at weaving it together within the planned fictional tale is all its own challenge. And all of that is even before the actual writing itself (with which I’m not really satisfied just yet).
So a “word count” on a given day, or in a week, or a month, is irrelevant – writing is art, not an assembly line where we count “widgets” produced daily. Indeed if someone is “bragging” about churning out “40,000” words in a month, I can’t but suspect what they are writing is either not very good or, well, not exactly challenging stuff. I’ve written about this before and I bang on about this issue not because I’m an awkward sort and seek to be a contrarian, but because it is what I believe: a page or so each day – if even that much – that is actually GOOD writing is EXCELLENT progress compared to “5 pages” or more that are, well,
c-ap not so good.
Neither do I buy for a second the “Writers Always Write” Instagram meme rubbish we see posted regularly. I don’t care who asserts it. No one does anything ALL of the time in life.
I do know that if I feel I’m not writing “well,” I pause. I take a breath. Then I throw myself into other things for a day or two or even more.
Perhaps I read something extra-challenging. I might pull out something in French. Reading the likes of that – I am not fluent, and may require a dictionary – sure gets the brain moving:
Maybe I think more on the past, and perhaps I go through some old photos:
Possibly in going through those photos, I see one that makes me especially smile:
And I find when I return to the keyboard I may write whatever initially jumps to my mind. I may ask myself, “It has been a few days, so how is ‘Miss Sánchez‘ today? Maybe she’s off to see Mont Saint Michel? And perhaps she has a dog now?”
And I just type…
I could not teach anyone how to do this, but do what I think works for me. At some point later this year there will (probably hopefully) be another novel. And as I did with my four novels previously, after I type the concluding sentence I will probably go back, scroll through the manuscript dazed and amazed, and wonder: “How the hell did that happen?” 😉
Have a good weekend wherever you are. 🙂