Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Word Count Woes

In recent weeks, I’ve become more and more aware of daily word/page counts. Specifically, those of my fellow writers versus my own.

At the Pennwriters Conference, Jonathan Maberry was pressing to meet a Monday morning deadline. He kept updating us on his progress. The man’s productivity is staggering. I’m in awe.

Ramona has a group over on Facebook called How Many Pages Have You Written Today? We boast our accomplishments, cheer each other on. And we can see who’s pumping out large quantities of prose and who’s struggling with each and every word.

Which has started me wondering. Why do some of us whip out 2,500 (or more!) words a day and other celebrate when we manage 500 or 1,000?

Being a more regular member of the latter group, I can count off myriad excuses. Hubby needing fed. Both of us needing clean clothes. Killer dust bunnies taking over the house. (Okay, if you’ve been to my house, you can stop laughing. I do on rare occasions clean.) Mom’s doctors’ appointments. Yoga class. Et cetera, et cetera.

But there are hundreds of productive writers out there, who have family obligations and FULL TIME jobs, who still outpace me. Even when I have an entire day (or two) to write, I rarely seem to put up huge numbers. I have. But not usually.

So I’ve come up with a new excuse…er…reason for it, and I wanted to test it out on you kind folks.

Here it is: I write mysteries.

And as such, my fiction has to be truer than reality. Who was it who said, “The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense”?

Also, can the question mark come after the quotation marks in the previous sentence, or must it be inside them? Stuff like that stops me cold and sends me running for my books on style and grammar.

Just like the situations I create in my fiction send me running to my resources in search of authenticity. Would a police officer really react the way I’m imagining? Can a paramedic legally respond that way at a crime scene?

I can’t just imagine it and write it. I have to make sure every scene is correct.

Plus, since I’m writing mysteries, I’m creating puzzles. With clues that must be fairly and discretely tucked into the story. I spend a lot of my “writing time” thinking about the plot. Who did what and why? In all fairness, I spend a lot of NON writing time doing this, too. Doing laundry is prime time for sorting out glitches.

So I want to pose a question to all the writers out there. Do you think writing mysteries is a slower process than…say science fiction or fantasy where the author determines what’s accurate for their own particular world? Or romance where the author’s heart leads the story. (Yes, I know there is research to be done in other genres, too.)

And if you are an especially prolific mystery (or other genre) writer, please brag about your numbers here. I’ll try to keep my weeping to a minimum. 


PatRemick said...

Interesting post -- and reasoning LOL -- Annette. I haven;t written other forms of fiction so I cannot respond to that, but I can tell you it takes me a whole lot longer to write my mysteries than non-fiction!! (hampered by that whole making sense thing, I suppose)

Joyce said...

I'm also a slow writer. I'm constantly rethinking and rewriting scenes. It may take longer, but I think it makes for a cleaner first draft. My first drafts are more like a fourth or fifth draft. Revisions are usually fleshing things out, adding description, etc. I don't have to change much plot-wise.

Ramona said...

I can pound out a short story in a day--20 pages of it, in long hand, giggling in glee while I do so.

Chapter of a novel? Word by painful word, and each one seems to take an hour. Urg.

There's an English professor from my town who just published a rant on NPR about mistakes in sentences ending with quotations. He blames the British.

Annette said...

Nice to know I'm in good company here. Yes, Ramona, "word by painful word" definitely says it all.

As for your English professor blaming the British, well, they do seem to do things differently. But since they were doing it first, I'm not sure who's right and who's wrong!

Jenna said...

Sorry. I write mysteries, and pretty fast too. Wrote 90k book in January and February this year. That's a little faster than I normally do it, though. 3-3 1/2 months to a book is my usual output. 1,000 words per day = book in three months. 2,000 words per day = book in less than two months. Some books ate easier to write than others; I don't know exactly why, but they just flow better. And no, I don't outline before I start, but usually I 'see' the first 100 pages or so pretty clearly. In some cases more, rarely less. And I'm usually on deadline, so if I don't write fast, I don't get done. A lot of it comes down to seeing it as a job for me. This is what I do, so I produce words every day whether I feel like it or not. Usually...

Annette said...

Jenna, you make a very valid point. When it's your job and you have a deadline, you HAVE to put out the pages. The times I've had deadlines have been my most productive because I can tell those with demands on my time, "I can't do that today. I have a deadline to meet."

I look forward to being able to honestly use that line on a regular basis!

Annette said...

Jenna, I almost forgot to say, I don't know whether to admire your ability to write so fast or hate your guts for it! LOL!

Patg said...

If it is a job with an 'employer' other than family, we do seem to step up to the mark. Not surprising at all to me as I always had high quotas and making and exceeding them was rewarded with a bonus. I've come to believe writing is the same: you have a quota and getting done can be rewarding, but when you are your own slave driver..ah..boss, for some reason you think you can make excuses. Go figure.
By the way Science Fiction? In SF, you have to write a story--all the while keeping in mind how much science you have to put into it that is correct and how your invented science will fit in.
Go ahead, set a story on Mars and have your protag look over her shoulder to talk to somebody while opening a door. HA!!! SF writers have a whole different POV about reviews than mystery writers.

Jenna said...

Annette, I wish I had more time per book. Not because I'd necessarily write any slower - the actual word-count part - but it's nice not to be so stressed all the time. You're always staring down that deadline and being worried about not meeting it, and as soon as one manuscript is finished, it's off to the nexy. It'd be nice to have a more relaxed relationship with writing, like the people who only have to write one book per year, as opposed to three.

I should have mentioned, too, that while mysteries, first person, come easily to me, I write a lot slower when I try something different. There's that futuristic space opera romance thingy I've been playing with, that's been holding at 20K for a while now, and not only because I've been writing other things. Third person multiple POV is HARD! And yes, there's the whole world-building and science aspect to worry about on top of it.

Pat, why can't a person on Mars look over her shoulder and open a door at the same time as she's talking to someone? Apart from the fact that there are no people or doors on Mars, I mean.

Donnell said...

Annette, excellent post and so true. Research is the stopper for me. I'm in research mode right now. Lynda Sandoval said to us at a mystery seminar once. Never let research stop you... Leave a blank and keep going. But for me leaving that a blank, you might as well have a cavern. I have to fill it in!