So, last week was a good one during which I beat my target of 10,000 words of fiction by 1231, on top of which I did 917 words for the blog and more in replies here, and on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and in my journal. I love the ease with which words can be counted in Word because I used to have to do it by averaging out the number of words in a line, the number of lines to a page and so forth, which was averagely accurate if it was typed sheets but went all to pot with the hand written stuff. But why do I count words?
Like many writers, I have read, over the years, just about anything I could find on the subject. I picked up on this counting words thing from John Braine’s book Writing a Novel. I guess it appealed to the OCD in me because words are not all I count. Last week, for example, I read 104 science articles (some admittedly only a paragraph long), I did 140 press-ups and 140 sit-ups, 3.5 hours of dancing to the Wii, an 8-mile cycle ride, drank alcohol on two evenings … you get the picture. But I would contend that much of this is all about what I do: I write stuff down.
For me a lot of this counting also stems from being self-employed for about 25 years. Prior to 2001 when I put away the mowers, hedge cutter, chainsaw and scrapped my truck (no one would buy it) I had to keep count. I had to tick off the weekly jobs, note down the new ones, count up the limited number of jobs I had to spread out over the season (that would be council grass cutting and the like), add up the money, fill out accounts, note down receipts. With this there was a direct connection, reinforced daily, between work and money.
But how do I fill the disconnection between work and money when writing a book? People in other professions have a much more direct connection between their work and their wage, highlighted every day when they go to work, when they clock in, are given their orders or give orders, and when they go home again afterwards. I get paid per book and then by royalties on book sales. My book payments are stepped: starting a new book, delivery and acceptance, publication in hardback and publication in paperback, so there is some connection there. However, I don’t clock in in the morning, nobody checks my work until it’s delivered, I don’t have a foreman or manager bollocking me for bad work or complimenting me for good. I don’t have someone telling me I’m not working hard enough or fast enough, just the knowledge, stretched tenuous over a year, that if I don’t do it or don’t get it right I won’t get paid.
So I count words.
Just recently another writer said how he just can’t write like that – he has to wait for inspiration. I have heard this from other writers too and have no time for it. During the week my inspiration clocks in at 8.00 in the morning and is allowed to go at 5.00 in the evening, unless there’s overtime. It helps me with 2,000 words in that time unless there’s editing to do. It gets quite a lot of time off and holidays, but when it’s time to work it is not allowed to whine, mope about or skive off. Inspiration, I have to say, is a lazy and fickle thing often in need of a good kick up the arse.