If this blog is the young boy with the floor-bound stare, then punctuality is the girl he is too shy to approach.
I aim to publish posts within the first half of the month. (Ahem, or the first half of the second month). Doing so takes time away from my actual writing, which is something Emily recently pointed out to me. My response was that this blog is important to me, that I enjoy writing it (even if no one else enjoys reading it), and that I want to keep it going.
While none of these things have changed, I decided to put my actual writing first in September and bumped blog writing to the spare snippets of my evenings. I hoped this would dissipate the pressure of completing the post on time, as opposed to shunting said pressure to the back-end of the month.
I imagine this new approach would’ve worked, maybe even well, if I hadn’t kept thinking for the first few weeks that I still had plenty of time…
THE DREADED WORD COUNT
I usually save—but don’t savour—this part of the post until the end. That might have something to do with the dread of a likely lacklustre reveal. Who knows? Since August was the first month this year in which I set myself a word count target, I thought it appropriate to start here.
Stressful. Counter-productive. Undermining a sense of achievement. Better measured over weeks or months. These are the words and phrases I’ve used in the past when talking about word count targets. Contradictions aside, I outlined in my previous post the reasons why I thought I needed to begin setting myself targets.
Word count targets are a tightrope-fine line to walk. As with any day of writing, I want to achieve two things:
- A quality to be proud of.
- A quantity that feels like a progressive step closer to the finish line.
It can be hard to find the right balance between the two. You don’t want to write so trickle-slow that all you manage to produce is a slick turn of phrase no longer than a small paragraph, just as you don’t want to write so fountain-fast that the mass you accumulate is worthy only of the delete button—and your sincere loathing. Don’t forget the crippling certainty that you can’t, never could, and never will be able to, write.
I’ve researched the amount of words a writer “should” be producing in a day. [For those interested: anywhere between 750—3,000 words, with 1,000—1,500 serving as the average.] I say “should” as every writer is different. I’ve also come to realise—retrospectively, always retrospectively—that, while these figures are helpful, I should be worrying less about what others can do and focus more on what I can do.
A thousand words a day seemed to me like a sensible target. One that could realistically be achieved. With the days available to write, I guessed I could achieve 25,000 words by the end of August.
Half-way through the month I realised that wasn’t very likely. So I readjusted my target to a much more sensible word count of 18,000 words.
This may sound like I was giving myself a Get-out-of-jail-free card, but while I’d set the first target with good intentions I came to realise it didn’t match up with the actual writing time I had available.
So how did I do?
Come the final keystroke, I managed to achieve a total of 17,265 words.
That’s 735 words short. This was [pause for dramatic effect; hold the pause for greater effect, or release if you’ve already reached your dramatic capacity] not disappointing.
I mean, it was disappointing at first. Then I realised my last week of writing had been shorter than intended. Two to three hours shorter. Or 735 words shorter.
I realised something else. I should be focusing on the 17,265 words I had achieved, not the 735 I hadn’t. Focusing on what you have instead of on what you don’t have is a good philosophy to practice, and not just in writing.
This became more apparent when I compared the total to those of the previous seven months:
- April: 19,434
- August: 17,265
- March: 17,187
- May: 14,362
- January: 14,075
- February: 11,783
- June: 9,905
- July: 9,135
August ranked second. Not only that, I was a thousand words from doubling the total for the previous month.
While the comparison revealed some totals—those outside the top three—that I wasn’t very happy with, it helped to highlight what I should be happy with: efforts that proved productive and a sense of achievement that was reinforced. It also provided me with something not just to build upon, but to improve upon.
But that wasn’t all that helped.
I experienced a single night of anxiety-disrupted sleep. If I don’t report on this in my next post, that’ll be because there’s nothing new to say.
My mornings are still spent working in the nursery and my afternoons are still spent talking to imaginary people. It’s great.
This new division of my day has benefited my writing. I pretty much hit the proverbial nail on the head in my previous post:
I now have a good balance of time and space away from and in front of the laptop, with a greater value—and enjoyment—placed on the latter.
I’m pleased to say that remains unchanged. Some days I wish I had more time available for writing, but that can always be achieved by returning to the laptop after dinner.
Having said that, when I did have more—even too much—time available for my writing, that didn’t necessarily mean I achieved more words. (I’m looking at you, January, February and May. July, I can’t even look at you. June, you remain exempt.)
When I realised my working day averaged ten hours, that helped to further reinforce my sense of achievement of writing 17,265 words and not the 18,000 I’d set as my target. For someone who is relentlessly hypercritical of himself, this made a pleasant change.
My reading has slumped somewhat these past few months. But then an alloy of heightened busyness and doorstop-sized book selections will do that. My average of three-and-a-half books per month has dwindled to around two.
I’ve begun to re-read the excellent-doesn’t-even-come-close-to-doing-it-justice The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, which I first discovered two summers ago in a bookshop in the Old Town of Dubrovnik. In many ways, The Name of the Wind changed my reading-life.
Other than J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, J.K Rowling, Philip Pullman and a smattering of other fantasy novelists, I’d not read a broad range of contemporary fantasy. As someone aspiring to become a contemporary fantasy novelist, this seemed like something that needed fixing.
Rothfuss was the first author to introduce—No. That’s not strong enough. Beam. Beam me to a new fantasy world. (And this was while I was in a foreign country!) He also writes with a poetic prose without getting self-indulgent and sacrificing the pace of the story.
In short, Rothfuss and his writing are an idol to someone like me.
It was for that reason I almost decided against re-reading The Name of the Wind, despite owning a lovely tenth anniversary hardback edition with bonus material to replace (or, rather, accompany) my Dubrovnik-battered paperback.
Why, you ask? Because of my issue with letting admiration lead to imitation. I was still discovering my own voice, and I didn’t want to lose that.
It was for that reason I decided in favour of re-reading The Name of the Wind. Backwards logic? Perhaps. But I wanted to challenge myself. To see if I could read something by an author who I greatly admire without absorbing his voice.
There’s a real pleasure to be gained from re-reading a book. A pleasure you can’t get from the first sitting. You can take your time, unrushed by the desire to discover what happens next. You can appreciate how the story is stitched together. You can sponge-up the tiny, significant details.
For the most part, I’ve managed to abstain from allowing my voice to imitate Rothfuss’. I’m pleased to know that I’m capable of doing that—I just can’t let myself forget.
It’s been a pleasure to write in my own voice and to re-read a book that has so much love poured into every page. If there’s been any imitation, it’s from sustaining myself on that energy and converting it into the fuel for my own belief that I will achieve my dream of becoming published.
First, I need to keep on writing (and reading). Or, to quote The Name of the Wind:
A real story takes time to prepare — Kvothe
What a lovely quote for someone who finds himself still working on the first-second draft of his novel!
[Who else? I may not get to spend every day with Cassie, but even the thought of her makes me smile. It’s what you have, not what you don’t have.]