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It’s about time I started getting the words in: My 250,000 word challenge

April 24, 2011

At the beginning of this year I told myself that by December 31, 2011 I will have finished the first draft of the novel that I’ve been working on for the past few years. This wasn’t the first time I’ve said I was going to do that. I’ve been telling myself that I have to finish my novel every year since I started writing it. Yet somehow it never gets finished. It sits there is a state of perpetual unfinished-ness; getting looked at and pondered over now and again, and never really moving forward from the place in which I left it close to 5 years ago.

This state of affairs is, of course, troubling to me. I’m obviously someone who wants to be a writer, so why haven’t I really written anything? Frankly, I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure. But as close a reason as I can think of is this – it turns out that I don’t really like to write things, I like to have written things. I enjoy going back and looking at something I’ve finished, especially something that gets praise from others as having been done well. It’s a really wonderful feeling when people, some of whom are complete strangers, tell you you’ve done a really good job. The problem this creates for me though is that they can only tell me this after they’ve read it; and not, of course, while it’s being written.

There is no way around this fact. One cannot garner praise for a piece of writing while in the process of writing it. There will never be anyone peering over my shoulder saying things like, “Oh, good sentence structure there. Awesome job at putting in that comma to denote a break in the thought. Sweet capitalization, bro!” It just doesn’t happen that way; and this limits my ability to be satisfied with the “craft” of writing in and of itself.

There are certainly plenty of writers who get satisfaction in writing for writing’s sake. It’s just that I’m not one of them. Let’s face it – writing, especially writing well, is often painstaking and can sometimes even be tedious. It’s hard work; and, truth be told, I don’t like hard work all that much. So what am I to do? Until now, the answer has pretty much always been nothing. That’s easy to see. I have begun a novel that I haven’t finished. I’ve had plenty of time to finish it over the years, I just haven’t. I’ve always found an excuse not to write while at the same time telling myself how good I think my novel could be were I to, you know, actually write it.

If I’m ever to become a successful writer I have to write. I have to put words on paper (or screen?) and start doing the work that in the past I’ve always found a way to avoid. I know this, and I’ve known it for quite some time. However, what I haven’t known until now is how I can find a way to get the sense of accomplishment and recognition that motivates me without actually having someone standing there reading over my shoulder – which, even if it were possible, no person in their right mind would offer to do anyway.

A novel, or any long work (including this blog) can take months or even years before you can say it’s truly finished. Individual words, on the other hand, are done the instant you write them. By focusing on word counts and then comparing them to a goal I’ve set, I think can finally get the feeling of accomplishment I seek without necessarily worrying about dotting the final ‘i’ or crossing that final ‘t’ I’d need in order to say the entire work is done. Doing this, I’d only need to write the words to feel like I’ve gotten something accomplished. They can be any words – editing is where the real work is done anyway – so long as they are put down and recorded.

The only decision then is, how many words would I need to write to feel like I’ve done something? I won’t bore you with all the numbers that I’ve crunched, but in the end it I think it will work out to about 1,000 words a day. That’s pretty aggressive, but I really feel like that’s what I need to do. So starting right now, I’ll need to average 7,000 words per week until the end of the year – that works out to 252,000 words over the next 36 weeks.

For the sake of a nice round number, I’ll say this: my goal is to write 250,000 words by December 31, 2011. Everything I write will count towards that number. Posts on this blog, posts over at Mad Mike’s America, my novel, and any other projects or short stories I should choose to work on over the course of the next 8 months – all will count toward the goal. Most of the word I write will of the first draft variety (I don’t do a lot of editing for this blog anyway), but all will help me to get where I want to go.

So there it is, the 250,000 word challenge. I’m going to finish my novel, I’m going to post more often to this blog (even if they’re just short ones), I’ll still be writing for Mad Mike’s America, and I have a few other ideas as well. I’ll be tracking it and keeping a running count, and we’ll see what happens. So wish me luck, everyone – unless, of course, you’d rather just come over and read over my shoulder for me…

Oh and by the way, I’m off to a good start. I’ve written 1,165 words today. I’m ahead already.

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