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Measuring one’s words - LOLMac
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Measuring one’s words
So, back to writing about writing, which beats navel-gazing in that you don’t get a stiff neck. I’ve started putting together a Master Fic List, because some of my friends have them and they seem like something the Cool Kids have. I never got to be one of the Cool Kids.

Meanwhile, I’ll start at the middle, or possibly the end, and jump around randomly.

If the end is the current moment: at the current moment, I’m working on the final chapter of a story titled Revision, which is probably going to come out around 15,000 – 18,000 words. And this is a fine moment to point out my word meter, which I added to this site late last year, but has probably escaped much notice, the introverted little thing. It’s quite a ways down on the home page, in the right-hand column, below the links list. I originally used one of the really pretty meters hosted by zokutou, but they let their site go into limbo some time after NaNoWriMo. I gather that this has happened before. If they don’t pay their bills and bring their site back, I really hope someone else starts hosting the meters, because they were far and away the prettiest ones around.  Heck, I'd host them myself if I knew how.

With the zokutou meter, I was able to provide mouseover text for each segment: the left-hand (completed) portion was tagged ‘current story progress’ and the right-hand (unfinished) portion read “estimated total based on a Scientific Wild-Assed Guess”. I miss the mouseover text.

I stole the word meter idea from wabbit, who did NaNo last year. I use it to track progress on whatever story I have going at present; I used it for Aftershocks and 101 Uses for a Dead Uzi. This required me to actually learn to edit the word meter code, because Aftershocks is a novel and 101 UDU is a short story. The standard NaNo meter is set at 50,000 words, because that’s the NaNo challenge. So I re-edit the code depending on how long I think the story is going to be; then I re-edit it as I make progress.

I do have a sense of story length when I start, which grows more accurate as I proceed, but it changes. Since I don’t have to write to a specific publisher-dictated length, I have the freedom to let a story find its own length. For me, that means keeping the thing from sprawling; I’m writing action-adventure, after all, and it’s essential to keep the writing tight. During the writing of Aftershocks, my estimate changed at least four times, mostly growing (reluctantly) longer. This meant that the meter looked like a slowly advancing tide: it would reach a point, I’d reset the total length, and the amount I’d completed would suddenly retract to a smaller section of the overall meter. Then it would start to grow again.

At the moment, as I said, it’s tracking Revision, which you can read here if you aren’t already following it. I’m on chapter 5, which is going to be the final chapter. {Yes, I'm confident of that. Mostly.)  Chapter 4 crawled along extremely slowly, and I’m hoping the slow pace will pick up again. I took the plunge and started posting WIP beginning with Aftershocks, most of which came along at a steady enough clip that I was able to post a new piece every week. Revision is much shorter, with a much less complicated plot, and you’d think the damned thing would be more cooperative, but noooo.

Anyway, back to writing. I need to see how much trouble I can get my boys into by the end of the day!


22 comments or Leave a comment
dieastra From: dieastra Date: 25th July 2009 20:55 (UTC) (Link)
Can I please ask a dumb question? It really interests me. Why is it so important to know how many words have been written yet? I see this a lot recently, and it puzzles me.

Seems I am writing very differently. I have an idea for a story and I know where I want to be in the end (usually the hero shall grow, or have learned something, there shall be an outcome so that it was not a totally waste of time). So, I just start writing the way I see the scene enfolding before my eyes. When I'm finished, I'm finished, no matter how many words were spent. I won't add or remove anything. I certainly don't try for a certain length.

Reading your descriptions makes it sound to me like hard work, and shouldn't it actually be fun? I certainly can't sit down in the evening and thinking, I must write a certain ammount of words today, when the muse is missing. Sometimes a story is laying around for months till I go back to it.

So, doesn't that put on a lot of pressure? Especially since there is household, family, other RL stuff... Can you please explain why you like it so much? Only if you want to, of course.
lolmac From: lolmac Date: 26th July 2009 00:06 (UTC) (Link)
That’s a great question. The short answer is: it’s not important at all. It’s interesting.

I started tracking word counts when I first started writing, because that’s how professionals measure writing, and I wanted to learn how to use that form of measurement. Pros are able to think in terms of word count, and I knew I wouldn’t learn it without practice. Like most people, I was originally taught in school to count writing in pages, and that’s meaningless in the real world. It’s like saying “I have ten bags of rice.” How much rice is in each bag? I needed to learn the professional skill of measuring this kind of work.

NaNo occurred while I was working on Aftershocks, and I saw the word meter and thought it would be a cool toy to play with. Especially since the zokutou meters were so damned pretty. It meant that I could log my progress in a way that was fun and satisfying, even though no-one but me actually knew what the heck the meter meant.

As for pressure: I have no daily quota, although I do write almost every day. I write almost every day because I want to write that often. It is fun, and it’s also hard work, because I want to grow in this craft, so I push myself. I love the kind of hard work that’s involved in pursuing that kind of goal.

And there are at least a few people who like my writing enough to actually look forward to what I produce; and if they know about the meter, they can (I hope) share in the fun. I now reset the meter when I know I’ve got something new underway, so it’s a sign of progress even before I reach the point where I can start posting.
jackwabbit From: jackwabbit Date: 26th July 2009 00:29 (UTC) (Link)
I agree. Word counts only matters in fic if you are specifically writing a drabble. I DO take pains to make my drabbles and double drabbles exactly 100 or 200 words exactly, and sometimes I go crazy and do the multiples thing (300, 400, etc), but once you're over 300, it's a ficlet, or a vignette, or a short story, etc, so I tend to not worry about it. I never count words as I'm writing a longer fic, but I often do so afterward just as a curiosity.

I have gotten to where I can tell how many words are in a piece without much effort and I'm often pretty accurate.

When I write for KNTR, for SFX or for DockDogs (an actual paper magazine that publishes my words, if you can believe that), word count does definitely matter. They need pieces of a certain length. I have leeway, as neither of these gigs are the "big time," but I can't go off for 1000 words in a blog. You get 600 or so, mate. That's that.

So, that's my take.

I haven't been writing much lately, but when I did NaNo, I did obviously have a certain amount that I needed to write per day. I already know what I'm writing for NaNo this year, and there's no way I'll write it unless I have this kick in the butt, so...daily quota it is!
lolmac From: lolmac Date: 26th July 2009 00:56 (UTC) (Link)
So you're doing NaNo again? Cool! Best of luck!

When I'm writing the longer pieces, I check to see how long each chapter is after it's written; over time, that's gradually taught me 'how much story' makes up 3000 words, 5000, etc. My sense of the story tells me how many chapters it will probably have -- subject to organic growth, and pruning.

But since I'm not writing for publication, there's no mandate on length, except for the personal wish to make the story as good as I can. That tends to mean pruning. You know how badly overwritten a lot of fic is! And that, in turn, teaches me a bit more about story size.
jackwabbit From: jackwabbit Date: 26th July 2009 01:02 (UTC) (Link)
I think so, but we'll see come November, I guess.

As for pruning, I'm still working on that skill, but I try to cut rather than add. As they say, murder your darlings. You might have the greatest sentence ever, but if you don't need it, you don't need it. Kill it!
lolmac From: lolmac Date: 26th July 2009 17:23 (UTC) (Link)
Yes -- 'pruning' for me means cutting. Jasper Fforde calls it 'combing', which I like: you're not just removing excess, you're smoothing out tangles. It also evokes the pain of yanking out and discarding something that you've personally grown and wish you could hold on to.

"Murder the darlings" is one of the best pieces of writing advice EVER, and I'm still gratified that you pointed out that collection of Wil's deathless wisdom.

A funny thing happened about halfway through writing Aftershocks: I had a right proper darling kicking around, a really juicy interaction between Ruth Collins and Dexter. Oh, I wanted to use it. But the plot structure was not supporting it. So I gritted my teeth, invoked the spirit of Supreme Wil, and consigned it to oblivion.

Then the next section of the plot structure promptly lined itself up -- and I got to use it after all.

I remain convinced that it would never have worked if I hadn't been willing to murder it.
jackwabbit From: jackwabbit Date: 26th July 2009 21:58 (UTC) (Link)
So glad to have helped, luv. I like the combing analogy. Too true.

But does my brain deceive me? I thought it was Stephen King who taught me to murder, in On Writing? Of course, I read that book on the Wil's advice in Just a Geek, so...who knows? It very well might have been in both places.
lolmac From: lolmac Date: 27th July 2009 05:15 (UTC) (Link)
Well, I've never read "On Writing", but I did read a piece by Wil Wheaton, on writing in general and NaNo in particular. The "Murder the Darlings" item was there. It could be in King as well, for all I know.
jackwabbit From: jackwabbit Date: 28th July 2009 00:11 (UTC) (Link)
Well, that settles that! I'm pretty sure it is in the King book, but as I said, I read that book on the advice of Wil, so...likely mutual advice, no?

Oh, and I heartily recommend the book. It's great, and I'm not usually one for such things.
lothithil From: lothithil Date: 25th July 2009 23:13 (UTC) (Link)
I envy you. I never know how long a story is going to be. Even my drabbles get out of control sometimes. Of course, as you mentioned, you adjust your estimate as you go... but I'm still impressed. Nothing locks out my creativity like a deadline and/or expectations. I could never making a living writing. lol!
lolmac From: lolmac Date: 26th July 2009 00:32 (UTC) (Link)
Well, I pretty much have to have a sense of the overall story -- although with the novel-length ones, that's a lot more nebulous. It's kind of a gut feeling, really. It includes a sense of some of the characters that will be involved, some of the elements of the problem or puzzle that the plot will get wrapped around, and some notion of the themes that will be developed. I often have an early idea about some of the potential MacGyverisms, but most of them, dare I say it, are improvised as I go, depending on available materials!

But mostly, it's a sense of the size and scope of the story. A story that's going to be novel-length is a much bigger lump in the imagination.
alternatealto From: alternatealto Date: 26th July 2009 01:06 (UTC) (Link)
Except for drabbles, I haven't yet got any feeling for how many words any particular work is/will be. And since I'm still at the stage where most, if not all, of my fics result from being jumped on by plot bunnies (usually at 4:30 a.m., grrr), much of my stuff still falls into the "wrote itself" category--which, while fun and all, is not a solid basis for writing, since the bunnies sometimes hop away half-way through.

I can usually build a plot-like structure out of a drabble suite, but right now I have several partially-constructed longer fics in my Works-in-Progress file that ran into one problem or another and are waiting for me to get around to ripping them apart and rebuilding.

Hate when that happens.

wanderingsmith From: wanderingsmith Date: 26th July 2009 01:26 (UTC) (Link)
while fun and all, is not a solid basis for writing, since the bunnies sometimes hop away half-way through.
so true. every so often I wonder if I could write for 'real'... sigh, but then I recall how much I hate anything isn't bunny driven. what about sticking Energizer's in those bunnies, think it'd help any? ;)
alternatealto From: alternatealto Date: 26th July 2009 01:32 (UTC) (Link)
Nah, would just mean the little buggers would wake me up even earlier than 4:30 a.m.!
wanderingsmith From: wanderingsmith Date: 26th July 2009 01:35 (UTC) (Link)
sigh. I think I'd prefer they woke me up. I have paper and pen next to my bed. not so in my car driving home.. -glares at dialog bunnies-
lolmac From: lolmac Date: 26th July 2009 02:29 (UTC) (Link)
Pen and paper:
- next to bed
- in car (must pull over or wait for light!)
- in purse
- next to shower

Next to computer: stacks of pieces of paper with bits o' writing on them . . .
wanderingsmith From: wanderingsmith Date: 26th July 2009 02:36 (UTC) (Link)
must pull over or wait for light!
lol.. yeah.. I should do that. though some days that would mean I'd be an hour late for work...

in purse
I carry a pen and little notepad in my shirt pocket permanently (can't even blame that on the bunnies, did it before for nerd/techy reasons. still gets used as mucg for work notes as writting notes

and t hat rings up bunnies' other favorite attack-time: in the middle of the workday!!! theres lots of paper. even internet... but I'm supposed to be *working*!!... sometimes they get so insistent that I'm being just as inneficient just having them screaming in my head so I stop and write it, but...

as for the stacks.. LOL.. sometimes. but I try VERY HARD not to do that. my handwrtting, esp under the influence of bunnies, is only readeable if I still have the echoe of the bunny in my mind to help interpret the squiggled

Edited at 2009-07-26 02:44 (UTC)
lolmac From: lolmac Date: 26th July 2009 17:53 (UTC) (Link)
Plot bunnies are hard on penmanship. Smut bunnies are even worse. And mine isn't that good to begin with . . .
wanderingsmith From: wanderingsmith Date: 26th July 2009 17:58 (UTC) (Link)
snort!! yeah, never mind doctors, believe me, engineers are at least as bad
even when I'm TRYING (say for a b-day card or something) to actually write well.. just doesn't work anymore.
wanderingsmith From: wanderingsmith Date: 26th July 2009 01:31 (UTC) (Link)
ha! interesting idea (word metering WIPs).

I at one time kept a private list of WIP titles.. had hoped that constantly seeing them (locked at the top of my LJ) would make me finish them..... very silly notion -rolls eyes at procrastinating self-
lolmac From: lolmac Date: 26th July 2009 02:32 (UTC) (Link)
It makes a big difference that I don't usually have multiple works in hand. This is a Very Good Thing, because most of my works have been novella to novel-length! I can do drabbles whilst mid-novel (they usually pop up as character studies and resolve quickly), but I can only work on one central item at a time. And I can't force the pace on that one.
wanderingsmith From: wanderingsmith Date: 26th July 2009 02:43 (UTC) (Link)
eh. sjs is the only thing that's ever even approached novel-length. the rest is *extremely* lucky to reach 10k.. lol, heck, even 5k! but I was at about 32 'WIPs' for s/w when I deleted the entry. maybe half of those were just ideas, but the rest had at least *something* written.

..-winces- and still do. and lets not discuss that s/j then followed the same damned road. I think I envy you folks who can concentrate on one thing without getting constantly bombarded. uh, just realised.. that's kinda what sjs is.. a lot of bunnies, but they are all for the same tale, just different periods of it. anyway. sorry. got me rambling there :)
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