A few good words… (To word count or not to word count?)

In keeping with the promise of a fresh start to the year, setting new goals, tweaking the lifestyle, I thought a new theme for my blog would be cool. So here I am with a whole new look. (Hair cut next week too.)

With a new year, new goals, new challenges, I want to look at word counts. They’re a pretty important deal for writers. How they’re achieved is a varied process. I’m pretty diligent, but I’ve never worked to a per week word-count target on a novel before. While I deeply admire those who can achieve the 50,000-words of NaNoWrMo in the month of November, I know it’s not for me.

Historical fiction, particularly in the early days can be a real stop/start business. A lot of lines of manuscript can trail off in a series of xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx’s, the details to be worked in after checking the facts, discovering whether trains actually ran every day to a certain stop, or whether that small country town had cars as early as 1919 etc. etc.

But I want to finish this new novel in “good” time. What does that mean? I’m not under contract, so I’m not bound to one year or eighteen months to complete it to publishable standard, but I am working as a full-time, professional writer, who aims to be published and read. So how do I ensure that I don’t meander along at snail’s pace, waiting for my muse to appear and giving in to a deliciously organic process that might side-track or detour me along varied paths before I get to point B?

I’ve got to set a word-count target and not let myself off the hook. But neither do I wish to produce crap to achieve that aim. So I’m working with the goal of “good” words. Keepers. Or at least a strong basis and a trajectory that is heading to the finale.

I can write 3000-words a day when I’m on fire. I’m sure I could write more if I forced myself. But I’m happy to aim for 1000-words a day – on writing days – I will have to take time out for uni. And I really want a “good” life/work balance this year. (A blog for another day.) If I’m firing, I’ll keep going, but I won’t add that into my weekly target and say, Yay! I got it done in two days, so now I can play. I’ll sit down the next day and tap, write, sweat out those next thousand words.

And, I’ve faced the fact I’ve known for quite some time, perhaps since mid-2010 when I joined a certain social network, that it’s brilliant to keep in touch, finger on the pulse, and connected with writing buddies and peers, except, Man, does it eat into your writing time. So FBook is another tweak. Everything in its time and place. First and foremost, I am a writer. I want, live, breathe, to write. And I’d like it to translate to a new novel sometime next year.

I love my blog too, so I’ll be ranting and raving and talking writing to anyone good enough to drop in.

Being a writer means I have an inherent curiosity as to how other writers “do it”. Come on now, lift your minds a bit higher please. I mean write, achieve words, word count goals.  Do you set a target? What gets you motivated, gets those words on the page? Let me know in the comments.

PS: Condolences to all the clichés that gave themselves in the creation of this post.

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Alison Reynolds" alt="Alison Reynolds">

Alison Reynolds

Thanks for a fabulous post, Chris.
I am sure you will get that elusive work/life balance worked out.
You really got me thinking what my motivation is.
External deadlines work well for me. But I am hopeless at the work/life balance and tend to veer one way or the other.
Hope you have a fantastic year in both life and writing!

February 1, 2012 at 9:54 am
christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


Hi Alison,
Thank you and for your good wishes.
I’m certainly hoping to find a better balance this year. Afraid it proves pretty difficult for me too. When I’m into a project it tends to infiltrate and take over. And as you know well, deadlines do not wait, though they’re very motivating. I work better to a deadline, which is why for my novel I’m trying to set some of my own.
I wish you both a wonderful writing and personal year. Hope it’s as brilliantly successful as your last one and I look forward to seeing many new “Alison Reynolds” books on the bookshop shelves in 2012. 🙂

February 1, 2012 at 10:26 am
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Chris, I wish you well as you try to find the best working process for you. I so hope you also achieve that work/life balance.

I’m hopeless – my life IS my work – or is that supposed to be vice versa? My work is my life? I don’t mean it to be – but I’m a working author – and the works just seem to take over.

Processes fascinate me. I’m always intriged by how other authors work. “Do you write for set hours p/day for example. Or are you a write when the mood takes type?” I love all that stuff and find it very motivating.

I must admit I’m driven by deadlines. I can stress over an idea for weeks and it’ll all come together when the sun is setting on deadline day and I’m scrambling madly to the finish line. Although, to be fair, that’s usually for shorter kids stories. (Hmmn – that was ‘short stories/chapter books for kids – not ‘stories for short kids’… Seem to be having trouble with words today! LOL!)

My goal for longer novels is to try to knock over 3 k per day for first draft. That keeps me sane. But it doesn’t always pan out – which is why I’m crazy on most days.

I love your plan though – and I wish you the very, very best. Good luck with your fabulous stories – they always sound fascinating.

February 2, 2012 at 4:54 pm
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Kaz, I don’t think you’re hopeless at all. You’re amazing – 3000-words a day is fantastic. Especially when combining a day job.

    I can only try with my aim to have a better work/life balance. It’s been totally skewed to writing for so long that I don’t think I know what a normal life is anymore. Some people think I don’t work, because I’m “at home” (translate that as “fulltime writer”). It’s hard to explain to non-writers that the “job” takes over and it becomes an evening and weekend, 24/7 job. Part of the problem is that it’s hard to own writing as work – even though it is a bloody hard slog much of the time – because we love doing it. It might sound twee, but I know you’ll understand, writing can be more an all encompassing vocation. Think highest level exec who never knocks off thinking about the job. When stories get into your head, they won’t let go until you get them out. Characters and storylines don’t shut up or knock off at five, or take weekends. Characters want to tell their story and when they’re talking, I listen. To shut them up or down is death. It’s very hard to lure them back.

    I don’t write only when the mood takes. That is for those who write simply for the love of it. I’m a bum on seat, let’s do this writer. I want to write, but I want to be read equally. I’ve spent years writing short fiction to guidelines and deadlines. Now, I’m writing my passion in novels, but equally for an audience. Still, I want to finish and be read.

    Thank you for your very good wishes. I wish the same right back to you and for your fabulous stories. If it takes me 3k a day to emulate your success, I’m happy to do it. Once I’ve written my way into this novel, I know 3k words a day will be possible.

    Meanwhile, I’m counting down the days until your new YA novel, “Dead Actually” is launched. You must be so excited. Roll on March 1st.

    Best wishes,

    February 2, 2012 at 6:12 pm

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