Friday, 4 April 2014

Word counts and other bad habits, by Bryony Pearce

I’ve developed a terrible new bad writing habit.  The word-count.
I’ve never been one of those writers who counts words.  When someone says to me, ‘how many words do you write in a day?’ I tend to look blankly at them.  I don’t count words.  I do have writing goals: I’d like to finish that tricky scene, or the end of that chapter.  Perhaps tie off that character arc. 
I do not do word count.
Part of it is the way that I write.  I don’t have a rigid schedule.  I have children instead.  I write as and when I can.  Sometimes I manage no more than a sentence in a day, sometimes less.  I’ve been known to leave the document open with the words ‘main character gets in the s***’ as the total sum of what I wrote that day, simply to remind me what I was thinking about for the next time I open the work.
But then I agreed to this deadline.  I have to write a whole, entire book by the middle of June and suddenly word count becomes important. No, it becomes an obsession.
I have, Arnold Rimmer-like, created a timetable which is getting updated on an almost daily basis according to what I have or have not achieved.  It is colour-coded.
I have a certain number of chapters to complete per week, according to my other commitments, the children’s school holidays and so on.  Chapters are roughly ten pages long, I cannot plan a word count per chapter as they do vary between 8 and 15 pages.  I don’t know why I am obsessed with word count and not completed chapter headings. 
I just am.
I know that the book is due to be around 90,000 words.  Each word I add brings me one satisfying step closer to meeting my deadline.
It isn’t as if I’m not enjoying the writing.  I’m very much enjoying it.  I am now setting my alarm for 6am, rising, working for two hours (generally going over the writing from the day before), sorting the kids out and doing the school run.  Then I run errands or go to the gym for two hours.  Then I write again until three, when I have to pick the kids up and start the evening round of clubs, activities, tea, bath, bed.
This schedule is working well for me.  I find that I can achieve a lot in the time before the kids wake up, when the daylight is pinkening the sky around the window-frame in the study.  For that two hours I have no responsibility to anyone but myself and the characters.  No-one else is up and on Facebook or Twitter, so I have no impulse to check social media.  I don’t even make myself a cup of tea, I get straight down to writing.  So I have developed some good habits.
 But as the day goes on I begin to check my word count.  By three I’ve probably checked it five or ten times.
At three I close off my chapter and nod my head, happy that I’ve added another x number of words.  I go to collect the kids from school.  I worry that next week I won’t be able to make the same word count.
I’ll be fine.  I do not miss deadlines.  Never have, don't plan to start now. 
But when I have one I panic like Arnold Rimmer until the end is in sight.

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