Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Thoughts on writing a million words in a year Required 1000000, Achieved 1008274

A year ago I set out to write a million words in a year, a number that I didn’t really understand when I started out with it.  It doesn’t seem real when you look at it in its entirety, so you have to break it down sizes that you do understand.  A million words works out to 2740 words a day,19180 words a week, and depending on what month you’re in, between 76720 and 84940 words a month, and when you look at it like that, you can get some idea of what it is that you’re setting yourself up for...

The first thing to note is that there are no breaks, you have to write every day, and whatever wordcount you miss on a bad day, you have to make up the next day, no exceptions, no excuses, if you get a bad week, you’re 20k in the hole, two bad weeks and you’re in a hole that you’re not likely to get out of.

Originally I’d had the thought that doing a million words in a year might inspire others to write, and that was the idea behind things when I started, In October 2013 I went to the launch of a group called Writing Yorkshire, with the idea that to get people writing, I would commit to such a task and have my progress monitored as I continued.  The idea was that for every word I wrote, someone somewhere in Yorkshire writes one, and that in turn may get another million words out of Yorkshire on the whole.  As it turned out, Writing Yorkshire are in it very much for themselves and don’t have much interest in actually taking people’s help when it comes to trying to get people to write, instead being more concerned about where they’re going to find the funding to keep paying themselves rather than doing what they were supposed to be...

That said, this is not much different to many things, but I found it quite upsetting that people offering to help get others writing were rebuffed, and so my priorities changed, with the goal becoming just to see if I could do it for myself...

And in that lies the first lesson, don’t do something like this for anyone but yourself, and there’s several reasons for this, the most important of which is that unless you’re under camera surveillance, you’ll never prove to anyone but yourself that the words you did that year all came from that year.  The only person who will ever know with certainty that you did a million words in a year is yourself, and while I know I have, there’ll be thousands of people out there going “Yeah, sure...” and to them I have nothing to say, I know I did it and I know that I can, and that’s where the win has been for me.  A test was set and I passed, only I know that I passed, but I know...

The second lesson I learned was that counting the words every day doesn’t work...

That may seem like a bit of a misnomer, after all, how could you count that number of words every day, but originally I wrote them down in a book every time I finished a piece and kept a word count going from that. 

That lasted about a month...

After a month I was adding up fifty things a day and trying to keep track of things that I was doing all over the place and something else needed to be done.  A spreadsheet seemed to be the best way forwards for this, as it also let me keep track of how many words I needed to have done by a certain time, and how many I was in front (or as the case may have been, behind).

At the beginning of the challenge, the idea was to write a million words of new stories, and while I managed to keep that up for the first two months (had two fully developed stories in my head when I started), when those stories started to reach their end, I learned a few hard lessons in story writing.

First: Never let people read a novel as you’re writing it, the reason for this is simple, if you have a moment when you look at the story and think that you could have set up a perfectly good primer some thirty pages ago, you can’t do it when you’ve already let everyone read that story and they know that what you’re talking about didn’t happen thirty pages ago.  More importantly, if you find that you don’t like where you’re going, you can change something and put it back on track, can’t do that if they’ve already read it.

Second: Writing stories for a whole year and trying to remain on target is not one bit easy...  At the end of the year, I’ve managed 656371 words on stories, and that’s more than a hundred stories in total, with 433605 words taken up in the five largest stories, The Shift (147404), World War Wolf (128550), In Iron Clad (67310), Oceans of Stars (41554 not complete) and Regiment B (48787 not complete) and the other short stories were all random thoughts that developed into something else.

So, figuring that I couldn’t manage a million words of stories, I started doing Reviews of games, Opinion pieces on things that I found interesting, work on games that I was writing for, and then all the words that I’d written by hand, keeping four different books in which I was writing ideas, stories, games and everything else, for which I had to add the words together on each page and keep a running total in each book at the top of the page.  Then (for which I will be immensely grateful) Dave Chapman came up with the idea of talking about games on a number of subjects over the course of August, something that I repeated in December for boardgames.  When I added all those up, the totals worked out like this.

Stories: 656371
Games and reviews: 102514
Handwritten words: 104781
Opinion pieces and articles: 144608

Total words written: 1008274

If you’re planning on writing with the idea of building an online profile and getting people interested, the good thing about most of the blog sites out there is that they keep a track of what people read, and you can get a good feel for the sort of thing that people like to read about.  If you’re looking to build an online profile, there’s a number of very easy ways to do it. 

The key to getting interest is consistency, post all the time and on subjects that inspire you, not on what you think will get page views.  It’s easy to court controversy (some people do it all the time), but it’s better to build a profile based on what you believe to be right.  People will visit the page in the thousands if you throw something controversial out there (the most read post on the blog is a piece I did based around the differences between the Pathfinder and D&D starter sets), but while I hadn’t intended that as something that would cause problems, it turns out it did, mostly because the faithful on both sides started a war over it.  Got a lot of comments on the blog over that, most of them in the “Damn you, you’re wrong, how dare you say this?” category, but it was more interesting to find out how many people never bothered to reply if you countered their initial angry post with reason and facts.  Most people started a war over it in places I didn’t read (and am only now starting to become aware of because I was too busy writing other things), and to this day (six months later) people are still reading that article.

Perhaps I was just hoping for reasoned discussion, either way I figured it was better to stay out of certain topics as they took up too much time replying to all the things said.  I may change that now that I don’t have to keep up a certain wordcount, because I do enjoy discussion with people, I just haven’t had time to catch up with everyone.

The other thing when doing a million words is to have a reasonably free schedule before you commit to it.  I organise a number of games conventions through the year, and they take up a lot more time than I tell people, particularly when some of them aren’t smaller, one day conventions, but really large multi day jobs.

The most important thing about the challenge though, was that you can’t let unexpected things stop you, I got a new car in January and had it written off by a drunk four months later (one week before the biggest convention I organise), and between the sorting of the insurance and the getting a new car, I was nearly 20,000 words behind at one point, but then I had a bout of bad health in September, the first in my life that’s actually put me down, but because I couldn’t do anything but sit/lay down, I managed to make the words back.  I believe, in all honesty, that If I’d not had those two weeks where I couldn’t do anything but write, I wouldn’t have made it (in fact, looking at the wordcount, I know I wouldn’t have made it), but taking on so many conventions and projects, as well as trying to do a million words, was a foolhardy move, and I know that now, so next time (Ha), I’ll know where I’m aiming and pitch accordingly.

Would I do this again?

Tough one, it’s been great in many ways, the need, not just the desire to write has been fantastic, knowing that you have to write, no matter what else you do, some part of your day has to be dedicated to writing, that has been fantastic, and I will miss that.  It’s also destroyed my procrastination instincts, because every day has been a “Get writing or you fail” day

So here I am, finally winding down from the year, and I feel empty now, as if I had a grand purpose and now it’s no longer there, so I need to find another thing to do, perhaps half as many words this year...