I, by no means, consider myself an experienced author. I’m on the cusp of learning the trade, and I look around to my more experienced colleagues to see what they do, but ultimately writing is a very personal choice. When you do it, how you do it, how much of it you do it… It’s like one of those sex quizzes where we all want to peep into someone else’s bedroom and compare our own experiences. But at the end of the day, whether you’re doing it doggie style or missionary, it’s what’s working for you that’s important. As long as you’re doing it.
I am writing. Not every day. But most days. And the following is how I approach my writing, which is not how everyone does it, but for those who are similar to me, I hope to reassure you that you’re not “doing it wrong.”
However, I’m also in a situation that my fellow authors may not be in, so take this into account when you think of your own writing career. And it all comes down to a dirty word in the trade: income. Shh! We don’t talk about that. Rest assured, I’m not going to mention levels, just an example that you can adapt to your own situation.
My personal situation is that I don’t have to earn money from my writing. My husband supports the family with his employment, and if I spent 12 months not earning a cent from my writing, we would need to tighten our belts, but it would be okay. However, if I’m not earning any money at all, then I wouldn’t be writing – it’s as simple as that. If I couldn’t earn a certain level of income, then the writing tap would be turned off, and I’d be out of the house with my CV, looking for a job. Because in my family, although I don’t need to earn money, we like our nice things like steak, internet connection and once a year heading “douth” for the holidays. (West Australian translation: douth = down south. No need to put those extra syllables in.) My writerly income provides us with our money to relax about our budget.
Any author will know that writing is not a steady income. It fluctuates wildly depending on whether you’ve recently released a book, and 95% of the effort and cost of releasing a book comes before that time. If I didn’t earn a cent for 12 months we’d be okay… as long as I knew that my effort was going to be rewarded one day in the countable future.
My last book release was August 2015. Ouch. That’s a long time ago in a reader’s mind. It will soon be eight months. My next release is May and so it will be a gap of nine months between releases. But what have I been doing in that time? Well, actually, I’ve written three full novels and added to many other projects. I expect the next nine months of my writing career to be very busy with these releases. From a financial point of view, my income will dip for a while, and then rise again. I know that. I’m prepared for that. Financially I’ve saved my income from the months where I’m flush in preparation for the months that will be down.
So what does this have to do with word counts?
I treat my word counts like I treat my income – I keep my eye on the bigger picture, rather than the microscopic one.
Most career authors I’ve spoken to keep a track of their word counts. I do too, to give myself goals and to prove to myself I’m doing something worthwhile. My word counts vary from day-to-day depending on the other things happening in my life and editing, so I always average my word count over a month. I estimate each book requires the same amount of time on the first draft as it does on the editing and tidying up, so my monthly word count goal will also take into account those days where no new writing occurs.
I then compare my monthly word count to the supposed income I can get from a book. I have a look at my published work, and I then evaluate it to estimate the projected income using an average across my published works. This is a very, very rough idea, but it’s relevant. Stick with me.
Let’s just say I think that a 60,000 word novel of mine will earn me an income of $6,000 over the first two years of its life. (I picked that figure so the maths is easy – you need to pick you own figure based on length and sales of your books). Therefore, I could possibly say that every 1,000 words in the book is equivalent to $100. (See – easy maths, this is why I picked the figure.) So where does this get you? It gets you to the point, that if your monthly word count is 30,000 words, you could say that you’ve written $3,000 worth of books.
So what is the point of this blog? The point I wish to make has to do with working across multiple projects. Every writer is different, but for me, I have in excess of 20 manuscripts in varying degrees of completeness. It may seem a waste, but it’s how my mind works. It’s true that I would earn an income from those words faster if I complete them one at a time, rather than have five on the go, but you can’t force an artist to creativity. For me, I often reach a point in a story and get stuck, so simply switch to writing a new manuscript until my creativity centre works out a solution to my stuck story.
At the end of the day, I am progressing all of these projects and working toward the finished product that will give me my $6,000. And because I don’t rely on the income to pay every bill, I have the ability to delay that income for a while, but still know it is coming. If I was a writer who could work steadily on a single project, I could write and release (for example) a book every three months – four per year. But for a writer who can’t focus on a single project at a time, writing four books at the same time, finishing them as the creative juices allow, then releasing them August, September, November and December in a 12 month period, will end up with approximately the same income.
Of course, this only works if you CAN finish the manuscript. Remember that a crappy first draft can be edited and improved to the point where it can be published. An unfinished story is nothing.
So my opinion on word counts has to do with writing relevant words. As long as you’re progressing a project forward that you will finish one day, then it’s not a waste if you put those words down.
We’re at the end of March now, and this month I’ve worked across three projects. In the first half of the month I picked up a project that had 27,000 words on the count, and progressed it by another 25,000 words. I’m looking at an end count of hopefully around 65k-70k words, so I’m 75% done with this book. Then I got stuck. I’m not sure if my character is acting true to their personality and so I stopped writing and for two days I worked on a novella that now has a word count of 11,000. Then I hit a wall with that one – and I’m waiting for someone to get back to me on some research, so picked up another project and I’ve now added 6000 words to that one and I’m going strong. My kids have been off school for 5 days for the Easter break, so I haven’t been able to write a lot, but I have a huge rush of energy behind me on this third project, and I can already see the next three chapters in my mind. If I’m lucky, I’ll end up with 40,000 words for my monthly word count.
That’s two-thirds of a novel, but not all on a single novel.
So, for all the authors out there who also work on multiple projects at the same time, I’m firmly in your camp. Here’s hoping you get those word counts on your projects and get them finished soon. Don’t stress that you didn’t finish that novel this month. Look at the bigger picture. As long as your word count is progressing those projects, and you know that you will finish, then go with your creativity. Think of it as value adding. You’ve added value to your projects this month. Use your calculator and prove it to yourself with my example above.