My desk is a mess. I can always tell when I’m at the end of writing a novel because my outline notes (which I often tell people are only one sentence for each chapter–and hey, they always start out that way) have exploded all over my office and are very much not just one sentence for each chapter any more.
At this point of writing a novel, I have moved from one sentence for each chapter to scrawling down character motivations, plot points, emotional beats, conflicts, point of view changes EVERYWHERE.
Note cards, legal pads, sticky notes, and printouts are stacked up hither and yon. My research notes have crept into my grocery lists, and random scribbles like: “lick-finger” “sunoff” “3 inches behind the ears, banshee” have taken over my margins.
But no matter how many things I jot down, cross off, or highlight, I always keep two things open and ready just to the right of my keyboard.
A legal pad of filled with numbers, and a pen. Those two things, my friends, are my secret weapons. With them I keep track of how many words I’ve written and how much closer I am to my goal. Maybe most importantly for me, I have discovered they grant me the super power to write faster.
Whoa, back it up, Monk, you might be saying. There are word count programs in nearly every word processing program known to man and you don’t see people leaping small buildings because of it.
Through trial and error I have discovered this one trick gets more words on the page every day. And now I’m going to share it with you!
A pad of lined paper. A pen or pencil. Calculator if you suck at numbers like I do.
1. Open your work in progress. Run the word count and find out how many words your program says you have written. Write that number down at the top of your paper.
2. Decide how many words you want to write THAT DAY. Now double it. Yes, I said double your goal. Okay, fine. Maybe double it is too big of a step. So let’s just add 100 extra words to your daily goal. Write that number down next to the first one, add the two numbers together and write that number down. That last number is how many words you will have on your document if you hit your daily goal.
That’s 16,722 words written 5,000 word goal for the day = 21,722
Sometimes I approach this in the opposite way. Say I want to hit the 22,000 word mark in the above example. I would just use 22,000 as my goal and write down 5,278 words as my center number.
3. Start writing. When you get stuck, or feel the need to check the internet INSTEAD run your word count on your document. This kills two birds with one stone–you are getting a break from your document, and you are not logging in to browse YouTube kitty videos for an hour.
And look at that! Your count is now 16,903. Good for you! Write that number under the first, pull out your calculator and subtract 16,903 from your goal of 21,722.
Hurray! You only have 4,819 words left to write! As a matter of fact, if you write just 819 words, you will have finished your first 1,000 words for the day! Go, you! 819 words is only about three double spaced pages–you can do that, no problem!
Yes, this is pretty much how it sounds inside my head. And this narrowing down of the mountain of words left to tackle really is a lot of what makes this process work.
4. Do this until you have reached your goal number. Make a game of it. Check Twitter when you break the 500 word point. Get coffee after 60 more words.
There is something so much more helpful to me in seeing the number of words I need to write go DOWN as I’m working, instead of piling UP toward my goal, that I can’t even put the coolness of it into words.
Even when I’m exhausted and stuck on a scene, if I see that I only have 100 words, or 62 words, or 21 words left to hit my goal, you bet I write them. Even if they’re crappy. That’s what revisions are for.
At the end of the day I write down how many words I wrote.
Here is an actual page from my legal pad. This is me working my way through TIN SWIFT, the sequel to DEAD IRON. It was a stubbornly slow book to write.
You will note I was not hitting very high word counts each day. In case they are too small to read, they are circled: 3091, 1182, 2642, 2433. And each of those circled totals represents one less tall mountain for me to leap over. And that, my friends, is how I countdown to sweet, sweet victory.