Monday, October 6, 2008

How we Do It: Two Writers Talk Technique

Clea and I are switching blogs again, to write about our thousand words a day edict. Check out Clea's great blog for my post. Thanks, Clea so much for this great post!

“Bash it out now. Tart it up later.” – Nick Lowe (with thanks to Brett Milano)

A thousand words. What is that, three pages? You can write three pages, right? Well, if you can write three pages, then three pages more, then three pages after that, you can write a book.

That’s the theory anyway and as I peck away at what I hope might become my fifth mystery – and eighth book overall – I think it’s a good one. A thousand words. Every work day (some folks work on weekends, I don’t), Monday through Friday, I write a thousand words. And if I miss it. If I turn in 857 or 929, well then I try to make up for it the next day or the next. Rain or shine.

“Don’t you lard it all up with adjectives?” That’s what a friend asked me today. “Or just go on and on with the dialogue?” Well, yeah, some days I probably do. But you know what? Some days I don’t, and some days simply the act of writing – of typing out 994 lousy words – will open up the spigot to that perfect six-word phrase. Or to a stunning scene or breakthrough the next day or the day after.

A thousand words works, and I don’t always know why. Some of it is simply practice. The ability to write is like a muscle; the more you do it, the stronger it becomes.

But there’s something else going on here, too. I think that by focusing on bulk, on word count, on pages, I can distract myself from worrying too much about quality. No, no, don’t get me wrong. The thousands I’m piling on right now will need a ton of rewriting, revising, and editing before they’re fit to show anyone, even my husband! But too often revising is the enemy of creativity, especially in these early phases. If I worry too much about getting each scene perfect, about continuity. Even about what needs to happen when, I won’t get on with it. Focusing on the word counts lets me make mistakes, mangle metaphors, and court clich├ęs. Focusing on the word count means I get the draft done. And once I know what my book is about, well, then I can get serious. I can even cut thousands of words. Because they’re there. On the page, for me to work with.

cats & crime & rock & roll


Clea Simon said...

Hey - just have to add that THIS WORKS! I've had an absolutely crappy day. But a few hours ago, I made myself sit down. I told myself that I DESERVED this time ... and I've written 1,008 words.

They are probably not going to be keepers. But you know what? The discipline is there and I feel better.

Gina Sorell said...

Way to go too Caroline!!
G :)