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I’m going to try a new thing – keeping a journal here on the blog about my writing.  You may ask yourself – how will this be any different from what you normally do here?

Well – I’ll be concentrating solely on the writing in these posts and I may go a little abstract on you as I explore my process.

Let’s get started.

Day 1

After proclaiming to the masses that I just couldn’t focus on short story writing, that I don’t think my brain is wired quite right for it, I found myself obsessing over a story I started and never finished.

It is not uncommon for me to find myself thinking about a story, unable to get it out of my head.  I went to bed Thursday night having worked on the novel only to wake up Friday with all this stuff running through my mind.

The story is excerpted here on the site and the thing is – after posting that excerpt, I never wrote another word, though I tried.  Eventually I just moved on.

Until Friday.

Suddenly, I couldn’t let it go.  It bothered me all day, like an itch I couldn’t scratch (because it being a normal work day and all).  As soon as I was free of the day-job constraints, I started typing.  4,000 words later…

I’ve been averaging 2000 words per week on the novel, 4k in a day is absolutely gangbusters incredible.

I seriously moved the story forward, nearly to completion.

But it came at a cost.  I was mentally exhausted afterwords and find myself unmotivated or uninspired to continue today.  I’ve already had four false starts in trying to move forward.  I don’t want to take another few months to finish this story.

Word Count

This got me thinking about my recent obsession over word count.

Not too long ago, someone told me that the ‘golden number’ for a short story slush reader is 3,000/3,500 words – ie, this is the target number that will help your story submission be read thus increasing your chances of being pubished.  I think that got stuck in my brain like a song on repeat.

While that might be the golden, target number that will entice a slush reader to give your piece a shot, it shouldn’t be the target for someone trying to write a story.  You should write to write, not write to script, if that makes sense.  I think – well, I know as far as I’m concerned, that writing to a specific word count causes me troubles and increases stress, making the writing less about getting the story created and more about forcing it into a box.

Also, I’m pretty sure trying to write to a word count is why I’m failing with short story writing.  I start the story, I get into it, but as I get close to that number, that golden target, I start getting nervous.  I get distracted by the word count – it’s this sword dangling above my head and as my word count rises and gets close to what has become, mentally, a hard wall in my path, I hit the brakes (I’m mixing my metaphors all over the place).  I start second guessing myself.  I’m no longer trying to write the story in my head, I’m trying to force it, constrain it to the golden number hanging over my head and when I realize that I can’t do it, that I need more words, more space, I shut down and I walk away.

So, I’m not going to worry about word count anymore, not when I’m writing.  Word count is for editing and for rewriting.  My new goal is to just write, finish the stories.  Write and get them on the page.

Worry about word count and pushing the story into some slush readers comfort zone later.

~P

3 Comments

  • FARfetched Posted February 12, 2011 2:08 pm

    Yeah, that’s just another form of editing as you go. Just write the story, you can always cut it to fit later if needed.

  • Caroline Posted February 13, 2011 8:01 am

    I was wondering where the ‘target wordcount’ figures came from. Now I know.

    I confess, I do scan down a page to see how long a post is before I commit to actually reading. I don’t scan, anything, really. If I try, there’s always some detail that catches me and I end up reading, even if I don’t enjoy the post. That goes for all things online, blogs, stories, everything. More to do with my eyesight and attention vs. retention capabilities than anything else. On the other hand, if something is split into parts, I’m likely to click on and on.

    Maybe the perception of a break is more important than the reality of a break!

    Thanks for sharing your creative process – the dynamics between being motivated and not having the opportunity against having the opportunity but not the motivation is something I have trouble getting to grips with. Always interesting to see how others deal with this.

    • Patrick Hester Posted February 13, 2011 11:20 am

      on the word count thing – I met a lot of people at World Fantasy who are ‘in the biz’, of course. The word count target came from a slush reader who said that they will pour through the slush pile and anything around 3/3.5k is ‘gold’ because they can read it quickly – usually in one sitting. So, it’s not really even content or scanning the page to see what it’s all about – you get your foot in the door, so to speak, simply by having your word count conveniently small enough to be easily consumed.

      Since they have so much reading to do, it makes sense that the more they can push through in a sitting, the happier they’ll be. That just sort of got stuck in my head but I need to get over it / past it and just write.

      Glad you like the glimpse into my brain – I plan to do more posts like this one. 🙂

      ~P

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