Measuring Your Words: The Value of Word Counts

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WIP Word Count
Until recently, I never really considered the value of counting the total words I write each day.  As a writer, I tend to revise as I go.   Since my goal, even while drafting, has never been mainly to get new words on the page, I always suspected if I actually kept a running count I would come away feeling like I wasn’t making an real progress.  Of course, new words do get added, but plenty of other words get changed or moved around along the way.

Instead of counting words, I’ve always measured my writing progress in terms of completed chapters.   When my non-writing friends (the few who I’ve been brave enough to actually tell I’m writing a book) ask me how my writing is coming along saying,   ‘I’ve finished drafting chapter 12′ goes over much better than, ‘I wrote 1,200 words today.  Good ones, too!‘.  The latter typically results in blank stares or a friendly but abrupt observation about the weather.

Nevertheless, I recently started tracking my total word count and have even gone so far as to add a word count widget to my blog.  I’m still not sure how much it will help me in the long run, but here are some of the benefits I can already see for those who do it.

  • Estimating Your Completion Date:  If you set a goal for how long you want your book to be, and you’ve been tracking how may words you write per day, you’ll have a rough idea when you’re initial draft will actually be completed.
  • Setting Goals:  If you want to set a goal goal for when to have your draft completed, you can lay out your writing strategy in measurable chunks to reach your goal (or even to determine if your writing goal is too lofty for you.)
  • Providing Status Updates:  For established writers with a growing fan base, this can be a fun way of bringing eager readers into the process while keeping them updated on your latest project.
  • Staying Motivated:  Seeing the numbers increasing daily or weekly means your novel is growing.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Accountability:  Sometimes writers need the accountability a public display of writing progress offers.  This allows your writing friends to either offer their congrats or to bust your chops which ever the case may be.

If you’re interested in setting up your own and your progress bar and you’re using WordPress you can get the plugin I use at http://jasonpenney.net/wordpress-plugins/progpress/.  There are other options which work on all platforms such as http://www.writertopia.com/toolbox/meters.  These don’t require WordPress at all, just simple HTML which can be placed on any blog anywhere.

What about you?  Do you track word counts?  If you do, do you find them to be discouraging or do they actually help?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Being Fashionably Late Within Your Story

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Big BenIn my previous post I suggested ending your book in the same way you would consider ending a party.  Today, I decided to continue the party analogy by looking at how to best begin your book – by being fashionably late.

The expression ‘fashionably late’ is likely familiar to most of us.  It’s is used to refer to someone who shows up at an event, such as a party, after the time the event was scheduled to begin.  This doesn’t, however, apply to those who simply got mixed up and arrived late by accident.  Being fashionably late is something done on purpose.

Okay, so why would anybody want do that?

One possibility is to create the impression you’re too busy and important with other social engagements to be anywhere on time.  However, I’d like to believe most people aren’t so self-important as all that.  The reason I’m sticking with for people to show up late is that it’s more fun.

Anyone who’s ever attended a party knows it takes a little while for the guests to loosen up.  It starts with people clustering into small groups, eyeing the refreshments, and wondering who’s going to be the first to break the ice.  While this might be a nice setting for an intimate chat with a few close friends, it doesn’t sound much like  a party.  Experienced partygoers at this stage might not even stay for the h’orderves.

Being fashionably late then means waiting to show up for the party until after the ice has broken, the music is hot, and the people aren’t just staring at the snack bar – they’re eating and drinking freely out on the dance floor.  Everybody’s already having fun!

So how does this apply to my book?   Continue reading…

Ending Your Book Like a Party

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Book Party Balloons(This post was inspired by a recent post on Magical Words about book endings.)

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard when throwing a party is to end it while the guests are still having fun.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but in truth it makes a lot of sense.  If people leave the party feeling good they’ll want to come back again next time. If you milk the party until its all fun is gone, concerned your guests will miss out on something if you don’t, their last experience won’t be of fun at all.  It will be of that awkwardness that comes from trying to figure out how to politely get their coats and slip away when no one’s looking because they’ve had enough. Probably not quite the lasting impression you were hoping for when you planned the party to begin with.

The same can be said with your book. Continue reading…

The Manuscript Style Sheet

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Until today, I had never heard of a manuscript style sheet.  I was introduced to this term in a post by Mary Robinette Kowal about her upcoming book: Shades of Milk and Honey (Tor, 2010).  While you’re there, why not visit the rest of Mary’s site to learn more about her and her work.

In the world of information technology a style sheet is a master file used to easily manipulate the look-and-feel of an entire graphical user interface system (e.g. a blog, website, certain software applications), but in the world of publishing the style sheet (a.k.a. “style guide”) serves as a Continue reading…

Voices in My Head

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Yes, I hear voices in my head.  I like them.  In fact, I hear them on purpose!

Allow me to explain.

When I was in middle school I never much enjoyed reading textbooks.  I was, and still am, easily distracted by *shiny things* and there was nothing very exciting or interesting in most textbooks to capture my attention.  Often when faced with a large reading assignment, my attention would wander before I had completed it.  The result was I wasted a lot of time rereading the sections I’d already *read*.  Very frustrating!

One day I stumbled on a great trick for managing my distractions Continue reading…

Story Ideas: Trusting your instincts

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(reposted from my private blog: Tuesday, April 3, 2007 – In response to The Aliens are Out to Get You!! from the YA highway on November 13th, 2009.)

After seeing a large bird circling over my old house last night, I went looking on-line for some pictures to confirm what kind it was.  As I suspected, it was a buzzard. While I was on-line I began searching images of other birds and on a whim searched on ‘rook’ for the book I’ve been writing.  Continue reading…

YA Highway – Choosing a Genre

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YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday Wednesdays mean ‘Roadtrip’ at YA Highway.  While the constraints of corporate life have prevented me very much lunchtime writing this week, I thought I’d squeeze in this quick post before heading into the weekend.

Click here to read this week’s YA Highway’s Roadtrip Wednesday post.

Let me begin by saying ‘My thoughts exactly!’ in response to a comment from Michelle Schusterman (YA Highway member) that it might be better to ask “how does your genre choose you?”

I’ve always felt that *trying* to write into a particular genre was a little like trying to write into a particular market.  Continue reading…

Do Not Stand Forward of Line While Bus is in Motion

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For Christmas last year my wife bought me a copy of a The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach.  It’s a collection of essays and exercises intended to challenge and inspire writers (not just poets) at all literary levels.  I’ve only recently begun to work my way through it.  Typically I can only make time to do this when the hopper managing my ‘free-time lottery’ kicks out the writing self-improvement ball.  Unfortunately, Continue reading…

How writing poetry helps me write fiction

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I am a stickler for words.  I’ve tried to pretend it’s not true, but it is.  For instance . . .

  • I hate it when people at the office chat over instant messaging in all lower case and and don’t bother to spell check. (NOT referring here to texting shorthand like ‘thx’ or ‘l8r’)
  • I cringe (just a little) when my 12YO says at the dinner table ‘Can I be excused?’, instead of ‘May I…’  (Of course she can, but whether or not I’ll let her is another matter.)
  • My hackles raise just a bit whenever anyone says to me ‘Why don’t you {fill in the blank}’.  (They’re not really asking me if I will do something; they’re asking me to tell them why I won’t.

I digress.

Often when I’m working on a story I find myself rewriting the same passages over and over again, trying to get the words just right.  Continue reading…