Weekly Musing: Make Every Word Count

Word counts. A metric many of us writers become obsessed with. How many words did I write today, this week, this month, this year? Do I count new words for my revision when I’ve just deleted an entire page, scene, or chapter? Do I delete the cut words from my overall word count? Do word counts even matter? How the hell can one tell a story in just 500 words or less? How the hell can someone tell a story in more than 2,000 words? Those two little words sound simple but can cause a lot of anxiety for some.

To me there are two definitions of word count. The first one is the one which refers to actual word production or output. This year is the first year I’ve personally started to track my output. It’s kind of eye-opening in many respects. My own personal rule is to only count new words written in relation to a novel, short story, or blog post. I don’t count other stuff like FB posts or writing in my personal journal. At first I thought this made a lot of sense but whenever I revise, how the heck do I count that? I still haven’t quite figured it out and doubt I will by the end of the year.

Another thing that opened my eyes is by keeping track of my approximate production, I see just how much or little I write. I admit I don’t write every day since I like to let things sit for a bit, have an inability to juggle a bunch of stories at one time, or if I’m doing research. And occasionally real life wants in like knocking me down with a migraine or something else.

It’s interesting seeing how much I’ve gotten done by month. For example, for the first quarter of this year I wrote approximately 105,518 words. That’s a lot but doesn’t tell the whole story. January and February, when I was focused on working on my novel’s rough draft, my production was huge while March’s numbers were much smaller. But while March’s numbers weren’t big, that doesn’t necessarily translate into being less productive because I drafted, finalized, and submitted one story as well drafting two other stories for upcoming deadlines. That’s a lot more ‘storytelling’ if you will, then what took place in January and February.

The other definition of word count is one defined by guidelines from various publishers. Flash fiction is usually any story with a count of up to 1,000 words. To be considered a short story, the word count can be up to 20,000 words although I personally have yet to see any calls for stories anywhere near that length. 10,000 words max is the highest limit I’ve seen and that’s only be a scant few times. The average seems to be from 1,000 to 5,000 words. Within the novella camp, the word count definition gets even more confusing. Again, depending on whoever’s guidelines an author is looking at, a novella can be up to 40,000 words. Or more. Who knows. And when talking about novels, that’s wide open. Some shorter works like Eli Wiesel’s Night I’ve seen classified as a novel even though it’s about 100 pages. Yet there are plenty of books well north of 600, 770, 800, or 900 pages.

Numbers and writers don’t mix usually so throwing out that simple term word count is scary. It’s amazing to think regardless if a writer bangs out a ton of words in a year or relatively little that both paths can lead to success. Or those people I know who can easily tell a story is as few words as possible while I feel utterly incapable of telling a story in no less than 3,000 words can lead to success.

With word counts in all their forms, whether personal or professional, we once again see that there is no one correct, or easy, path to success. Just make every word count.



Weekly Musing: NaNo Check-in #1

Ahhh, so NaNo has officially started! This week leading up to November 1st has been one filled with anxiety, fear, and self-doubt because of the realization of what I am about to embark upon. A novel. At least 50,000 words. In 30 days. Needless to say a lot of this week trying to figure out if what I’m doing is the right thing.

My original intention this week was to prep for November 1st. What that looked like consisted of quasi-finalizing an outline, review my notes, and dust off the tri-fold board which serves as a brief timeline of events I want to incorporate into my novel. All the organizational stuff to satisfy my efficient personality. But the internal struggle of ‘Now I have to sit down and write the damn thing’ kicked in and took over.

Sure I got some things done. I tried something different and instead of prepping an extensive outline, I did a one page synopsis of what each of my main character’s story is. I included how their story starts, briefly what will happen to them, and what the ending looked like for each of them. Another thing I got done was to put into a folder maps of Wales and England, character sheets for my main characters, printed off scene ideas, and organized my notebooks of research. I also dusted off some of the research stored on EverNote and downloaded the app for my phone.

Even with the prepping, I couldn’t ease my mind. It’s a daunting task and I know I’m not ready for it. I spent a good portion of Halloween looking at NaNo’s website as a way of calming myself down and to get inspiration.

One of the best threads was about rewarding yourself as you go along. Many people were going to do daily rewards for hitting their word count. Candy was a popular one. Others planned on rewarding themselves with video game time, going to a movie, knitting, spending time with friends and family, etc.

I hadn’t thought about doing this but it makes a lot of sense. My goal isn’t so much a word count but time spent writing. One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with this year is the amount of time I’m physically writing. My goal is to write 3 hours each day. If I reach that, I get a piece of leftover Halloween candy. For every 5,000 words I hit, I’ll play a few hours of BioShock Infinite. When I’ve hit 25,000 words, I’ll pick something small from the shop on NaNo’s website and treat myself to a nice lunch. When I hit the big 50,000 word count, I’ll take myself out to a nice dinner and get myself something else from NaNo’s store. The extra kicker will be if I’m finished with the novel at that point, I get an extra special reward. If the novel isn’t finished, though, then that’s okay and when it is finished, I’ll give myself that extra special reward then.

November 1st finally arrived and it was a busy, busy day. I managed to squeeze in time to write between cleaning my house for potential buyers and generally trying to recover from being sick the past few days. I was exhausted by the time of the NaNo kick-off meeting held at a local library yet excited.

It was a small group, about a dozen people gathered on a Friday night. The group ranged in age from late teens/early 20s to a retiree. Everyone introduced himself or herself and we played a get-to-know-you game before settling down to write for an hour. A fun activity we did, one that is a really great exercise, was to either draw or write down on a notecard what our Internal Editor looks like and says. We placed the notecards into an envelope and sealed it. The instructions were to not open it up until after NaNo. It’s a symbolic gesture. A way to put that dreaded Internal Editor away for a month thus freeing up our creativity.

But I got my novel started! The NaNo website itself allows you to keep track on your work and counts the words for you. I haven’t officially entered my word total as of this blog posting but subsequent November blogs will be updated with where I’m at word count wise. Fingers crossed I’m above the daily average of 1,667.

Happy NaNo everyone!


Weekly Musing: Write Long and Prosper?

I didn’t know until May 26th that May is Short Story Month and only because I received an e-mail from a Anne R. Allen’s blog . In the article, it extolled the advantages of writing short stories vs. novels.

Some of the points in the article got me thinking about my own writing aspirations as well as the pro-short story arguments.

Personally, I love novels. I guess it’s because I’ve always had an attention span. I love the build-up. I will stick with a story if it is paced just right even epic, behemoth novels. I need and want that background. I need the time to have the characters fleshed out. I can read a novel faster than I can a short story collection. With a short story collection, I find myself flipping through the pages more to see when the story will end. I will groan if I see that it doesn’t end for a while. I guess I could just skip to the next story but I have this odd thing that I should finish a story. The author put in all that time and effort, the least I can do is finish a 10 page story. For example, it took me about 2.5 weeks to get through a 177 page short story collection. In comparison, a 260 page book I got through in about 8 hours. Naturally some of this is due to the content of the story itself.

The biggest reason for the resurgence of short-stories is due to people’s decreasing attention spans coupled with many small screen digital devices. Short stories and flash fiction, an even shorter story, are easily digestible. That’s fine however, I’m not sure encouraging people to become even less engaged in long-term critical thinking is a good thing. We are already far too much of a disposable society. When it comes to something I feel is as sacred as the written word, shorter isn’t always better. I’m not saying all short stories are poorly written or can’t say anything, then can and do, but it dismays me to see further erosion into ‘this bores me already’ culture. It’s a further dumbing down and boosts short-term gratification.

In my opinion, novellas and novels more fully engage the reader to think deeper about the characters, issues, themes, plots, and subplots. More subtext can be developed. A reader can take the necessary time to appreciate what is going on. With a short story, you read the story then move on. It’s just an appetizer and if you feast solely upon appetizers, you will never get full. Whereas a novella or novel, I can have an appetizer, move through several courses, and then have dessert; a much more satisfying experience. It will stay with me longer. And maybe even give me heartburn.

As a beginning writer, I view composing short stories as training wheels. I need to cut my teeth and learn how to craft all the elements that go into a story. Writing short stories allows me to do that. It helps build my confidence in what my abilities are before I tackle a novel, the writing form I’m most interested in. One point mentioned in the article noted above is the author’s own admission of viewing short story writing as just practice before graduating to novels. For me, I equate it with learning to crawl before being able to walk and run. I don’t feel my skill level is up to tackling a full-blown novel. There are too many things to think about and to practice but then again, I’m a pretty cautious person.

Another advantage I am finding to writing short stories is the ability to play with different genres. I believe as I’ve mentioned in one of my first posts, I’m a fan of different genres; I’ll read anything if it sounds interesting so why should I limit myself to just one? It’s about the story, not the category it fits into. And with short stories, I can do that. I just finished a Victorian vampire story but I’ve also written a Steampunk-inspired pirate story, a story inspired the bombing of Hiroshima, a priest reflecting back to an incident in his childhood in Spain, and a reanimated corpse stuck in a county morgue, to mention just a few.

The idea, though, of sticking strictly to short stories, has never crossed my mind. True, writing a short story takes a much shorter commitment of overall time than a novel does. And it is more efficient in terms of per year production. And it probably is a more lucrative way to make money as an author, but my heart loves novels. Maybe it sounds pretentious or na├»ve, but a good majority of the story ideas I have saved on my hard drive feel like they require a few hundred pages to be developed properly. Perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment.