Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Work To Rule

Another Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Laus Veneris.

A thoughtful post last Saturday by Spyscribbler is worth a look, not only for the number crunching but also for the POV - the examination and dissection of conventional writing "wisdom."
One of the assumptions investigated is that quantity does not produce quality.
Spy quite reasonably points out that if one extrudes only a thousand words a day - predicated on 240 writing days - that amounts to 240,000 words a year = 2 to 3 books = prolific by most standards.
Spy also suggests further that writers often improve with practice, ie. less time is spent in planning, revising, correcting, straightening the desk, and staring off into space, because many writing functions have become instinctive and automatic.
I think Spy is right.
Some writers are shocked and saddened by the revelation that other writers produce as many as 4,000 words a day.
Let's break that number down in Spy fashion.
Even two-fingered typists can manage 30 words per minute.
30 x 60 = 1800 words an hour.
So 4,000 words amounts to a mere 2 and 1/2 hours pounding the keyboard.
Presuming the requisite plot planning preliminaries have already been promulgated ( sorry, couldn't resist) - those 4,000 words no longer seem so honking huge, now do they?
Nor does the production of an 80,000 words MS in six weeks or so, either.
Think some of us need to find another excuse.
Your take?


Erik Ivan James said...

The numbers work well...providing you have the words stored in your heart at the time you sit down at the keyboard.

GREAT post!!

Dave said...

whimper, whimper...
Let's see - my eight hour day writing dialog between six characters - 50 new words subject to review.
My Sunday - a simple revision of something from 2002 resulted in MINUS 700 words out of 3200.
My Monday - 2500 words of fluffiness from a goofy idea.
The Thanksgiving Holiday - no words for three days, just cooking.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Erik.

Art of the possible, Dave. That's all.

Jaye Wells said...

I agree with this in my own writing. But you know what? Potato potahto. Some people are plodders and it works for them.

Bernita said...

I know that, Jaye.What ever works.
Just that one is not necessarily stuck forever in a self-defined box as a "plodder."

Carla said...

I'm irresistibly reminded of a quote from one of the literary greats (Noel Coward, I think, or maybe it was Oscar Wilde - can't remember), which went something like: "This morning I put a comma in. This afternoon I took it out."

Can be quite a comfort if one is feeling unproductive :-)

Sela Carsen said...

I cling to my excuses like a barnacle to rotted driftwood.

I, er, don't have anything better than that.

JLB said...

Thanks for sharing Spy Scribbler's post... I like the final note:

"in the end, don't compare yourself. Whatever works, works."

I haven't tried writing a novel (yet!), but I'm a fast writer - both in terms of typing, and in terms of creating a concept and executing. However, some pieces take me much longer than others. Sometimes I just like to spend a month (or a year) chewing on an idea, scribbling sentences and sketches, and nibbling away at my thoughts before I'm ready to set down with the impetus to write it all out.

I also agree the the speed at which someone creates/writes cannot be used a measure of its quality. Not only is quality rather a subjective matter in its own right, but for some, a single, great novel may speak more than a lifetime's worth of 3-novel-per-year publications.

Bernita said...

Have seen it blamed on Oscar, Carla.
I find comma comas very safe and pleasant places at times.

With a neat line like that, Sela, not sure you need excuses.

Bernita said...

And then, JLB, and then ~blenching~ there are those who manage more than 2 or 3...
I know what you mean by letting the ideas rattle around for a period. Sounds much like my modus.
I would like to improve my time frame though, she said wistfully.

Kirsten said...

Great topic, Bernita!

Years ago a woman I worked for as a technical writer said that 800 words an hour was the typical pace for corporate writing, and that's been pretty consistent with my experience, both with my day job writing and my fiction. I think it's related to what erik said -- it's not just the speed of typing but having the words at the ready. When I know what I'm going to write, I can hit 1000-1200 words an hour. When I'm feeling my way, it's fewer . . . I also find that if I'm writing at a fast pace for a certain period of time, I get tired and need a break. E.g. when I wrote my first novel (genre fiction since deep-sixed!) I blocked out two hours to work on it every morning, and then would spend the rest of the day writing stuff for my job. I'd sometimes find that my mind would just shut down: I remember realizing at one point that I couldn't figure out how to do paragraph transitions. A very weird feeling to say the least.

Bernita said...

Hmmm, Kirsten, you make me wonder if the degree of concentration is affected by the pace at which one works, ie. slower pace allows for a more sustained writing period - and possibly in a higher word count over a different arbitrary period.
Or have I just said something circular here?

MissWrite said...

I find myself doing much the same as Kristin.

When I first started working at home as an editor the tempation was to spend all of my working hours doing that since there are no actual regulated hours. I lost much of my writing time, and soon found my own career slamming into a brick wall.

Now I have set aside 'office hours' for that work to be done, and 'career hours'. That has been working much better for me.

I can see all sides of this issue. Some do not want to be regulated. 'punch' a word clock. They want to be artists and let the words flow as they may. That's all good if that works for them.

It doesn't work for many. For some it must be a plotted demand upon your brain to 'GET TO WORK'.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Hmmm. I need an excuse.

*rifles through mental file*

Ah-ha! Here we go:

Excuse #4291: The dog ate my pages. Or maybe the gerbil. :-)

(In seriousness, great post, Bernita! I have derived hope from this. Yes, I can be like J.A. Konrath!! :-)

Bernita said...

Think most really productive people are organized, Tami, whether the organization is obvious and/or admitted to or not.

Hee, Sonya!
One should not be intimidated by the numbers.
Nor is one forever locked in a certain mode of writing as if it were genetically coded.

Anonymous said...

I usually manage about 1K in the time between the kid goes to bed and I go to bed. I always felt I was a bit of a slow writer. It's starting to look reasonable now.

Thanks Bernita.

I'm still not going to win NaNo though....

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I have actually done that amount...but with quite a few caveats.

I have to have the story set in my mind.

I have to have the turning points set in my mind.

I have to have my main characters set in my mind!

And this isn't necessarily done on paper, so I don't call it outlining.
but until all those things are set...I'm stuck...LOL...my mind leaks! Bleck!

Bernita said...

Think you "manage" very well, Jenn!

Me too, Bonnie. All those caveats are understood to be in place.

anna said...

Good grief! Sometimes I can't even read somebody else's 4000 words never make up my own.
Quite a mind boggling thought Bernita.

Ric said...

Interesting topic, as always. On one project, I wrote the first 20,000 words over 6 months, then the characters took over and the next 65,000 came in 26 straight days. - all while still running my business.
Still trying to figure out how to duplicate that.
What works usually is setting aside an hour or two every morning, kicking out 2000 - 2500 words, and before you know it, TA-DA, a book.
Simple stuff, really, surprised everyone doesn't do it.

SassyJill said...

You're right on the excuse point, I need some new ones ^_^*

Bernita said...

Don't think you need 4,000 words, Anna. You seem to convey much with a lot less.

Perhaps Sonya will spare you some, Sassy...

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ric.
Amazing when one is jet-fueled like that, isn't it?

Candice Gilmer said...

I was just having this discussion with Savannah Jordan the other day -- how forcing the words doesn't always make them better words.

When I'm on a good streak, I can go like mad, doing easily 3K in 2 hrs. But those good streaks are not an everyday occurence. Usually it's about half that.

But I do know this, when I'm writing, I'm much nicer to get along with than when I'm not... Just ask the hubby. :)

Bernita said...

At half that, Candice, you're doing just fine.

spyscribbler said...

Bernita, hey, thanks for linking me!

Bonnie, I'm the same way. Although, yesterday I was rescued (in my fiction, at least) by shutting my eyes and typing what I see.

Er, that sounds a little crazy. Never mind.

I try to be three or four projects ahead during my imagining time. That way, when I sit down to write, it's been slept on and slushed through my brain for awhile.

And Dave, lol! I hate days like that. I really try not to write something I'll have to delete, because it makes me feel so unproductive.

Lisa Hunter said...

I suppose if you're following a template you can write a large number of word per day. I know a screenwriter who can do a feature script in about three days once he has the outline done. He calls the actual writing the "just add water" stage.

PBW said...

I won't mention my daily word quota, or I think I'll get lynched. I do view the quantity vs. quality debate as timeclock mentality. Some of us are fast writers, and some of us aren't; neither can be compared or are superior to the other.

I do believe self-discipline and some form of writing routine are essential to anyone who wants to write professionally. I've seen too many new pros crash and burn because they couldn't produce on a schedule.

I know this is really tough for organic writers, and I sympathize because I've seen firsthand how hard it can be on you guys. But editors won't wait around until you feel like writing a teaser or some copy for them, and writers who miss their deadlines only make their jobs tougher, which makes them think twice about contracting you in the future.

raine said...

I would leave a post, but I'm busy looking for that other excuse...
I know I left it lying around here somewhere...

Bernita said...

Thought it was an excellent post, My Spy.

An intersting - and reasonably accurate - way of looking at the process, Lisa!

Try admired, instead of lynched.
Thank you, PWB, for expanding the debate from the experienced pro POV.
Listen up, people!


writtenwyrdd said...

My take on words-per-day is that I only care in a general sense. That is, if I check my progress and find I have only a few hundred more words than the previous week, there's maybe a problem.

Of course, I tend to dissect, rip out scenes (which may be reused all or in part later on) or spend vast quantities of time revising a scene so it will lead me where I want to go next.

Most of the time, I count it a good day if I spent time writing. Just write for a half hour, an hour... Just. Write.

As a professor told me in college, you are only a writer if you write.

Bernita said...

As a professor told me in college, you are only a writer if you write.

Good words, Writtenwyrdd.