Writer’s Block – Apply the Word Count

I promise you the ones I wrote were a bit more interesting than this.

I promise you the ones I wrote were a bit more interesting than this.

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.

Word Count

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.

Details, Details

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?

Ditching Words

The_Waves_Burn_Bright.270There 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.




A Top 10 List to Help with Writer’s Block

Oh, oh, oh! I have a deadline to meet dear readers. Once it seemed like many moons away. Now it gallops towards me faster than a…

Stuck for a metaphor here. Faster than my own attempts to neck a glass of red wine come Friday evenings? Faster than the cat comes screeching into the kitchen when he hears the fridge door opening?

Trouble is, it’s a self-imposed deadline and we all know how they work – or don’t work, truth be told. I’m still writing, but The End doesn’t seem quite as nigh as it did the other week when I was flushed with the glory of 8,000 words.

So as I lay in bed last night battling insomnia (again, though my friend Kylie’s good advice to concentrate on saying one word over and over again in your head has proved useful), I came up with a good old Top Ten list in my head and thought to myself: “Aha! I can procrastinate, blogger-stylee, while hopefully helping my fellow writers battle their own bouts of writer’s block/lack of self-discipline.”

  1. Drum roll… Ahem, just write. Set yourself a target of a number of words which you think you can easily achieve. Write that number – and only that number – and bask in feelings of achievement.
  2. Have an imaginary conversation with your lead character. I invited Katie to sit down across the table from me. I asked her how she was and how she would like the book to end up. ‘Happily,’ she said, ‘oh and can I snog one of the big boys from Year 6?’ I tutted, but said I would look into all options.
  3. Write your ending in synopsis form. I’ve actually written plans all the way through writing. The basic structure was always there, but as the book has developed, sometimes I’ve needed to add things in so I would write another detailed plan. It was useful because it included background on characters and why they were doing what they were doing.
  4. Go back over other chapters and tweak. It makes you feel as if you are doing something worthwhile.
  5. Go for a run. Or a walk, or a cycle ride. Basically, just get out in the fresh air and puff and pant a bit. Physical energy often stimulates mental energy.
  6. Think around different options for your book. I’ve been talking to my brother-in-law about an app which would serve as some kind of publicity tool, but thinking in different ways is good for creativity in general.
  7. Join a writers forum/group. I’m part of the LinkedIn writers/editors group and the people on there do have incredibly fascinating conversations. There’s all kinds of help and advice available, even if you just want to get a few people to shout at you online: GET WRITING YOU IDLER! (They wouldn’t; they’re too kind.)
  8. I’ve had a few astonishingly patient people reading my book for me as I go along, and I ask them from time to time if they think a chapter works and if they think a particular storyline is plausible/credible.
  9. Go and read other people’s writing blogs. I follow a few of them (the bottled worder,  Daily (W)rite thebookofalice, writings of a Mrs, Gabriel LocateroFrancis Barann, Sophie Bowns and a few others and it’s heartening reading about other people’s writing methods and practices.
  10. Drum roll… Ahem, just write.

What do you think? If you have any top tips for continued creativity, I’d love to hear them.