by Savannah J. Foley
I’ve had some good writing weekends. Weekends where I write 10,000 words. And I’ve had some bad ones, where I get maybe 200 words. Every single time I sit down to write, I’m always amazed by how much text it actually takes to make even 100 words. For example, in Times New Roman sized 12, double-spaced, an average page from one of my books has 350 words on it. This paragraph only has 89, and look at all of the ideas I’ve expressed so far.
So even though numbers like 100, 200, or 300 seem low in comparison to what I get on a good weeknight (2,000), that’s actually quite a bit of writing.
And I’m obsessed with word count. Here’s a picture of the spreadsheet I keep open in Google docs when I’m working on my books (the word counts are from the zombie book I have going on the side) (click to see it bigger!):
I got into word counts when I participated in NaNoWriMo last year, and made the foundation of the above chart at that point. (At the time I originally wrote this post, I was the only one I knew of who kept charts like this, but then Susan came up with the awesome idea of us at LTWF sharing our daily goals/achievements with each other. For the past week we’ve updated our word counts in a shared google docs, and it’s been incredibly motivational, as Susan mentioned yesterday, but I still maintain this chart on my own!)
These days, whenever I’m writing and hit a pause (you know the kind. The one where your brain interjects and says, “HEY! Let’s go check email! Or Twitter! Or Facebook! Or Google+!”) I do a word count check and update the word count chart. I know when I’m really hitting my stride because 500 words will go by and I’ve been so engrossed in my story I didn’t even think to stop and check. I’ve gotten really good at estimating how many words I just wrote by the time it took. On average I can do 1,000 an hour (Yes, I also maintain complicated hour-by-hour charts as well. What can I say, I love charts!)
Yes, this behavior is obsessive. But it has also taught me something about writing and motivation:
Writing takes a long time. A long, long, long, long time. From conception to actualization on my last book it took 9 months. In actual writing time it took 3 months. That’s faster than some, slower than others, but still, when you think about it, a really freaking long time.
9 months of staying motivated about a story. 3 months about showing up and making it happen (Or as Susan calls it, BICHOK). 90 nights of going home with the intention of working on this huuuuuuge project, and sometimes not even getting started. This past weekend, I spent 8 solid hours over two different days, and got almost 9k out of it. But that was 8 hours of my weekend dedicated to doing nothing but writing. That’s an entire work day! And I only added about three scenes.
If you let yourself think about how much work and time goes into making a novel, it’s very easy to become demotivated. That’s why I like word counts. It compartmentalizes my goal for the day, and makes it attainable. I don’t think about having to write 70,000 words. Instead, I usually shoot for about 1,500 per night. That’s doable. It takes about two hours, but I’m lucky in that I have that time every evening.
During the day, I do spare some thought to the eventualities of the novel, but mostly I focus on the upcoming scene. I use all spare time to think about what I’m going to write that night, and then when I get in front of the computer I know exactly what I’m doing.
By the end of the novel, I’ve spent about 90 full days with my characters. Thinking about them, talking to them, exploring their worlds in my mind. They become friends. And that’s something else to look forward to during the process; it’s not a race to the finish, but a stroll with good company and an exciting reward at the end.
In other words, “It’s not the destination, but the journey.” And the satisfaction of every small goal along the way.
How do you stay motivated when working on a novel?
Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website and blog is at www.savannahjfoley.com. She is currently working with her agent to sell a sleeping beauty retelling about a girl who wakes up after a hundred years with no memory of her former life. You can read excerpts from her stories here.