Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Word Counts Don't Work For Me (motivationally speaking)

I think I have NaNoWriMo hangover, and I didn't even participate in it. What's with the word count obsession? And why have I gotten sucked into the belief that I have to write a certain amount of words each day, no matter how cruddy they are, or I'm not going to ever finish this stinkin' book??

I'll admit my dark, dirty secret. I don't write fast, and I want it to be perfect the first time around. I know it isn't going to be. I know I will need to revise many times. But I want it to be as right as humanly possible. I can't continue to spew out utter poo and feel good enough about my book to keep at it. And better writing the first time around is less to revise later.

So what that means is that sometimes I have to stop and reevaluate. And make the hard decisions. Decisions that put that precious word count in a reverse mode.

Several months ago, one of my dear, dear writing partners decided to change her entire book from third person point of view, to first person. Don't get me wrong, her book was good. Her writing is fantastic because she is one of those truly gifted writers who probably is incapeable of utter poo. But still, she felt like she was lacking something – some uumph – and she decided to try the book in first person.

Word counts went spinning and spiralling rapidly backwards so fast we were almost sucked into a time warp. To have all that work done, and then essentially start over... BRAVE!!!

But this month she sent out her first chapters and they are AWESOME!!  The beautifully written, gripping first draft pales like a ghost in comparison with how this story and it's main character now jump off the page. It may have been depressing and frustrating to start at square one again, but she gritted her teeth and did it, and it was so worth it!

She's my inspiration. Because this week I've gotten bored with my story. Not the writing it. I like writing it. I love my main characters. They're so cool and fun and I can't wait to spend time with them. But then I look back at what I wrote and one character comes off so boring. The narration is pretty, and lyrical, but there is no sense of voice in it, and as a result it's weak. And definitely not befitting my character.

So this week I turned back the word counts (oh so painfully) and tried it in first person. WaLA!! There was my feisty character!! There was her voice! There was her personality!

I'm keeping the male half in third person because his narrator is very good, and I think when the two story lines merge it will work better. So essentially I only have half to rewrite. But I'm going to keep at it for a while to see where it goes.

And I'm ignoring the word counts. Because all that really matters is that I'm writing a good story. And it will get done when I am done.


  1. I heard something this week that sort of made sense to me. A guy said, "If it hurts now, it will probably feel better down the road. If it's easy now, it will probably hurt pretty badly down the road."

    These decisions to "kill the babies" or totally rewrite a manuscript are tough decisions, but I really believe if it is the right decision, you'll hurt a lot less down the road. Now how do you know you've made the right decision? Well, I don't know. But it sounds like you did - and that's exciting.

    I've given up on word counts....ANYTHING of ANY quality written, or heck - thought about these days - for me, is progress.

  2. Such a true statement!! It works better for some people, I guess, but I figured out in writing the book that is now under the bed that if you do it right from the beginning (even if you have to start over to get back to the beginning), it's so much less painful trying to make the story cohesive later on. If I just kept going, there would be monumental stuff to change later, and half what I'd written would have to be dumped.

    Now THAT'S a waste of time!!

  3. I've been thinking about this. The rewriting process is so long that I think that I might fall back into your thinking. Try to get it more right the first time so you don't havae to do so much rewriting.

  4. Yes! Something I always try to remind myself is that writing is not something that is efficient. I could teach a class in an hour, grade a pile of papers in an hour, prepare a dinner in an hour, and have something to show at the end.

    With writing, maybe I'd have a 1,000 word count hour or maybe I'd spend the same amount of time pulling apart a chapter, examining a character, or re-writing a single paragraph.

    It can be slow and frustrating. And that's okay.

  5. Thanks for this thoughtful post. I don't really get the numbers obsession either. My worst writing is when I'm at my wordiest.

  6. Good for you for braving the change in POV! I love Brit's comments. She nailed it perfectly. :-)

  7. Oh, my dirty little secret is yours! I write slow, want it perfect, etc. Word counts don't do much for me either, except make me feel guilty when I don't hit it. I don't need the motivation to write. To each his own, I suppose...

  8. OH yes, I've done that myself, change the entire POV and I love it better. But it's work and we are only human and hate to see our word count go down but in the end--it is so much better!

  9. Congratulations on your debut - I recently received my signed copy from Karma - THANK YOU!! I am in the middle of another book but can't wait to read yours. Our book club has already decided to read it in the spring. I just realized that you also write a blog, so I'm your newest follower.

  10. i think setting goals helps but I am not strongent - depends on how i feel but I try to write something everyday.