Monday, 17 October 2011

Counting Words & Drafting Shit

When I tell people that I'm aiming to write 10 000 words a month on my new novel they think that's a lot. I don't. It's only 2500 words a week, 500 words a day if you work 5 days a week.

It's mid October and so far this month I've managed to write 8500 words. So in total I've got 28500 words as I started in August. (I've written more words than that, but half of what I write is just random ramblings to find out what it is I'm trying to say, making notes etc.) I never used to obsess about word counts, but at the moment it does help me to move forward.

What inspires me is to hear how other writers work. I read a really good article about Jeffrey Eugenides in the free We Love This Book magazine. He has only written 3 novels with an interval of 9 years in between each novel. It doesn't mean that he's lazy - he's writing all the time, but it's just a matter of getting it right, without being a perfectionist. In the interview he said that his current novel, The Marriage Plot, grew out of the backstory he wrote for a character in an abandoned novel.

The novel I'm working on at the moment sort of started back in 2007 when I spent 5 months in Thailand, but at the time I was too close to the environment I was writing about, so now 4 years later I'm ready. However I'm still struggling with the voice and the structure and I have 2 different ideas of how to tell the story ... At the moment I'm just trying to get the story down, by writing it in a quite traditional way of first person, past tense, but it's very likely to change in the second draft.

Recently I heard Meg Rosoff speak at the YLG (Youth Library Group) Conference and she mentioned that her first drafts are so bad you want to commit suicide when reading them ... I feel the same about my first drafts. As mentioned in a previous blog post, I'm aiming for 10 000 words a month, and after 9 months I'm hoping to have a first draft, but not necessarily a good first draft. But keeping it down to 10 000 words a month will hopefully make the first draft better than if I was taking part in NaNoWriMo churning out 50 000 words a month just for the sake of it. By keeping it down to 10 000 words I'm hoping to keep more focus, to actually think about what I'm writing. (Many writers only write in November and then abandon their VERY shitty first drafts forever.)

Jennifer Egan says:

"I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen."

(I think I first found this quote on the A Salted blog, thanks! And the post-it note saying "shitty first drafts are allowed" probably comes from Julia Cameron but am not sure.)


  1. All this sounds very familiar Lou - I think 10,000 words a month is a realistic target - and we need markers we know we can pass when tackling something as ambitious as a novel. Also small targets can help stop us getting burnt-out on longer projects. The big TEN is my aim too and it works for me :) Looking forward to reading your words.

  2. Good luck with your target. You know, it might be a good first draft if you keep to that kind of focus.