Tag Archives: word count

NaNo Update #4: I Made It! No, Wait. I Didn’t.

I was there–at 50,000 words in my National Novel Writing Month entry and I was five days early to boot. I was with my regional NaNo group when I hit the magic mark. I drank in the applause when our Municipal Liaison made the announcement. I had won. And then I lost it the next day.

Blame it on my first chapter. I never liked my first chapter and I just had to go back and fix it. I did a complete rewrite. It wasn’t the greatest piece of fiction in the world, but it was a marked improvement over the original. I cut the original chapter one and pasted it into a fresh document (always save your work, even the parts you don’t use). I inserted the new first chapter and guess what? My word count dropped to 49,700. I looked at it again. I added details to it–a dash of setting here, an amplified piece of dialogue there and soon I once again surpassed 50,000 words.

I hated the ending as much as I despised the opening chapter. I vowed to rewrite the last chapter as well, but this time, I’m only adding words and not taking any away.

My plan is to finish polishing the draft on Wednesday and upload it for validation (that’s what they call it on the NaNo website) on Thursday, one day ahead of the November 30 deadline.

This was my second NaNo and my second “win,” but I found this year’s competition much more challenging than last year’s, but equally rewarding.

How are you doing on your NaNo novel?


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Word Counts for Revisions?

Writers know all about word counts. It’s drilled into us—1,000 words a day. Write for three hours, four hours. Achieve that daily word count. Writers get that. The only way to finish the first draft of a novel is to place the old “butt in chair” and write. The daily habit. Do what it takes to churn out a draft of 80,000 to 100,000 words in less than six months.

Simple enough, right? Okay, but what happens when the writer gets to the revision process? What’s the word count when revising a first draft? What is a writer’s daily production goal? What’s the benchmark? If a writer’s goal in producing a first draft is 1,000 words per day, shouldn’t our goal in revising a first draft be to review at least triple or quadruple that number? After all, we’ve already put all those words on the page. This may seem logical, but the hard part has only begun.

I’ve spent the last two weeks revising the first chapter of my work-in-progress. Heck, I’ve spend the last week on the first page of my draft. I’ve completely rewritten the opening scene twice now and it’s still not where I want it to be. There’s a valuable lesson here. When it comes to the revision process, there are no word counts. There are no benchmarks. The key is this: do whatever it takes. The opening line, page, and chapter must sing, or, better yet, must belt it out like an opera singer.

Once a writer gets the opening chapter right, the rest falls into place. It makes revising the entire work a whole lot easier. Well, not always. Sometimes the rest of the draft is just as much work.

So this begs the question: if there are no word counts for the revision process, how does the writer ensure the whole project doesn’t fall way off track? There may be no word counts, but discipline still counts. Revising is not fun—certainly not as much fun as writing. Ever spend an hour struggling to come up with just the right word or the right sentence? Your brain generates cliché after cliché. You know what you need to say. You just can’t conjure up the right word to say it.

It’s different when writing a first draft. If the wording isn’t perfect, move onto the next scene. You can fix it later. The revision process is when the later comes due. A writer can’t merely move on, unless he wants to go back and revise again and again. No, the writer has to get it right, word by word, page by page.

This is one of those posts where I can’t summon up a simple bullet point list, but I’ll give it a try:

  • Revisions are hard.
  • Revisions require supreme patience.
  • There is no word count.
  • It’s not fun, but
  • A writer must do it every day, just like writing.

And that is the hardest part: returning to the work-in-progress each day, knowing it’s far from perfect. The satisfaction of molding that imperfect first draft into a work of art must drive the writer forward. That is the only benchmark.

Do you set goals for the revision process? What sort of metrics do you use, if any?




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What Is Your Daily Word Count?

Many fiction writing experts advise writers to set a daily writing goal, usually 1,000 words per day. There are several benefits for writers who commit to achieve this goal. It keeps writers on task. It allows writers to get momentum going to move their work-in-progress forward. It fosters discipline and good work habits. It also allows writers to finish the first draft of a book in less than six months, which is vital if you want to be a prolific writer.

Stephen King, in his excellent book, On Writing, describes his daily writing routine. King devotes his mornings to writing. His goal is to produce 2,000 words a day. At times, he will keep writing into the afternoon. King’s process allows him to produce a 180,000-word first draft of a novel in three months. He must be doing something right because he’s generated a string of best-selling novels.

Though the merits of setting a daily word count (whether it’s 1,000 words or 2,000 words) are clear, it’s not for everybody. Author and  blogger Nathan Bransford uses a different process. Bransford writes on the weekends and he devotes a larger block of time, as much as six to eight hours. Here he describes his writing process.

My routine is closer to Bransford’s than to King’s process. I strive to write three or four days a week, but I don’t set a word count for each session. I write until I finish whatever chapter or section I’m working on (or until I can’t keep my eyes open).

The key factor for me is receptivity. My body and my mind must be receptive to the creative process for me to be productive. When I am physically tired or mentally wiped out and I try to write, I am likely to produce drivel. Then, the next time I sit down to write, I will end up spending an hour or more editing what I wrote the previous time.

Another way to approach a word count is to decide when you want to complete your novel. My goal is to produce a novel each year. Ideally, I’d like to complete a first draft in six to eight months, set it aside for a month, and then use two to four weeks for line edits and substantive edits. Then I am ready to show it to other critics.

If there’s one lesson from this discussion, it’s this: everyone’s different. What works for one person may not work for another. As much as experts preach writing daily, you have to find a schedule with which you are comfortable. Many of us have full-time jobs, families, and outside responsibilities. It’s a balancing act. For a lot of part-time writers, it boils down to this, “I write when I can.”

What really counts is this: set a realistic time frame for when you will complete each novel or short story and do your best to stick to it.

How do you go about the writing process? Do you use a daily word count? Do you have a specific time and place where you write?

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