Monday, April 27, 2015

Counting my way to "the end"

When you’re in writing mode, do you follow a word quota, a time quota or do you just wait for your muse to arrive, words in hand? 

by Meredith Cole

Once upon a time I tried all three techniques. I find that I rely on my muse more for great ideas than I do with actually creating a draft because it’s frankly very unreliable. I think I waited for my muse to arrive for about a decade in my twenties, and I never managed to write a book. So I fired my muse and decided to try something else.

The time quota was next. When my son was just over a year, I won a NYFA grant for screenwriting. I used the money to join The Writers Room in Astor Place and pay for a babysitter two mornings a week. I would drop my son at the sitter, hop on the subway, and, when I arrived at an empty desk at the studio, I had exactly 2 hours to write. Some days I would end up writing notes or revising something. Other days I would create new material, but it was never that great. I ended up spending most of my time making tea, staring out at the view of the Empire State Building and wondering what everyone else was writing. But I eventually finished my draft so I guess it did work. Sort of.

Once I had a contract (and a deadline) I no longer had time to dither. I also didn’t have the same kind of blocks of free time that I had before. I needed to get my book done as quickly as I could. So I tried word quotas. And that worked for me.

As I write a rough draft of a new book, I play with different word quotas until I find one that’s both achievable but will help me make significant progress on my book. Right now I can do about 1,000 words a day. If I don’t get it done in the morning before I go to work, I need to do it at lunch or in the evening. But I need to get it done. The word quota helps me to keep going even when I'm not "in the mood," forces me at times to write more than I’m comfortable with, and often pushes me beyond what I already know in my WIP.

The best part of having a word count is that if I write fast, then I’m done for the day sooner. I can keep writing if I have the time and I’m excited to continue, but I don’t have to. And I can go through the rest of day without any guilt about my writing progress. Now I just need to find a way to get it so I can be guilt-free about all the other stuff (social media, email, etc.)...


Art Taylor said...

I think I've tried all three at different times myself—and as you said, different stages of life, different demands of the profession, can dictate which might work better when.
Nice post!

Susan C Shea said...

The word count business works for me for the first draft. In fact it's kind of fun. But everything after that is (for me) so much harder and word counts don't mean as much. What do you do, Meredith, to get through the major revisions without getting bogged down?

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks Art! It's great to try different techniques and see what works best (who knows--the time may work better for me in the future, when I have more of it again...)

Meredith Cole said...

I would love to know what other people do not to get bogged down in major revisions, because I always do! If I'm doing it on paper, I try to get through a certain # of pages. But other than that, I haven't figured out anything good (because word count really doesn't work anymore).