Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Key to High Word Counts, And Why It's Hard for Me to Do

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over my years as a writer is that the key to producing high daily word counts is planning. Whenever I start a day’s work knowing where a scene or story is going to go, the words come swiftly. Now, I still don’t often get 2 or 3 thousand words out of such a day, but a thousand is generally a breeze.

Unfortunately, I don’t often know where I’m going on a story at the start of a day. At least not exactly. Part of this is the nature of how I have to write due to my day job. Some of my work, like my classes, are predictable. I can schedule around those, and around the grading that results. It still means, though, that at periods like mid-term and finals I can’t maintain the continuity of daily writing.

Another work related issue is that much of my academic work load is not predictable. The research committee that I’m chair of can go 2 or 3 weeks with no submissions, then suddenly get 6 in a single week that have to be turned around. And I generally cannot predict when research and grant opportunities might arise that I need to take advantage of as part of the scholarship requirement for my job. These kinds of things mean that I’ve never written a book that didn’t have at least one long break somewhere in it, and by long break I mean at least 2 months and oftentimes 6 or more. At times when I’ve ended up taking a break of a month or more, any plan that I had previously developed for the work starts to feel very stale and unexciting, probably because I’ve just thought about it too much and every nagging little issue has come to my awareness.

The other issue for me, though, is that I seem to have an aversion to planning a story out too far in advance. This is also about the “staleness” issue.  If I know exactly what is going to happen, I just don’t care as much about the trip to get there. And since I know breaks will have to happen due to my work, some of my lack of planning is really self defense.

Some of my reluctance to plan, too, I’ve come to realize, is that I’m still more of a reader than I am a writer. Who wants to read a story where you know everything that is going to happen and can predict every twist and turn? I started out writing, not with any thought to publication, but to tell myself the stories that were bursting in my head. For the most part, that is still exactly how I feel today. I don’t want to know what comes next too far ahead. I want that joy of discovery. How about you?



pattinase (abbott) said...

I never have a high word count. Not only do I not plan ahead much, I edit constantly and research constantly. When I am done with a first draft it is usually fairly done though. I guess that is something.

Brian Miller said...

planning surely helps but i really dont care for formulaic works...i would much rather the story develop as it went along...interesting on the you ever find it hard to get back into a story...

Cloudia said...

Another great look at the tool kit of a working writer!

ALOHA from Honolulu

Richard Prosch said...

An unpredictable schedule is hell on the word count. Absolutely! Especially when, like you wrote, the interruption is more than a day or two. Godspeed, manZ,

Unknown said...

Balancing the academic life with a writer's life has always been irksome; of course, there is the nagging problem of putting food on our tables and roofs over our heads.

There are writers (myself included) who ignore word counts and focus instead upon amount of time at the writing table. Has that been a game plan that you've considered? (Note: I do not think either game plan equals success -- at least it has not for me.)

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I'm discovering the joy of creative writing, that is writing outside of my newspaper job, blog, and personal stuff. The daily word count is low which I don't mind at this point. It's hard but exciting.

SzélsőFa said...

With some exceptions I see my my daily/weekly schedule quite well.
I figured that planning the story helps, too.
But nothing helps if there is no inspiration. The 'set down to write no matter the inspiration' rule just does not work for me.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Since that's how you write, I can understand how your job messed up a story with so many breaks.
I admit I'm an avid planner. I know everything that's going to happen and the ending is always the first thing I see in a story.

Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, constant rewriting is my life.

Brian, yes, I often find it pretty tough. I generally have to read through the whole thing a couple of times at least to get back into the flow.

Cloudia, thankee.

Richard, yeah, a few days away can suck it right out of you.

R. T. I tend to write every day, or almost so, but the main issue is that I may have to be writing several different things at the same time, one piece of fiction and a couple of different academic related projects.

Prashant, as long as we get some words down, we are making progress and they will add up.

Szelsofa, if I have time to play I can sit down cold and become inspired. But if my schedule is full that won't work.

Alex, I think that is a very effective way of doing it, although I don't take that route of course.

sage said...

I would agree that having an idea about where my writing is going (I mostly write non-fiction) helps speed the process. But I also have to read a lot to be able to write.

BernardL said...

I sure like those days when I know exactly where I'm going. Many times in the midst of following the scene, other ides just naturally flow into my head. We're supposed to leave the writing at a place where we'll be excited starting on it the next day. Man, when the words are flowing, that's tough to do. :)

Tom Doolan said...

I'd like to think that it's because I'm like you, and I like the sense of the unknown. But, I'm pretty sure it's because I'm just lazy.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sage, I'm reading constantly but I do believe it plays a role in how much I produce.

Bernard, yes it is. I do a lot of rough draft one day, followed by polishing of that the next and then pushing forward from there.

Tom, maybe I'm just rationaliziing my own laziness. :)

Ty said...

Most times I have a general idea of how I want a story to end, and I almost always know what the inciting events for the next 3 to 4 chapters will be, but beyond that I don't know what's going to happen when writing.

I wish I could force myself into a set schedule, but it never seems to happen. My word count is all over the place, but when I'm deep into a novel I tend to get out about 2K words a day or more.

I'm fortunate in that I never have long breaks brought upon me while working on a novel, though I do sometimes take long breaks between novels.

Oscar Case said...

I don't plan much being a seat-of-the-pants type. I like to go to the end to see what happened.

Erik Donald France said...

Agreed on all counts -- and in all fonts. . .

Freshness is more important than quantity.

Clausewitzian "friction" ~ there's no way around it but through it, with casualties . . .

Angie said...

I don’t often know where I’m going on a story at the start of a day. At least not exactly.

Dean Wesley Smith calls that writing into the dark. He does it all the time, even on mysteries, which I find a bit boggling. [wry smile]

I do it a lot, although not all the time. I like having a general direction in which to aim. Even if something major changes over the course of the story, and the protag suddenly takes a sharp left and picks up speed, that just gives me another aiming point. But sometimes I have no idea, I'm just making logical moves one right after the other, figuring out what everyone's doing on the fly, and it usually turns out. A number of times I've found that one or more things that happened earlier in the story/book fall into place toward the end in a way I never imagined when I was writing them; you'd swear I outlined the plot and set all those earlier bits in there deliberately. [wry smile] I suppose I need to learn to trust myself more.

A lot of productivity is just habit, though. If I get into the habit of writing every day, even if some days are only a few hundred words, it all adds up by the end of the year. Getting back into that habit once you've fallen out of it is incredibly tough, though. :/


Vesper said...

Lately, I've discovered the need to plan more, but I don't like it. Like you, if I know beforehand too many details of a scene then I really don't feel like writing it anymore... the pleasure's gone.
What I try to do is write a sentence or two about that scene or that chapter and use that as a plan.
It also helps me with the word count if I leave something in a scene to write the following day - then I get continuity.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ty, I tend to come up with the exiting things a few pages ahead of where I'm currently at. Though sometimes a twist will occur to me much earlier an I jot it down in the manuscript and kind of work my way toward it.

Oscar, I grok it!

Erik, only you could find a way to work in Clausewitz! :)

Angie, I'm often amazed at how it "just works out." Even without any clear rational planning, things seem to flow together. I guess it is a sign that our unconscious minds are still planning even when our conscious minds don't think we are.

Vesper, so true about knowing where you're going the next day. You can jump right in and things seem to flow so much swifter.

RK Sterling said...

I think you still produce an amazing amount of writing each year, even if you don't reach "high count" days. You are still racking it up over time.

As long as I know where I'm headed, and am excited about the scene I'm writing, I can get high word counts in an hour or two - otherwise, it's pretty low. Dismally low. :)

Riot Kitty said...

My characters always change things up when I want to plan too far in advance! Really. It's like they take on a life of their own when I sit down and type.

Charles Gramlich said...

RK, yes, knowing where you're going is the key, but I so seldom do.

Riot, yes, that happens too, and gums up the works at times. :)