The other day, I started my new novel, The Book of Harrow. Actually, that statement is misleading. I've been taking notes, plotting, and doing research for some time. What I did, before the start of the holiday weekend, was compose the first words that stand a chance of getting read.
And there were only one hundred and sixty-five words when I was done.
My fellow writers may scoff when I say this. "On hundred and sixty-five words? That's nothing. That's not a full-day's work." While they may be right in terms of time spent, I'll wager that's not what they mean when they say it. You see, most modern writers are on the quota system. Not because that's a good system, but because it's the orthodoxy in vogue.
For god knows how long, writer's have measured their productivity in word counts. I'm here to tell you that's a bullshit method, and I don't want to follow it anymore. It's the wrong metric, and I realized that one day while talking to a drummer.
Most writing software gives you an onscreen word count. Some writing software allows you to publish the figure to social media. A couple of years ago, I was working a day job. A coworker and myself were both writing books in the evening. Both of us used Scrivener's social media tools to publicly showcase our progress. This was baffling to a mutual friend of our's--the drummer in question.
Finally, Mr. Drummer approached me and asked what the deal was with all the word counts appearing in his feed. I explained that writers look at writing a long work like a marathon run. Each day, we're ticking off our progress toward the finish line. It was then that Mr. Drummer became sarcastic. "So," he said. "When I'm playing a solo, I should count how many times my sticks hit the drum heads?"
Score one for Mr. Drummer.
Word counts are a soulless number. For instance, do the thousand words I wrote today contribute meaningfully to the ten thousand I've already written? Or are they just argle blargle I wrote because I felt I had to? In short, who cares how many words I've written today?
Especially if they're bad words.
Now I work in a goal-based way. The one hundred and sixty-five words I wrote the other day barely made a dent in the whole, yet I was satisfied with the outcome. Those words were the ending of the novel and, with them, I established who the main character was and what the tone of the book will be. You could argue that I should've chosen another goal and accomplished that one too in the interest of progress, and you'd be right. But I had a limited time window that day. I was happy with how things went down because I felt the words I wrote were valuable ones.
Believe me: I've written first drafts on the quota system and couldn't make heads or tails of them when I was done. They were empty because of the Obligation Mechanic I'd adopted from the larger writing culture.
Now I wanna try the Meaning Mechanic. (Trademark. Patent Pending.)