The One in Which I Give Myself a Bit of a Pep Talk

April 27, 2015

Last Thursday, I admitted the difficult truth that I need to take a bit of a break from working on and worrying about my novel. After racing out of the gates and writing around 55,000 words in a month and another 40,000 or so in the subsequent 2-3 months, I’ve been struggling to finish the draft. I’ve edited, written, and rewritten several passages, and I can’t seem to get it to come out on the page the way it exists in my head. Going back through some of the stuff written previously I’ve found some tricky plot problems I need to solve, and I’ve struggled mightily to do that. Some of that struggle has been due to simply not knowing quite how to go about it. This is still new to me! People sometimes take years to finish a novel, especially a first one. I need to remember that sometimes. I still don’t plan on taking years to finish one novel, but it’s healthy to remember that 1) I’m not even close to the first person struggling with this kind of thing and 2) struggling is not the same as failing.

I also need to remember that, for all the struggles and learning I’ve had over the last 7-9 months, I’ve also produced a lot of stuff well. Maybe I have not finished as much as I’d like, but today I want to give myself a bit of credit for as much work as I’ve put into this. I’m going to run down a few stats. This might be super boring to anyone reading it, but I need a reminder that even though I’ve felt stuck lately I have actually written a lot since last July.

Here goes.

The Blog

blackboard-620314_1920Lost Caws has existed for seven months, almost eight, now. For the most part, I want to set aside the work to get it set up, including working on the design and logo and so forth. It definitely took some doing, but it’s not as if I coded and designed the site from scratch. I want to focus primarily on how much I’ve written, since that’s the ultimate focus of my work. Still, the process of getting a website up and running was a great learning experience, and I continue to learn all the time.

But as far as actual writing? Not counting the post you are currently reading, I’ve published 45 posts since last September with a total of 69,537 words in them. This ignores the several thousand words in blog post drafts that have yet to see the light of day. I choose not to count them because I want to focus on completed work. I know it can be hard to wrap your head around word count as a metric if you’re not accustomed to thinking about writing that way, but 70K words is just a bit above the average length of a novel. Using a couple of references from that linked article, my writing on Lost Caws is a bit longer than Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World at 64,531 and a little shorter than Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at 70,570.

Word count is pretty obviously a measure of quantity, not quality, and I can’t make any kind of independent observation of the quality of the writing here. I certainly am not going to contend that reading my blog is as worthwhile as reading either of the books referenced above. I can, however, say that I do work pretty hard on my blog posts here and the 70K+ words I’ve written reflect real effort on my part. This is particularly true since I began sticking to my twice weekly posts beginning in December. What’s more, I am proud of a lot of the stuff I’ve posted here, and looking back and seeing I’ve produced almost 70K words — most of them since just December — shows that I have been pretty productive even if it does not always feel that way.

The Fiction

Since starting this venture, I’ve worked on a bunch of different writing projects so it’s a bit tricky trying to decide which ones to count as part of trying to gauge my overall productivity. One of the simplest metrics is a straight up count of the number of projects I have saved in whatever state of development. It might be a simple statistic, but I think it’s a meaningful one. Let’s start there.

When it comes to actual projects, not just passing ideas, I keep my files nice and tidy. In my fiction writing folder, I have 17 separate writing projects that I’ve either started since last July or kept working on in some capacity but were technically started earlier. I’ll note that my Easter story, Now You Know, was written entirely on the blog and is not saved in this folder. I’ve also written three pieces of sketch comedy, but those are pretty short so I’m not bothering with those here either. Now, it’s unlikely that I will finish all of these. I generate new ideas pretty regularly, and not all of these will continue to pass the scrutiny I put on projects to decide whether I want to pursue them. In fact, as I look through the list I saw one project that needed to go, so let’s call it a total of 16 possible projects completed or in flight.*

Of these 16 projects, I have worked on 10 of them in 2015 in some capacity. My novel project, The Witches of Nicollet Island, is obviously the one I’ve discussed the most and is the longest of anything I’ve written. The word count for the novel currently stands at 92,383. This has been as high as, I think, around 98K, but I’ve been killing some darlings lately. The next longest project is one that started as a short story about a year ago but kept growing. I know see it as a short-ish novel project, and it’s one of the projects I’ll be jumping back into while the other novel goes on ice temporarily. That story sits at 21,221 words. The next longest project in that file is my short story, Witnesswhich was published to this site. I’m going to double-count for now because I’m looking at the fiction separately from the blog. The version on Lost Caws is slightly different from what I have saved because I wrote it outside the site and then made some final touches online. As saved to my hard drive, Witness has 10,598 words.

Those are the largest projects with the most work done. Beyond that, I count five more projects that are probably worth counting plus the Easter story in my fiction total. I’m choosing to include stories I’ve worked on very recently even if they’re really, really short right now. This is arbitrary. So what? Anyway, let’s do some math.

Writing Projects and Word Count

Current TitleWord Count
Total141,702
The Witches of Nicollet Island92,383
Sleepover21,221
Witness10,598
The Heat6,790
Grimoire4,858
Reaper1,948
Now You Know1,643
Clicks and Hisses1,392
Highwire869

Over 200,000 Words: Not Bad

I think it’s pretty natural to be your own worst critic, and I know that’s how I operate a lot of the time. Feeling stuck on the novel has made me wonder what it is I’m really doing here lately. I’ve been beating myself up for not being able to break through on it, which led to last Thursday’s decision. I know it was the right decision, but that doesn’t make it any easier. My first reaction after hitting publish was something a bit like helplessness or hopelessness even though I’ve made a point of saying I am by no means giving up on that work. I’m really not!

But my second feeling was to realize that I actually have written quite a bit. If we combine the total from the blog above (69,537) and add in the total from my various fiction projects (141,702) but deduct the double-count of Witness, I’m at 200,641 words. That’s a lot! Plus I’ve written roughly another 1,500+ words today. I need to get better at finishing things, and I will, but I can look back at the last 8-9 months and know that I haven’t just been twiddling my thumbs.

Looking at that table above, I’m excited to turn my attention back to some of those projects for a while. I know doing so will help me eventually solve the problems in The Witches of Nicollet Island. By continuing to write and write and write, whether on Lost Caws or elsewhere, I’m getting better. I’m learning. I’m not satisfied, but I think that’s a good thing. I think the best is absolutely still to come, and I look forward to continuing to share it.


*When I talk about deleting projects, ideas or pieces of my writing, people will occasionally react with something like shock. “Don’t you want to keep them just in case? They might come in handy for another project some other time.” I understand that impulse, and I do keep stuff sometimes if I think it’s got solid potential for reuse. On the other hand, at a certain point keeping every last idea is a bit like being a digital hoarder. It may not have quite the same level of impact on your life, but digital hoarding still makes it hard to know what’s valuable. I’m sure writers are all over the place with this, but for me discarding ideas is just as important as creating them. It’s pretty rare for an old idea to inspire me more than a new one, so I tend not to keep them around unless I really think there might be something to them.

 

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