more tedious bean-counting

This is another of those peeks inside my head, and the way I deal with quotas and goals while noveling.

Here’s how the math starts. I know that I can, barring pretty serious difficulties, keep up a 1K daily quota of new words for weeks or months on end. I know that I can do 1500 a day when I’ve got enough clear sailing ahead of me — i.e. a good enough sense of where the next 10K or so of story is going — and on rare occasions when a book’s really cracking along, I can keep that up for quite a while. But not if I run into complications.

I also know that the longest book I’ve ever written was 126K words. My contract specifies 90-110K words, which may have some flexibility in it. Ergo, if I estimate the book to be 120K and plan my schedule accordingly, I should — hopefully — be okay.

So my thought in May was this: I wanted 10K by the end of the month, 40K by the end of June, 80K by the end of July, and 120K (i.e. a finished book) by the end of August. I was floundering a bit with the early part of the book, so that gave me license to noodle around carefully through the very beginning, then to stick to a conservative pace through June. In July and August, though, I’d have to crank it up to 1500 most days, in order to complete the draft by the end of summer.

The virtue, therefore, of letting myself write a few scenes ahead of schedule, and also to write flashbacks whenever I feel like it, but counting neither in my daily quota, is that when I drop those into the ongoing story, I get a nice boost toward my end-of-month goal without having to sweat about a series of 1500-word days. Between that and the tendency I have to make myself pass the 1K mark by at least a few dozen words (or sometimes a hundred or more) — kind of like aiming to keep running past the finish line, so you don’t start slowing down early — here it is the end of June, and Midnight Never Come is 53,568 words long.

What does this mean? I don’t have to write 1500 words a day to hit 80K by the end of July. In fact, 1K per day will be overkill, as that will give me 84K and change. Which is why I’m revising the Grand Plan: now I want 90K by the end of July. Why? Because then I don’t have to write 1500 a day in August, either. (Unless MNC ends up more than 120K, which I doubt it will.)

It should be totally doable. I only need six thousand over a 1K pace, some of which will be provided by my usual overage, 1754 of which will come from a scene I wrote a while ago, the rest of which will probably be made up by the flashbacks for this section. And then I’ll be sitting pretty for August, with probably only another 20K or so to go (since I’m personally guesstimating this one to be about 110K).

And that’s novel math, in my head.

Here’s the crappy thing about it, and about this novel-writing business in general. I wrote 1K or more for twenty-nine days this month; on June 10th I was having difficulties, and I only managed 518. Thirty straight days of being a Good Little Writer.

Now I just have to keep it up for another two months, and I’ll be done.

There really aren’t any days off for good behavior. Even when you aren’t under a deadline, it’s generally important to write every day, not just for reasons of craft and discipline and story flow, but because you’ll never bloody finish if you don’t. And when you’re under a deadline, even the notion of doing things like taking weekends off rapidly stops being feasible. I’m not even in a particularly bad situation, here; I know plenty of writers under more pressing deadlines, or who have to mail one book off to a publisher and immediately dive into the next. (There’s in fact a minor game of one-upsmanship underway on a mailing list I’m on: whose deadline has the bigger, nastier fangs?) The only reason this doesn’t suck like a mighty Dyson vaccuum is because we like what we’re doing, but still — there are times when I wish the phrase “work week” meant anything to me.

But no rest for the wicked. Sleep, perhaps — I will go to bed once I post this — but no rest. Because tomorrow I have to get up and do it all again.

0 Responses to “more tedious bean-counting”

  1. unforth

    I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve kept up for a whole month – I’ve missed a few days (er…three), but always caught up the very next day. I’m well ahead of pace, even, at almost 28k.

    What terrifies me is the “now I just have to keep it up for another two months, and I’ll be done” part. (and I think mine will be longer than the 90 days, though not as long as yours, since it’s set over 3 days and I’m not even done with day 1 yet…) And I don’t even have a deadline, I’m just doing this for fun. Crunching the numbers sounds like a very reasonable thing to do, because otherwise you’d have to worry about whether or not you are on track – it sets the mind at rest to know that you’re doing adequately!! And good luck!!

    • Marie Brennan

      This is another reason why I think Ni90 might be more beneficial than NaNoWriMo to people who are serious about the novel-writing thing: it’s a better representation of what writing a novel is really like. If you can face down the prospect of three months of steady daily work, you can write not just one novel, but novels in general.

      • unforth

        Also, this is much more, I dunno, manageable than NaNoWriMo. When I think about writing 50k in 31 days, it’s like, OMG there is no way I would ever have the time. But I can type 750+ words in 15 to 30 minutes, which I can spare each day. It makes it more feasible just to do one, and also builds good habits I think.

        It is very interesting, though, to watch the progress of the other people in Ni90 – both the successful ones and the unsuccessful ones. I see a lot of the unsuccessful ones saying and acting in ways that I used to say/act in when I was NOT managing to write regularly.

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