There’s only one solution to so-called writer’s block – just bloody write. You might have to resort to clichés and other lazy options. Your sentences may be so appalling you’re embarrassed to read them back later, but at least you have something on a page. It can always be fixed.
I’m writing book number four. Perhaps that impresses you – and sorry, I don’t mean to book-drop, how very vulgar – but my disclaimer is that only one is published, and numbers two and three need serious re-writing.
My point is that I employed a different technique for writing book number four. I’ve read a number of interviews with writers over the years and 2,000 seems to be the magic number. Those couple of thousand apply to the word count professional writers demand of themselves to produce every day. If you are lucky enough to be able to make your living solely from writing books, then 2,000 is your target word count for the day.
I like word counts. I make my (paltry) living from blogging and copy writing. The metric for blogs, articles, website content, white papers, sales emails et al is word count. My clients look for anything from 150 words up to 10,000 and more. Sometimes you pad and fill. Sometimes you construct sentences you hate because you are trying to add in keywords and yet need to make the text sound conversational. The skill lies in making the padding and insertion stuff unnoticeable.
Often, you worry that your writing skills are being undermined and compromised. Or that you are developing nasty habits that will spill over into other area of your writing life. The padding thing. The weird sentences. A general feeling of ennui.
Anyway, it works both ways. The discipline of having to write a certain number of words for other people can be applied to your own writing. I decided that if people who write full-time make themselves pour out 2,000 words a day, I would go for 1,000 words for book number four. Six days a week.
I started the book on 16 May – if you don’t include the original idea that came to me in two stages: a short story, and then a vague idea of how that short story could be developed further. Anyway, thanks to sticking to the 1,000 words a week, I’m now up to 45,000 words. One bonus of writing the story so regularly is that you remember details. Today, for example, I started to write about two of my characters setting off for hospital in their Vauxhall. A quick check back revealed I’d given them a Peugeot originally.
You also remember how you’ve described people – dark-haired, receding hairlines, tall, stout, slightly sleazy, that sleeve tattoo…
One thousand words takes me roughly an hour, less if I’m really inspired and I’m writing about part of the story that I know precisely what I need to do. Sometimes, little details appear out what seems like nowhere. I enjoy that. I love the “nowhere” bits and the intrigue they create. Well, where did that come from?
There is no doubt the whole thing will need a lot of tidying up. In my haste to stack up that word count, I know I’ve overdone it in places. I listened to one respected writer talk once (current book pictured left) and he said he’d ended up ditching 250,000 words from his first novel. My jaw dropped open, but I applauded him at the same time – what courage it must have taken to ditch the equivalent of three novels. Maybe he’ll find some use for it elsewhere someday.
I’ve set myself a 1,000-word count, but I’m also a believer in the small goals win rule. Choose a goal and make it tiny. At one point when I was writing a book, I chose a 100-words per day, five days a week goal. I wanted a goal that was really easy to achieve. Achievement makes you feel good, so if you set goals that are very easy, you get that lovely glow of having ticked something off the to-do list. Maybe you write 200 words one day. Hey, you over-achieved.
If you are suffering writer’s block, then apply the small goals rule. Set it even lower than 100 words. Fifty words will do – it’s something. Pretend you are a professional copywriter or blogger and your client needs his or her 50 words. By 5pm. We can argue about quantity versus quality, but in the end consistency always wins.
Great post, Emma. Thanks. You’ve given me some motivation–and truly achievable goals to work on–for my writing. This post served as a kick in the pants for me to fire up my writing gears, too. Just what I needed …
Thanks Russell – and the offer is always there if you want someone to read your work, or your synopsis.
Great post Emma. Very often when you start getting some words (however scrappy) down, better ones start flowing.
Thanks Alison! You’ve just got to write, don’t you?