Saturday, February 04, 2006

Set A Word Goal

There is an old saying concerning goals, if you shoot for nothing, then you will be sure to hit it.  It’s surprising the number of authors who determine to write—yet they have no specific production writing goals for their day.

Last week I was interviewing a bestselling fiction author for a forthcoming magazine article. I’m not going to tell you the specific author but it’s fair to say most people would recognize the name and books. She was telling me about her writing habits for her novels. In advance of writing, this author prepares with research on her theme, the characters and an outline of the events in the story. Then she goes into her office, blocks all distractions and pounds out the story. The experience is intense beginning at 9 a.m. with a half hour for lunch and goes until 5 p.m. Occasionally depending on the her writing stretches into the evening. Her word goal is 2,000 words an hour.  While she is writing, this author doesn’t repeatedly count those words or focus on the word goal but this mark is in the back of her mind.  Her overall goal for a single day of writing is 10,000 words. If you are looking for a page count, if you consider about 250 words per page, that accounts for 40 doubles paced typed pages.

OK, I can hear the skeptics out there saying, “Yeah that’s her first draft.  What about all of the hours of rewriting?” For this author, the art of storytelling is a much practiced craft. Yes, she has editors who work over her material but for her last eight books, there hasn’t been a lot of rewrite work. In other words, the manuscript comes out fairly clean from the beginning.  If this author is in her “writing zone,” and her typical novel is 90,000 words, then she can complete it in nine days. Now that’s pretty remarkable or so it seems to me.

Now this author didn’t instantly arrive at this type of storytelling production schedule. It has taken many years of writing experience to arrive at this point in time.  A trained journalist, this author has written stories with a deadline for a long time.   I could understand the training aspects as she talked.  I studied journalism in college and the training was invaluable for my own writing experiences.   There is something about the news room and their necessity for quick writing that teaches invaluable lessons. There is no time to make coffee or sharpen your pencils or do research on the internet.  A tight deadline is present and you have a very limited amount of time to crank out a story for the afternoon newspaper.  In my case, I recall having story meetings at 7 a.m. and picking up our assignments. Our story material had to be turned in at 11 a.m.  Each of us had four hours to interview and create our news stories. That sort of pressure doesn’t allow much time for rewriting, new beginnings or reworked endings.  The story has to be organized in your mind then rapidly proceed to your fingertips and on to the paper. Our stories appeared in the afternoon newspaper which hit the streets at 3 p.m.

As I listened to this author talk about her word goals, it re-emphasized the importance of setting these types of goals.  When I am in the process of writing a book, I have these goals in mind and focus on attempting to reach them. Your goal will probably not be 10,000 words for a day. It might be 200 words a day or 1,000 words a day. Be reasonable with yourself and realistic about what you can actually accomplish. I’d encourage you to keep track and gradually increase the word count. 

It’s something to consider for your own writing life.

3 Comment:

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Gina Holmes Left a note...

I think I may have also just interviewed that same author. I about choked on my tongue when she told me how much she puts out a day.

I doubt I'll ever be having 10k word days but I realized I spend a lot of time procrastinating and I can definitely do better.

You and she have inspired me to set a word count goal for myself.

I think I'll start at 1500. 10k would be nice but I think I'd have a nervous breakdown. Thanks Terry.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington Left a note...

This isn't the first time I've heard the advice to set a word count, and it's good to hear it again. If we don't set goals for ourselves, I believe we'll accomplish less than we're capable. Some have time goals, some word count goals. I'm still discovering what works best for me, but thanks for sharing these insights from a bestselling author. He/she is to be greatly admired for their dedication.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller Left a note...

I've just discovered this to be true for myself. Had a deadline to meet, based on a possible request. I discovered I can manage 2 to 4K a day if I'm really focused. I've already come away from this ahead, because I've discovered more about my writing ability.


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