Tag Archives: pantser

How Important is Your Word count?

The Word Count Conundrum

When this past weekend started the word count on my work in progress (WIP), tentatively called Blood in the Water, stood at 29,822.

Given the way this story has been progressing I was looking forward to a very productive weekend.

Saturday was a day of limited work. I had to meet with my tax preparation professional in the morning (yes, that’s right…I procrastinated as long as I could on that one!) and in the evening I was out for dinner and a comedy show with the family to celebrate my sister’s birthday.

Total word count for the day…less than 1,000.

No problem.

Sunday was a free day.

No plans, no chores, no interruptions – I could make up for Saturday’s dismal progress.

After an early morning bicycle ride I got down to business.

I would love to tell you that I hammered the keyboard relentlessly all day and finished the weekend with a word count that exceeded my expectations.

I really would love to tell you that.

Here’s the thing…

I am at a point in the story where something big needs to happen. I think the technical term is the “mid-point shift”. Whatever it’s called…that’s where I am.

It’s like being at a fork in the road and trying to decide which direction you should go.

yogi fork

Except in this case there are at least four different forks.

They’ll all get me where I need to go, but which one is best for the story?

On my bike ride I gave it lots of thought.

I could go this way…which would mean this has to happen, and I wouldn’t be able to do that, and some of the stuff I wrote earlier would have to change.

Or I could go that way…which would mean something else would have to follow and the stuff I’ve already written would be good, with some minor tweaking.

Then again, if I choose fork number three it would mean something else would follow and there would be some significant reworking of previous material needed.

What if I sort of combined options one and two? Or one and three?

intersection

You get the point…

I’m not a planner. I don’t draft outlines of my story or write key points on index cards to keep me on track. At best, I’ll scribble a thought on a scrap of paper and add it to the pile on my desk (many of these notes go unread and get thrown away).

plan

In the writing world I’m what is referred to as a pantser. Which means I write by the seat of my pants. I have a beginning of the story, I know what I want to happen (basically) and I know how it will end, but the rest of it I make it up as I go along. (Here is a more detailed explanation of my style (or lack thereof).

wingin it with Calvin

So when I sat down to write Sunday morning with all of these possible storylines in my mind I knew my first task was to decide which one I was going to use. Unfortunately, with my writing style of choice, there was only one way to do this:

Pick an option, start writing, and see where it goes.

painting the road

Long story short…

After six hours and three different options I found the one I wanted/needed.

When I sat down at the keyboard it was around noon. When I shut the computer off it was almost eight o’clock (Yeah, I know – that’s more than six hours…I never said I didn’t take a break…or five).

After all that typing, I ended up with a net increase in my story’s word count of about 2,800 words – for two days!

Write 3 or 4,000 words…analyze them…decide they aren’t what I want…delete…repeat.

All the planners out there are saying “You see…this is why being a pantser is stupid!”

Sorry – you might as well tell me to not be left-handed.

And in reality – I’m not whining or complaining.

I understand that although my word count didn’t grow, my story did. Now that I know where the story is going I’ll be able to crank out the next 15,000 words (and maybe more) with minimal delays.

Which brings me to the point of this post…

I have a question (or two) for all you writers, authors and scribblers out there…

Do you keep track of your daily (or weekly, monthly, whatever) word count?

If so, how much importance do you put on it?

Personally, I keep track of how many words I write every time I sit down, but the number isn’t important to me. I use it as a gauge to see where I am in the story compared to where I should be.

My novels generally clock in at about 70,000 words – so if my word count is at 35,000, and I haven’t gotten into the story enough, I know I’ve got to get it in gear. It could also mean I’m being too verbose and need to go back and trim some of the fat.

Other than that, my word count means nothing.

As this weekend proved – progress is not always measured by the word count.

I would really like to hear your thoughts on this…

 

As always – thank you for reading

 

 

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When Is A Book Like A Building?

In the writing world there is an ongoing debate over HOW a book should be written. It separates writers into two distinct camps…

Planners – those who outline their entire book, down to the smallest detail, before they start writing

Pantsers – those who pretty much make it up as they go along (as in “flying by the seat of their pants”)

plan v pants

If I had to pick which category I fall into – I would call myself a plantser… I have a bit of a plan, and I try to follow it, but sometimes I go a little off course.

Plantser

I have no formal training in writing, unless you count a high school journalism class and a semester of creative writing in college, so when I started writing my first novel, Living the Dream, I did it the way that felt natural to me.

Living the DreamI had no idea of where the story was going.
I knew that the bad guy, Kurt, was going to go through a lot of crap, which would hopefully teach him a valuable life lesson. The same for the other three main characters, Vicky, Jimmy and Leslie – I knew that they, too, would learn important lessons, but I didn’t know how those lessons would be taught.
In fact, when I started writing it, Leslie wasn’t even part of the story. She was created about a third of the way through the book because I realized there was a void in the story. It wasn’t until I finished the first draft that I realized what else needed to be changed…and again after the second draft.

The way I usually sum up my writing style is by using the analogy of a cross-country road trip.
I get in the car at Point A – knowing that I want to end up at Point B – but I have no specific route in mind. I just head off in the general direction of my destination and enjoy the trip.

road trip
When I tell this to people, they sometimes think, mistakenly, that I am endorsing my particular method over another.
I’m not.
I don’t consider myself qualified to tell anybody how they should write a book. I believe that every author, or potential author, should use the method they feel most comfortable with.

I don’t believe there is any right method – or wrong one.

Let’s look at it using a different analogy, the construction of a building.
The construction of a building is a complicated process which begins long before work-boots hit the ground. Naturally, one of the most important elements in the process is the drawing of plans (blueprints, if you will, even though it’s technically an incorrect term).

floor plan
After spending more than twenty years drawing plans for buildings of every conceivable size and type, I can tell you this…unless the plans are a complete train wreck – the building will get built regardless of how much effort was put into them.

Like writers, Architects’ styles vary…no two are alike.
There are Architects out there who try to anticipate every potential problem that could arise during construction, and take measures to avoid them by including pages and pages of details in their plans.

bldg 1Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t.

Then there are those who include only the barest essentials when it comes to details using the attitude “It’ll be worked out in the field.”
Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t.

architectureNeither method can guarantee the quality of the finished product. Buildings are built everyday using one method or the other. When John Q. Public enters a newly constructed shopping mall he doesn’t know what the plans looked like or how many times the original concept was changed, or why
He only sees the building. He might like it…he might hate it…but his opinion of the finished product will have little, if anything, to do with the plans used to build it.
The same can be said about novels. You can write a forty page outline before you start, or just start writing without a clue as to where your story will go…the book buying public will never know which method you used.
If you read enough blogs and how-to posts you may feel like you have to pick one method or another.
Don’t believe it. Do it the way you feel most comfortable.
Your readers will only know the finished product.
So, regardless of your method…give them the best damn book you can.

review
They might like it…they might hate it – but if it’s your best effort you did all you can do.

As always – thank you for reading

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