June 2014 Writing Report

A month ago I wrote a post entitled How Much Should You Write a Day, where I talked about a minimalist approach to writing where you aim for a small daily writing goal instead of a larger one to keep word count from becoming a barrier to writing. Saying you want to write 2000/words a day is nice, but it can easily become an obstacle if you start to think it isn’t worth writing unless you have time to achieve that number. So, instead I opted for the smaller 250/words a day as my goal for June.

How did I do?

Well, my total word count for June ended up being 21,478 words of fiction. (Almost all of it on a Young Adult fantasy novel I started at the beginning of June.)

My average word count a day was 704/words a day, with only Seven days have a word count of zero out of the month. (This was mostly due to my dog Penny being spayed and needing constant care for a few days.)

Overall, it turned out to be one of my most productive writing months in almost two years, and the “it’s just 250 words” strategy ended up working perfectly because not only did I feel I could always pull off 250 words, but I never once wrote less than that. Once I was 250 words in, I was always warmed up and wanted to write more, and it tended to be life that made me stop rather than not wanting to write more. The 250/day word count was not only do-able, it was inspiring.

Of course, I should comment that there were a few more factors involved. During June I learned to finally just let myself go, and dump the words on the page whether they were perfect or not. Also, I had an outline to work from, so I never really had to worry about where the story was going so much as what I wanted to do with a particular scene. If I wasn’t sure about a scene, I wrote down something that roughly worked and will go back to fix/replace it during editing and revision. This improved my productivity during the first draft stage immensely, and let me really just tell myself the story.

I also became a Spreadsheet user, after years of resisting tracking my productivity I gave in, and it actually helped a lot more than I expected it to. Seeing those numbers line up for my daily word-counts was a real motivator, and wanting to go as long as I could without a dreaded 0 appearing on the spreadsheet was also a big factor. I took every 0 personally, and it made me really want to write harder to make up for them.

Now, since I’m a masochist, in July I have an even bigger challenge! I’ve signed up to write another book (a mystery) for Camp Nanowrimo, and that will require approximately 1667/words a day for July to complete. Not only that, I still plan to continue my 250/day on my YA novel to keep it from going stale in my head.

Can I pull this off? Well, check back in a month to find out!

By the way, if I don’t post to the blog as much during July, you’ll have to forgive me. I’ll be buried in Camp Nano writing. Gomen!


How Much Should You Write a Day?

Yesterday, I made a post about Tracking Your Writing Progress using a spreadsheet in an effort to develop good production habits. After I posted it, a friend wrote to me and asked how much I thought was a good number to aim for. It seems like such a simple thing, but it was an issue I struggled over myself, and still struggle over.

My initial answer to him was figure out whatever you think you can handle each day consistently, and then multiply that by 365 to get a target number. However, after considering it, I think there is a little more psychological strategy needed to really get the best out of using a spreadsheet.

Let me explain.

Stephen King, in his amazing book, On Writing, recommends you sit down and crank out about 2000 words a day. It’s a nice number, and I often see other writers quote it as a great target for beginners, since it’s an achievable goal in two to three hours of your time, depending on how fast you type. King apparently churns that out in the morning, and then spends the rest of the day editing, reading (he recommends 4-6 hours a day!) and doing family stuff.  He credits that with some of his incredibly productivity, and he sees it as a manageable pace you can keep without burning yourself out.

I’ve tried King’s approach during the Summer (I’m a teacher, so Summer is when I have time to dedicate myself to writing), and actually made it work. I did 2000 words every morning, and the result is my upcoming release Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess. So yes, it works. I felt the balance, and was refreshed and ready to tackle my next book when I finished it.

Then, I crashed and wrote almost nothing for four months.

For you see, my Summer had come to an end, and as a teacher that meant September- with its flood of preparation work, to be followed by marking and general exhaustion for the following months. (It also didn’t help I had two brand-new classes dumped on me at the last second and had to spend the following weeks desperately trying to get a handle on them, but that’s a teacher’s life.) I had a great 2000/word/day schedule and each day I would come home, look at my computer and think- “No way I’m going to finish 2000 words today.” And this became my excuse for giving into my exhaustion and not writing.

Seriously, those “easy to fit in” 2000 words actually became a mountain I had to climb, and it became easier to play at the bottom than to try to climb the mountain, no matter how much I loved the view from the top.

So, when I came around to try using spreadsheets recently, I really thought deeply about what number I should put in. My initial thought was 500 words/day, then I decided that was too low, and went for 1000 words/day and finally settled in 1500 words/day since I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo in July and that will require 1,667 words/day. I figured I’d better start training for that, and 1500/day would be a good practice number.

But then, I saw Mur Lafferty’s Magic Spreadsheet, and read the thinking behind it, and decided that actually I shouldn’t be writing 1500- I should be writing 250 words/day.

I decided this for 3 reasons:

  1. 250 is a number I can crank out in my sleep, it’s not intimidating, and too low to function as an excuse.
  2. Most days, I’ll naturally write more than 250 anyways. That 250 is a minimum, a starting point, and when it’s done I’ll be warmed up and ready to keep going.
  3. It’s a number I can maintain when school comes and I’m awash with work. Over a lunchbreak, or over breakfast, I can churn out 250 words and if that’s all I can manage- so be it.

Also, I did the math- 250 words/day = 1750 words/week = 91,000 words a year.

That’s a novel a year! And, if I also do things like Camp Nanowrimo, that will be a whole lot more than a novel a year! A hell of a lot better than what I’m producing now- 8 months of little writing and 4 months of inconsistent writing. (Now you see why I’m looking at spreadsheet strategies.)

Now, 250 might not be the right number for you, you’ll have to find your own numbers and do the math, but for me it seems to fit. I might raise it to 500 later on if it’s too easy, but I doubt that will happen until after school starts this Fall. After all, this is about building a consistent habit, and setting myself up for success, not failure.

Good luck!


Word Counts for Fiction

A common problem for writers is trying to decide how long to make their stories.

Now, the proper answer is of course- as long as it needs to be.

However, there are still some standards (albeit ones which are slowly changing thanks to eBooks) that most publishers go by when determining how long a book should be. As more than two-thirds of the publishing market is still dead-tree print books, even eBook authors might want to keep them in mind.

The basic rules are:

  • Novel: 80,000-110,000 words
  • Young Adult Novel: 50,000-80,000 words
  • Novella: 20,000-50,000 words
  • Novelette: 8000-20,000 words
  • Short Story: 500-8000 words

But there’s a lot of variation by genre, which is where this by-genre list of word counts on Literaryrejections.com comes in. For example, Romance novels can go as low as 40,000 words, but it depends on the type of book. In any case, if you’re planning to write a novel and want to know exactly how many words you have to play with, it might be worth checking that site out.


The Swivet [Colleen Lindsay]: On word counts and novel length

Finally! I found someone who lays out the word count targets for different types of books and genres. She’s a former professional agent, and knows of which she speaks!

I’d always wondered how long was too long, or too short in terms of word count. Check the link for details.

science fiction & fantasy = Here’s where most writers seem to have problems. Most editors I’ve spoken to recently at major SF/F houses want books that fall into the higher end of the adult fiction you see above; a few of them told me that 100k words is the ideal manuscript size for good space opera or fantasy. For a truly spectacular epic fantasy, some editors will consider manuscripts over 120k but it would have to be something extraordinary. I know at least one editor I know likes his fantasy big and fat and around 180k. But he doesn’t buy a lot at that size; it has to be astounding. (Read: Doesn’t need much editing.) And regardless of the size, an editor will expect the author to to be able to pare it down even further before publication. To make this all a little easier, I broke it down even further below:

via The Swivet [Colleen Lindsay]: All new & revised: On word counts and novel length.