Wednesday Wonders: When to Call the Book Done

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The other day my son said, “You know you’ve got a LOT of books on writing on your bookshelf. Have you read all of those?”

Mostly, I told him. (He wasn’t particularly impressed — just astounded that I could stay focused for that long on reading books about putting words on paper.)

And he doesn’t even know about the courses I’ve taken and the blogs I’ve read.

Writing takes a lot of reading.

And, of course, it takes a lot of writing words.

In my online reading, Randy Ingermanson once explained to me that the average writer puts over a million words down before she or he becomes a published author.

The million words could be several different books or it could be the same book rewritten over and over again.

I don’t know how many words I’ve written. It’s hard to keep track.

My very first novel is at the back of my file drawer where it will stay. I think I drafted 50,000 words or so. My second short historical fiction set on Whidbey Island is now around 30,000 words. Here is where it gets tough to track, though. It was 50,000 then I cut it down to 40,000. Then I added some. Then I cut it to the bone at 20,000. I added again to 32,000.

I have a third historical fiction set in Tacoma with a word count around that size, too, including the cuts and additions and whatnots.

Those are the larger pieces that are easier to keep track of. I’ve written scads of shorter pieces, some published, many more not, and some even on this blog. I’ve grown fond of mathematics but not fond enough to actually add up all the single words I’ve written to see if I’ve gotten to a million words. I know publishing isn’t anything like that straight forward anyway.

(You wrote the millionth word! Now you are published! Not exactly.)

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I declared my my second short novel finished last week. Over the last five years I drafted and revised, took classes with it, had my critique group read and re-read it through and then section by section. I’ve had beta readers take a look at it and acted on all of the feedback I’ve received in one way or another.

I’m ready to stop cutting and adding. I’m ready to turn my attention to other things and let the million words add up on some other project.

At first I decided to consign it to the bottom of a drawer, tucked into a file next to the first one about the fairies and the the other worlds full of trees and magic.

Then I read this by Priscilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor, one of the those books my son saw on the shelf:

“Work never sent out is very likely never completed. The author never has to stand by it, for better or for worse. It is never exposed to a stranger’s eye. It is never received with love, hate, indifference, or with interest. It has no audience, no public. As a result, the writer is never obliged to see it through a reader’s eye.”

Well, then.

I guess I’ll send those several thousand words out, roll with rejections, and get down word counts in revising my third novel.

I suppose I knew that all along from my music and drawing. Unless I share what I am doing, the art wilts in a corner. More often than not, I never make it at all if I know no one will ever see it.

May you know the joy of calling things finished even if that means you have to take a risk to get there-

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Lessons From My First Week of NaNoWriMo (National Write a Novel Month)

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This week I learned a few things. Some I suspected and some I did not.

1. It helps to have many people out there trying to do the same thing.

Writers have probably always formed groups and I suppose this is because writing is so lonely that we all want to know someone else is out there flailing around, too. I’m not sure why it helps but it sure does.

2. I can write reams more than I ever thought I could.

Before NaNo I was writing 250 words a day. Now I am writing 1200 (Thursdays have been lower due to the 11 hour teaching day on Wednesday).  I know I won’t reach the goals of the group at this pace but with a toddler and a day job, I’m giving myself the grace not to. Still. I’m writing almost five times as much as before NaNo. It shocks me and, what surprises me even more is this: it’s not much harder than it was to squeeze out those 250 words. It takes a little more time. And sometimes I write at night instead of all in the early morning. But I can do it. I can.

3. Using pep talks and other people’s blogs is a good way to reward myself instead of getting myself going.

In order to punch out those words, I need to hold off on my Internet cravings  but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I’ve always thought we writers get lost in social media and surfing because it’s a part of our love of words. I decided to flip that around and use it as a reward instead of trying to beat myself out of clicking around.

4. It helps to think  about what will come next before I have to sit at the keyboard.

I know this is obvious but the higher word count forces me to think about it a lot. And, I am happy to say, I like this part of writing. The thinking and dreaming about it happen everywhere and it’s fun.

5. The idea of a day off works for me. And that day doesn’t have to be on the weekend.

I’ve driven myself into the ground before and flamed out like a candle with no wick left. Tracy Barrett blogged that she takes Tuesdays off. I had always felt I needed a weekend day off to fit with the work week tradition, I guess. But I never could take those off. Some of my best writing happened then. So now I’m taking Friday off and it feels lovely. I let myself write today – just not on the novel. I’ll see how tomorrow goes but I’m hopeful.

I’m into the second week now and am contemplating squeezing out a few words after a bout of sickness that would have given me a lovely excuse not to write without NaNo waiting for me over there. I’ve been trying to figure out how much to donate. Whatever I choose, I doubt it will be enough. Thanks, NaNo.