Page Counts, Words, Rosemary, and Time

First post of 2013!  Here’s hoping it’s better than 2012.

On my last entry, I asked my readers (or any other random passers-by) to ask me questions.  What kinds of topics would you like to see me write about?  The first is paraphrased as follows:

A)  How do you write consistently every day?

B)  How do you decide to measure your progress: with word/page counts or time spent?  Which is best? 

Well, part A is fairly easy to answer.  The truth is, I don’t always write every single day.  I try my best, but life has a tendency to interrupt, especially on the holidays.  I usually manage by having a strict schedule.  I’m most productive in the morning, before the events of the day have the chance to consume my higher brain functions and cause copious amounts of stress.  So I try to regulate my mornings to make them as productive as possible.  I wake up between 7:30am and 8:00am and take a 30 minute walk to clear out the cobwebs.  Walking is very soothing and meditative for me.  My mind can wander free, take in the scenery, mull over whatever it wants.  Usually by the time I come back from my walk, I’m thinking about a scene or hovering near the solution to a plot problem.  Then I make myself breakfast (2 eggs, a slice of buttered toast, orange juice, and a cup of hot tea), and turn on my computer.  I avoid the internet until I’m done writing; it’s distracting and a sure way to derail myself.  While the computer is warming up and I open my documents, I eat breakfast.  I’m usually ready to start writing by the time my tea is done seeping.  It’s both relaxing and focus-friendly to be writing while sipping tea.

Which leads me into answering part B.  Over the past few months, I have come to realize that my attention span is not what it used to be.  My creativity gets tapped out rather quickly.  I can only spend two hours at most working; after that, I get antsy.  Usually one hour is more reasonable, or two hours with a short break in the middle.  And generally, between my day job, regular life duties and doing something to relax, I end up only having about two hours a day to devote to writing.  The nice thing is, if I’m on a roll, I can write 1,000 words in those two hours.  That’s at least one page, maybe even two.

I use word counting to measure my progress because National Novel Writing Month was the first time I  made real progress on any of my writing projects.  Before NaNoWriMo 2010, I wrote only when I felt moved or inspired and, due to my depression and stress, that inspiration became more and more infrequent.  But NaNo got me moving.  For some reason, I really like filling the word count bar, seeing the graph fill as I reach each new daily goal.  It’s like an instant reward and provides a tangible, measurable process.  Time is too amorphous for me to handle properly.  If I’m given two hours to do a project, I’m more likely to fiddle around and put it off until the last moment.  (Thank you, college.)  Being given just time to do something isn’t enough; I don’t have the internal discipline to use my time wisely.  However, word counts are small and measurable.  It keeps me moving and allows me to reach my daily goals.  Plus, I’m more likely to continue writing through the day in the bits and pieces of spare time that I have, in order to “get ahead” or to reach a daily count that I didn’t have time for in the morning.  It forces me to use my spare time more wisely.

Also, I deliberately set my daily word count lower than NaNoWriMo’s.  For NaNoWriMo, the daily word count to reach 50,000 words in 30 days is writing 1,667 words per day.  That’s about three hours of work for me, if I’m not completely blocked or busy.  It’s great for one month, but that kind of pace, which is unnatural for me, can cause burnout.  I could have dropped it down to 1,000 words a day, but I set it at 500.  Why?  To trick myself.  Writing is a long, lonely business.  Even an introvert like me gets overwhelmed by it sometimes.  And since it takes so long to finish a novel, writers get very little regular positive reinforcement regarding their writing.  By setting my daily word count to 500, I can reach that goal fairly easily.  It gives me an ego boost to know that I’m still moving forward in a tangible fashion, it’s easier to write more than 500 words, which also makes me feel good, and if I fall behind or miss a few days, it’s not as stressful or difficult to catch up.

That being said, word counts really only work if you’ve reached the prose stage of your project.  If a novel is still in the planning and research stages, having a word count doesn’t make sense.  You need to generate content and background, not pages.  I haven’t been able to test this yet and work it into my schedule, but I suspect that once I am done writing Ravens and Roses, I will spend my two hours in the morning editing.  When that novel is complete, I’ll spend those two hours creating and fleshing out a new world.  Then when I reach a point where I need to write prose, I’ll revert to measuring word counts again.  I’ve been told that writers often sit firmly in opposite camps of word/page count versus time spent.  To me, it ends up being the same thing.  It’s all a matter of how I look at it.  Switching between word count or time spent usually results in the same amount of work accomplished daily.  It’s all a matter of tricking myself out of my own inertia and continuing to move forward.

What are your thoughts?  (And please, keep asking questions!)

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