January 2015 - Progress Report

Well, here we are at the end of the month, and the first stage of my attempt to write a million words this year. If anything, I’m actually ahead of schedule; I set myself a target of three thousand words a day, and I’m considerably over that at the moment, at 106,484 words written this month. At that rate, I’d have more than two months in hand at the end of the year, which would be a rather nice place to be! In any case, I now have confidence that what I’ve set out to do is actually achievable, which I wasn’t sure of at the start of the year.

In terms of what I have actually done, I’ve written one complete Alamo novel, ‘Ghost Ship’, and am almost halfway through the next, ‘Take and Hold’, at about 34,000 words; I think this is going to run to about 75,000, so I hope to have it completed in mid-February, though the plan remains to release it in end-March. As soon as ‘Take and Hold’ is finished, I’ll be starting work on ‘Traitor’s Duty’, with the goal of having that finished by the end of March as well. I seem to have been racing just to keep on schedule for the last year, and the idea of actually building up a bit of a buffer is extremely tempting.

At this point, it is probably a good idea to talk about word rates. Last year, I wrote more per day but took breaks in between books, and that proved to be a problem. I’d lose momentum, slow down, and ultimately it ended up costing me when it came time to start writing again at pace. The answer, I think, is to write at a steadier, more even pace. (My record is still somewhere just north of ten thousand words, but I did that for a specific reason.) I set out to write three thousand words on average, that average being taken for the month.

Note the average quantifier there. I’m not planning on writing three thousand words a day, every day; what I have basically decided to do is write a chapter a day of whatever I’m working on, and my chapter lengths average around three thousand words anyway. That means that sometimes I’ll be a little under, sometimes a little over. Sometimes a lot each way; in January my low point was 1,291 words, and my high point was 5,843; there were no days when I actually did no writing at all, and that’s the point of all this.

Writing - not in terms of story constriction or character design, just in terms of the physical act of entering words on a page - is a skill, just like any other. One of the most vital tools in an author’s inventory, if not the most vital. Like any skill, it takes practice, and such practice takes speed. I was fortunate enough - though perhaps it didn’t feel like it as much at the time - to spend my twenties working at a job where I had to write quickly and accurately for extended periods. There was no time to check what we did, no time for revisions except in special cases - it was simply a case of pound out the words and hope for the best - and yet, accuracy was critical.

Environments such as that are excellent training grounds, and that is exactly how I consider it now. I am - just - able to go at a hundred words a minute, though I don’t consistently write novels at anything like that speed, of course, but it is nice to have the ability to pound out a few paragraphs if the spirit is really with me. The point I’m trying - and taking forever - to make is that getting up to the fast writing speeds requires good typing skills. Not perfect, not amazing, but good and solid. Which means practice.

It also requires, frankly, getting your head down and doing it, distraction-free. My goal has been to get those three thousand words written before noon, to allow me to spend the rest of the day doing other things - commissioning art, editing, research, planning, et triple cetera. Sometimes I’ve managed it, sometimes I’ve failed, but it is still something to try for. If one is writing while working another job, it’s even more critical, but I would - looking back - recommend trying to make a little time each day, rather than binging during weekends or holidays, as I tried to do. Better to grab an hour, or even half an hour, a day. Make steady progress and you will be less likely to second-guess yourself. At least, that was how it was with me.

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