Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Counting Words

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.


Chrish said...

'3.5 hours of dancing to the Wii'

Bob Lock said...

*Holds up hands*
It's a fair cop guv'nor I'll come quietly :)
Your advice on FB has a lot of merit, I also got past the block (and the stress that causes it) with the attitude of so what if it's crap or not quite right, there's a delete button." perhaps I tend to over-think stuff and should just write what comes into mind and worry about it later during the re-write etc. Another thing that I lack is probably the monetary motivation as I don't have to write to make a living (just as well) it's more for pleasure and relaxation but I will give the 2,000 words a day a try and see what happens :)

Neal Asher said...

Chris, I wish I'd started earlier in the year, but I'm always reluctant. It is, however, excellent exercise.

It's a simple equation, Bob. If that over-thinking results in you writing nothing at all then it needs to go. Another aspect of writing to a set count is that you don't finish a section on one day then have trouble starting another one on another day. If I finish a section but am say 200 words short of my count, I move on to get a foothold in the next bit. Or, if I'm a few hundred words away from finishing a bit but have achieved my word count, I leave it -- that way it's also easier to start the next day.

Grim's Reality said...

I'm having a scribble at the moment I have three irons in the fire, properly started and two outlined. One is getting large and takes the majority of my time (when I have it).

I have been agonizing over whether to jump ahead and write what I'm thinking of right now, because inspiration and plot points don't seem to resolve themselves at my behest, but just sit in my subconscious and erupt like spores out of a puffball when I'm in the most inconvenient places. And then if I don’t make notes the little bastards blow away into the Eather and I have to re-think them… who’d be a full time employee I ask you?

I have been thinking that there can’t be a right or wrong about it. But I think you just answered the question. If you’re stuck move on, then pop back later. I just find that things look scrappy, with a chapter outline here and another there, or a chapter title here with a load of keywords. And a notebook or even scraps of pocket paper with notes on that need collating.

And every day since you mentioned the 2kwordsaday I have been trying to get some kind of number fixed in my head. There is no way I can do 2000 just on book per day, as I need thinking space, resolution and continuity time or what you get is repetition of previous trains of thought that you’ve dealt with elsewhere, glaring omissions or contradictions.

Its great to set a target, I think it’s an ideal way of maintaining discipline and keeping to the objective, but what must be understood by those looking in; that those 2000 words actually have to mean something in the real world, and that as I have discovered (especially being in full time employment) is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

You have been a great help. And because you’ve done the rounds when you speak it’s generally the crux point that you speak about, without all the bollocks and flower that goes with “How to write a Book” by I M Makingloadsoutofyou, because I’ve tried that route.

So there you go: Thanks Mr Asher, I wouldn’t have started my efforts again if you weren’t there… smoke up arse time, you’ve become a bit of a mentor… Bleeeeeeerrrrrgh… I’ll get my coat.

Neal Asher said...

Graeme, regarding that 'write what I'm thinking now' is what I did with this Penny Royal book, though I jumped back rather than forwards. As mentioned in previous posts it was the back story that took off. The bit I wrote in the 'present' is still being shoved pages and pages away from that start, in fact, 70 thousand words away from it now.

Oh, and I just finished another 2,000 words.

Grim's Reality said...

Wel thanks for that. I'm going to catch the 16.31 from Fenchurch St, to Tilbury... then after I've washed up, gotten dinner ready etc, I may have an hour before bedtime.

Neal Asher said...

Similar to how I spent the twenty or so years it took me to learn my trade and get taken on by a big publisher. When others were dossing in front of the TV I was in a back room scribbling and dreaming. When others were taking the weekend off, I wasn't. When others were taking their tea and dinner breaks at work I was the odd bugger sitting at my bench writing. I've still got one of the hardback journals I used, and it still stinks of coolant oil. That's putting aside the latter decade I also spent running a business.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

"My book payments are stepped: starting a new book, delivery and acceptance, publication in hardback and publication in paperback"

and you're about 3 books ahead on this front without those 3 out for a ...couple years?

Grim's Reality said...

No rest for the wicked. Shit out of luck this evening, Motorhome repairs and refurb took precedence. I'm just glad I have multiple PCs and a USB stick for those quiet times I can go off and rough something out at work. I consider those times as payment for all the value adds they get elsewhere.

Neal Asher said...

My last comment didn't make much sense, so I deleted it.

If I can, I delay the payments, Vaude. I haven't even started this latest book as far as Macmillan is concerned.

One of the problems, Graeme, is that writing and having any other life can be mutually exclusive.

Conor said...

"Inspiration, I have to say, is a lazy and fickle thing often in need of a good kick up the arse."

That's a great quote Neal! I just HAD to post that to my Facebook account!