Scalzi tweeted the other day that he’d typed 700 (or so) words at the beginning of a chapter, just to work out where the chapter began – words that were needing to ground him in the scene, or the characters, or in where he needed the story to go.
I do this all the time, and it drives me nuts. There have been days where my wordcount has been in negative figures because I’m wrestling with something (and losing). And I wondered how many of us do this.
Beginning Artifice was hard; one of its two PoV characters would <not> let me into his head, and I binned SO MUCH fucking work trying to understand his thought patterns. (The other one was easy – no-one said this was an exact science). Plus, the setting was new, and there’s always the Chapter of Doom, the one bit of the book that persistently pisses off in a direction you’re not expecting and you have to fight it into submission to make it do what it’s told…
So, yeah – does that make ‘wordcount’ bullshit? Are you allowed to count the words that don’t make it? We can write 500 words a day, 5,000 words a day – but what about the stuff that winds up on the cutting room floor? Is ‘wordcount’ how many words you write, or how many words you keep?
(Come on, how many of us can actually turn them out more-or-less perfectly in one electric-and-highly-caffeinated stream of consciousness?)
Everything you write is worth it. If you have to piss away 1,000 words getting your chapter, or setting, or PoV character right, then that’s what it takes. And it may be frustrating as fuck, and you may beat your head against the keyboard when you feel like you’re not actually getting anywhere, but it all counts towards the finished product. (I swear, I’m thinking of putting a blooper reel at the end). Research often gets compared to the iceberg – most of the work you do is below the surface – and this is exactly the same. It may not show above the waterline, but the work you’ve put in matters. When a character is right – you’ll know, and so will your readers.
Plus – added bonus points! – you get that AMAZING feeling of writer-high when it finally clicks and you suddenly type like you’re on speed, going ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ and making your neighbours wonder what the fuck you’re up to.
And moments like that make it all worth it!