Saturday, 31 December 2016

How to write 200,000 words in a year



This time last year I made a resolution to write 500 words in every day of the year. Here I am on December 31st 2016 and I’m pleased to report that I’ve made it. My final total (adjusted when I finish writing this piece) is 209,803 words. That’s 26,803 more than the bare 500 words a day for 366 days.

I have to admit I’m a little relieved it’s over, although I do hope I’ll be able to retain the discipline I’ve learned. It was intended as an experiment as well as a challenge. I wanted to see what it was like to know that every day I had to come up with some kind of creative writing (novel, short story, blog, review or writing exercise). Would it be too hard? Would I get into the flow quickly if I was picking up where I left off every single day? Would I run out of things to write?

Here’s what I discovered:

Positives
1. 500 words a day is achievable every day no matter how busy or involved I am.
2. Writing in the morning in bed before doing anything else is a lovely way to start the day – even when it means waking up considerably earlier than I have to.
3. When I’m tired or uninspired, breaking my target down into much smaller pieces (say 100 words) makes it achievable.
4. Spreadsheets are marvellous: there’s nothing like being able to track your progress over time when you’ve got a long-term aim to stick to.
5. Pursuing a random idea that doesn’t seem to go anywhere is not necessarily a waste of time. When I was stuck for something to write, I started writing the snippets of fairy tales some of which I’ve posted here on this blog. They were intended as writing exercises so that I could write quickly with little preparation and then turn my attention to the book I was editing, but in the end I wrote over 30,000 words of them and, though some are definitely better than others, writing all of them was a huge pleasure.

Negatives
1. It’s very difficult editing one book while at the same time writing something else.
2. A book written 500 words at a time can lack flow. There was plenty of material in the first draft of my latest book Gingerbread & Cupcake but it took far more editing than last year’s How Do You Say Gooseberry in French? which I wrote faster and in much larger chunks.
3. A clear plan is vital for my writing. At one point I ran out of planned things to write and began on something that only had a vague outline. This seemed fine to start off with but I began to feel that it was running away with me. The book I was working on previous to that and which I am just about to begin editing was planned scene by scene. This meant each time I sat down to write I could just pick a scene and get started. My worry that detailed planning would make writing less interesting proved unfounded.
4. A 500-word target can make you lazy. There are times when I could easily have written more, but once I’d passed the 500-mark I just switched off and gave up.
5. Writing each and every day can be relentless. Having a target does sweep away the excuses, but I think giving yourself the time to not write, time to let the ideas swirl about in your mind is important. Also, though I must thank my family for being hugely respectful of my writing time, even when it meant I had to leave whatever everyone else was doing and go away to write, I think they would probably appreciate it if I took some time off occasionally.

So, all in all, an interesting experiment and an impressive word count. I’m not going to continue with my 500 words a day next year. Instead I have worked out a schedule which involves the writing of two novels at a rate of 1,250 words a day, editing two novels, planning two novels plus weekends off and some holidays. As I don’t start until Monday, tomorrow I get my first day off in a year!

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