I’m almost exactly in the middle of my current WIP, and I know my subconscious has figured out the ending by the change in my daily word count. There are lots of signs that a manuscript is going well, but my changing daily tally seems to be one of the most reliable.
Like most other writers, I set myself a daily goal, usually fifteen hundred words. If I don’t meet this figure, I feel like I’ve been slacking off. But this is a guide, not a requirement. On some days my word count is as low as five hundred, and on other days the number can run up to six thousand.
Any figure over two thousand makes me uncomfortable because I question how good the scenes can be if I’m pushing out such a high word count. I once listened to a writer talk about his daily goal of fourteen thousand words. I wasn’t the only one in the audience who gasped. Was he really this good? Was he really that brave? He went on to explain that he felt he had to get the outlines of the story on paper. He had to see the skeleton lying on the sidewalk, in order to feel he had some control over the plot line. After he got through his first draft, which took him barely a week or two, he went back and worked through each sentence. His process sounded a lot like automatic writing. He just let the words pour out without any thought as to how good they were or whether they made any sense. This is a writer who truly had learned to shut off his inner critic.
I would never attempt to write at such a rate. But when I write only five hundred words in a day I look for a reason. There are several. First, I begin my work for the day by going back over what I’ve written the day before. I’m likely to cut lines, perhaps even an entire scene, or rewrite a crucial passage that I pondered all night. If I cut eight hundred words and add in nine hundred, my net gain is only about a hundred words. And then I write five hundred more. I guess I can say that I’ve met my quota for the day. A second reason is that I come to a passage that requires more research, so I stop to work on that. This may take all morning, leaving me less time to meet my quota, but it may also give me material that will ensure I don’t have to rewrite the passage later. A third reason is that I’m stuck. I don’t know what’s happening in the story and I have to stop and think it through. Frustrating but necessary.
In Come About forMurder, I spent a lot of time reworking the final scenes on the water. On those days my word counts were pretty low, but in the end I was satisfied. I did a lot of rewriting of the short story “Variable Winds,” in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (October 2016), to make sure the technical information was correct and clear in very limited space. Some things just take more time.
I keep a running list of my daily word count, as well as what has happened in each scene, and both tell me if I’m on track. There are times when the daily tally doesn’t matter, but in general this is one simple guide that lets me know if I’m on track, or need to rethink the direction of my WIP.
For this and other work in the Mellingham series and the Anita Ray series, go here.