I managed about 1000 words on Monday, then about 2000 yesterday. Today…well I guess I’ll find out when it’s time to take stock. Writers love word counts. Writers hate word counts. Or rather, love having them or hate not having them. Even if you’re not working on something, you feel like you should be, and why the heck aren’t you working, you lazy worthless slacker??? Where’s your word count???
Ahem. As you might guess, it’s really easy to get hung up on such things. I mean, otherwise how do you measure progress? Words on the page/in the file are just about the only tangible metric there is. There’s a lot more to it, of course. Have you taken a wrong turn here that you won’t figure out for another 10,000 words? Well that’s 10,000 words down the drain then, isn’t it, and all those 1000/2000/3000+ word days are a complete waste? Well, not necessarily. If you’re one of those “write a 50,000 word outline for a 90,000 word book” sorts, this is probably not going to happen to you, or at least not very often. Those of us flying by the seat of our pants, it’s more common. Not terribly efficient, no, but then not always a waste either. Edison was supposed to have said, paraphrase, after he’d tried 99 different filaments for his light bulb invention with 99 failures–“Of course it wasn’t a waste of time. I now know 99 things that won’t work.” It’s a process. There are steps. Sometimes you get lucky the first time. As often, not.
Even so, after one has gone through this process enough times, you’d think we’d get it down, you know? A fine furniture craftsperson who has made 99 beautiful cabinets in a row isn’t likely to screw up number 100 beyond all redemption. But writing ten good books in a row doesn’t tell you a damn thing about number eleven. Or as a writer of my acquaintance approximately said, “I know how to write a novel. The problem is that the novel I know how to write is the one I just finished.”
I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat it now. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Or at least I don’t know before I do it. I know what I did last time, and I’m still rather proud of the result. Now it’s back to flying blind. About the only thing I know for relatively certain is the thing I have to relearn every time I do this—a novel is not a long short story, any more than a story is a short novel. Each is its own thing. Where in a short story I’d be sprinting toward clarity and coalescence, in a novel project clarity and coalescence come very late in the game. Now the game is complication and expansion, and no clue what that side scene in pages 22-24 really means until probably around page 250. If I’m lucky. We’ll see.
Ain’t this fun?
PS: The SF Signal Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter giveaway contest has ended. Congratulations to the winners!