Posted in Being a writer, My life!

Word count: The true measure of progress?

How exactly can you measure the progress you’ve made in your novel? Some authors choose to do so by seeing how far ahead in their plot they’ve gotten, some do so by writing out random scenes that go into the final draft at a later point, and others do so by word count.

Word count – that number of words by which your manuscript has increased. To be really honest, it’s a pretty good way of checking progress. If you’ve gone from 22000 words to 25000 words in one day, that’s really impressive. To make sure that you’re not whiling your time away and actually getting work done, you can set a word count deadline for every day or every week. And for the most part, it’s an accurate marker of progress made towards finishing your novel.

So what, then, is the problem?

From what I’ve noticed, mainly from my own work, is the dependency that authors tend to develop on meeting their daily word count as the only measure of progress. Sure, you can write 10000 words in one day, and you can walk away from your laptop feeling really accomplished. But what is the point if you’re going to come back to those very words the next day and erase half of them because they’re not really as great as you thought? And what about the other end of the spectrum? What if you manage to write only 1000 words because you were busy polishing the parts you’d written earlier, or you were occupied for half the day in research? Are you supposed to end the day feeling miserable because you didn’t meet the minimum word count that you’d set for the day?

I’m guilty of doing both those things. And after a few pretty lousy days where I couldn’t write the number of words I’d thought I would, I took a step back and decided to just assess my work. What I saw was that I may have written few words, but I’d written a pretty great scene, and that too one that I’d never attempted before.

Sure, that scene and those chapters will go through edits, but they’re still the mark of something new that I’d achieved. And that, in my opinion, was the true measure of progress.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that measuring your word count is a good way to keep yourself working on a schedule and even acts as a good measure to mark the progress of your work. But there are moments and days when you just have to toss the word count aspect of your work out the window and look at what you’ve accomplished other than a bunch of words. Maybe you’ve successfully written a short scene in spite of having writer’s block, maybe you’ve written your first ever romance/war scene, or maybe you’ve managed to iron out those wrinkles from your outline that had been bothering you forever. Whatever it may be, you’ve definitely achieved something. And that should be satisfaction enough to stop you from ending your work day on the feeling that you just didn’t do enough. I’ve had that feeling a lot of times – and all it succeeds in doing, is making my night restless and leaving me too tired to work the next day!

So don’t let bad seeming days get you down. As long as you have a novel or story in the making, you’re going to be working on it. You may do that on paper, on the laptop, through research, or even just in your head. But you will always be compelled to work on it and you will always make progress, even if you don’t realize it. Just look closely and you’ll discover what you achieved.

How do you mark your progress? And how much importance would you give to word count? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Posted in Being a writer, My life!

My characters do exactly what I want them to… yeah, right!

It’s a regular day for writing – you’ve already played the scene out in your head a thousand times; you even have the dialogues planned. Something very specific is going to happen – something that only you know, something that will take the story ahead, something that’ll make one of your characters dance to your tunes.

And then that character turns around, smirks at you in a manner that’s more amused than condescending, and then does whatever it wants anyway. Hours of thought turn useless, dialogues vaporize, and your story line hangs dangerously on the precipice. But one moment later, your fingers fly over the keyboard as you try and type as fast as the words come to your mind. That is what your characters, the ones that you breathed life into, can do to you.

How often has it happened to you that you’re writing something, anything, with almost every detail penned out in your thoughts. But your character says or does something that even you didn’t expect. Plus, he or she uses your fingers and effort to make the twist come alive. You find yourself typing furiously, not sure why you’ve deviated, but knowing with scary surety┬áthat this had been the right path to go on all along.

What you get then is a story that reached where you wanted it to, and that too, by making use of the more interesting route. I guess it all comes down to the fact that people are unpredictable. Sure, they won’t do anything too out of character, but that character itself is unpredictable because of its many layers. The characters you create are people too. They may be fictional, but in an author’s head, they’re very much alive. You talk about them like they’re your friends, like their trials are real, their grief, bothersome, and their achievements, something to be greatly appreciated. You feel their pain and pleasure, happiness and despair, loss and gain. You live many lives with them – and yet, you give them a free reign to live their lives wholly.

That is the very reason your readers can associate with them – because you associate with them. And when you’re treating them like real people, do they not have the right and probability to act as per their own wishes? All you can do is see where the flow takes you.

The debate of story drives characters vs. characters drive story is an old one. I’ve seen that most of the time, I choose what my characters do. But when they choose to drive the story instead, I let them take the wheel. Most times, the results are better than whatever I could have plotted! What about you? Do you control your characters at all times? Or do you let them be the people they are and see where they take your story?

– Rishika