Sunday, December 31, 2006

Word count issues

So Scalzi has an interesting statistic on his blog, about how many words he's written this year. Now remember that he's a professional writer and this is his full-time job, but 650,000 words is still quite a lot. Since I know that LIT SOUP has tons of aspiring writers that lurk, my question to you guys is: can you do that? Is it better to be more productive in terms of increased wordage, or is it better to write less words, but have them count more?

Let me show you an example in my case:

This year, two of the things that I've written outside this blog have been difficult for me to do. One is a story involving the Holocaust, which is titled "Angels Are Always On Time" (note to any WoTF judges; you don't know that I'm the one who wrote that, really, you don't =) The story is 5600 words long, but it took me a good two weeks to get the first 1500 words of it written; I would sit there at the computer and just struggle because the subject matter was so difficult for me to write about. Every one of those first 1500 words was fought for so hard, and then suddenly something clicked. Part of it was because I was working under a deadline to get the story done (October 1st, for all those that care, this being my entry into the Codex Writers Annual Halloween Contest), and part of it was that things just started to flow again. It wasn't writer's block, per se, but as soon as I got to a certain part of the story, it just started working. I wrote the last 4100 words of it in two days, and delighted in constantly giving Chris (playing video games at the time) cheerful updates about the plot, such as "They've arrived at Birkenau now!" To which, Chris replied, "That's nice, dear", and went back to killing random things.

The second thing is the current anime column that I'm writing for IGMS. The people who run the online magazine are incredibly kind and patient with me, despite the fact that my columns are never quite turned in on time. They may fire me, at some point, for being so late with my columns, but in the meantime I'm going to keep writing this one for them. What's so difficult about writing an anime column, you ask?

Simply the fact that the anime I'm reviewing is "Ima Soko ni Iru Boku" ("Now and Then, Here and There" in English); I adore this anime. It's depressing and violent and says such poignant things about the human condition. But the real problem is that I need to convince people that they should love it as much as I do, which is made especially difficult by the fact that it involves children being tortured. How do you convince someone that torture is good or bad, without going insanely political? How do you explain that the torture is a necessary part of the series, and without it, the resolution at the end wouldn't have been as good? How do you rationalize the abuse of children, which is at times painful to watch?

Those are hard things to do in writing. I have started and deleted this column for nigh on forever. In its current iteration, it's got 790 words, which I've fought for every single one of them. I've gone sentences at a time, paragraphs at a time. Never writing more than I could because the words just wouldn't come (note also, this was complicated by my being sick). I need at least another 500 or so to finish the column up, which I'm hoping to do tonight. And then it will be turned in, and hopefully published, if I've done my job well enough. But even though it's just a simple anime review column, it's one of the hardest things I've ever had to write in my life. Hell, I could have churned out a twenty-page term paper on espionage literature (which I did in college), faster than I've written this.

Although my word count for both the short story and the column are relatively low, I still think that my words count every bit as much as Scalzi's. I don't know whether I'll ever be able to write as fast or productively as he does, but I know that once I'm done writing something, I am finally happy with it. And that's a hard thing for me to achieve.

15 comments:

M. Takhallus. said...

How about roughly 4 million words in about 10 years? Not counting newspaper and magazine work, or unpublished work, or rewrites of ghostwriter's work. Of course that's two of us, so divide by two.

And I'd trade all 4 million for the few thousand in Hamlet.

kiwi said...

The idea that being slower and more deliberate as opposed to employing the typical “quota system”, that there’s a trade off between increased word count and quality, doesn't fit my experience at all.

Personally, writing has more in common with sculpting or painting than photography.

Thus I'm with Stephen King on this subject, (and I suspect MT at 4 million words in ten years would agree) quality comes in the editing, in the countless rewriting; not taking more time with a frist draft. In all honesty, I haven’t met anyone in the industry who can turn out an A grade manuscript with their first draft, or wouldd even attempt it.

Jenny, you may be the first!

Unfortunately most of the best among us do not have this talent, and writing a daily quota of words; getting the damned thing down on paper, then spending as much time and often as many words again in polishing the material is the life we have in common.

Happy New Year everyone!

M. Takhallus. said...

I imagine every writer is different on this. My wife/writing partner tends to plan more and edit with a scalpel. I prefer to blaze along and end up tossing out dozens if not hundreds of pages later on. Wether the first draft is brilliant or a mess, you never know til you sit down to look at it with your editing hat on.

I'll never criticize anyone's method. If you get it done, you get it done. Doesn't matter how.

Bernita said...

Quantity is not adversial to quality.
And one just can't compare with someone who, because of practise or subject matter is speedier or volumnious.
It's the result that counts in the end.

Jenny Rappaport said...

Oh, I never meant that I don't edit. I do, quite a bit, but alawys after I've gotten something down on paper first. With my nonfiction columns, the editing is usually just to read it over for clarity and content, and to fix odds and ends that don't always work the way I want them to.

With fiction, I write something, it sits for awhile, and then I go back to it and edit it again. I've done massive rewrites of things, but on the other hand, I'm coming to follow the Ken Scholes philosophy of writing. He believes that the more we write, the better we get, and that sometimes it's not worth working on something again, if you can write something better with your next story. There's only so much writing time in the world, and it needs to be used judiciously.

Take the Holocaust story, for example. I've got a ton of cool ideas and suggestions for rewriting that could turn it into a pretty hefty novella. But that involves a lot of research and time invested in that research, and I want to write other things now. So it's gone off to IGMS and WoTF now(if IGMS, by some miracle, decides to publish it, I'll just withdraw it from WoTF); if it gets rejected from both in its current state, then I figure that it's worth it to go back and do the research to make it into the novelette or novella. And then it goes off to Gordon at F&SF because I've got a free pass there. =)

BernardL said...

I'm with kiwi, quality comes in the editing. It would be a pleasure to read something I've edited a hundred times, and not feel like I need to change something. :)

Jodi said...

I tend to write lots of words really fast. Sometimes it works out, sometimes I need ginormous rewrites. Whatever the outcome, though, I find this works best for me. I stay excited about the story the whole time I'm writing it, and I can generally keep it all in my head at once.

I wrote five books this year. I don't know how many words that was total (I guess I could count), but it's probably plenty for me. Probably. I may give up on revising completely and see how many books I can write next year. ;)

S. W. Vaughn said...

What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. That's why torture is such a satisfying part of some plots, when it's done well and needs including.

I like well-done torture. :D

Oh, yes, and words. Some folks who are considered quite gifted writers only produce one novel every ten years. I think it's just as subjective as the publishing industry in general. And the subjectivity of publishing leads right back to torture...

Long live torture!

tcastleb said...

I just figured out my word count--over 309,000 words this year (that's fiction, not bloggage or anything else,) which is about 100,000 more words than last year. There's been quite a bit of editing done, too, but I'm hoping the more practice I get, the more stuff will come out right in the first couple of times so I can spend less time editing and more writing new stuff. Arguing about quantity vs. quality is a hard thing to do; some can write tons and have it great the first time, while others take years. Neither is better; like other folks have said, it's the end result that counts.

December Quinn said...

I thought I'd had an okay year until I realized really it was only about 300,000 words, not counting blogging.

I agree quality comes in the editing. I do work hard at my first drafts and edit some as I go, but in general, the edit is where you realize you can snap up your sentences, you can sharpen characterization, etc.

I don't think I've ever read a piece of my work, even an edited and published piece, and not wished I could give it another editing pass to change a word here or delete a sentence there. I'm a bit like George Lucas that way. :-)

I agree, Jenny. The more we write, the better we get. I have lots more cool tricks in my bag than I did four years ago.

Michele Lee said...

I'm only at 65k this year (Well actually more because I've written about 2500 the past two days). I just spent the week putting all my yearly stats on my blog. Mine includes a huge rewrite on my first novel and I didn't keep track of a word change, just of the total words.
I do have to keep in mind that I have two young kids, one of whom is autistic so that does, unfortuantely severely limit my writing time at unexpected moments.
I have to say I'm a much more focused going into 2007. I have a better idea on how to write (time management wise) and a better idea on what to write (plotting and prep wise).

Gerb said...

That's a tough question. More words doesn't necessarily mean less filling or visa versa. And are we talking completed, polished word count here or total output before much of it lies on the cutting room floor?

As evidenced by your Holocaust story, sometimes words flow and sometimes you have to extract each one through a process of blood, sweat and tears. Do you value the 1500 more or less than the 4100?

I vote for writing every day, writing what moves you, and writing from the heart. If that results in 650,000 words per year, fantastic! But I don't believe that's the only measure of success.

Scott Marlowe said...

I try to find a balance between quantity vs quality. It's important to just "get it done", but I also aspire to help reduce my editing time later. I don't polish on the first draft--I just try to write "well" (whatever that is).

650,000 words is pretty crazy. I could never do that, but I also have a day job. ;-)

Yasamin said...

good freaking grief i am so behind on your blog! i cant take a vacation without missing out on all kinds of stuff!!! lol

anyway you can set something in your sidebar thats like a library and use it to keep track of every book you read. its really neato.

Lisa McMann said...

roughly 300,000 words in '06 for me, all of them somewhat edited.