Is Perfectionism the Black Knight? Or am I? Who is King Arthur?
On Friday, Jonathan D. Allen, Aniko Carmean, Hannah Loughin, and I embarked on a four-day writing marathon. We each set a goal for the weekend, which I discussed in my post Battling Perfectionism with #laboringaway. I can summarize the weekend with two statements:
1) Not a single one of us accomplished our respective word count goal.
2) The event was a resounding success.
Word count is a lousy way to measure progress. It tells you nothing about quality. It tells you less than you think about progress toward “The End.” Some people open their novels with a “walk to the plot” and will end up chopping the first ten pages of their rough draft. Others rush through the first draft, leaving notes and reminders in their wake, planning to fill in research, backstory, and descriptions during a more leisurely revision. Such people may cover the first third of their story arch in the first ten pages.
Case in point–Jonathan actually had two goals: 50,000 words and finish rough draft of new novel. Let me tell you something about Jonathan–his brain does not work like other people’s. I suspect his writing speed is limited only by his typing skills. He churned out roughly 45,000 words in four days. That’s nearly 200 pages, folks. Fifty pages a day. I don’t…I just…there are no words. Though this fell short of his 50,000-word goal (slacker), he did finish the draft of his novel, Imogene.
Aniko achieved something over 12,000 words. That’s over 48 pages. Though she fell a little short of her 15,000-word goal, she gave her next novel a great jumpstart. That was her real goal.
Hannah set a completely unrealistic goal (for everyone but Jonathan) of 50,000 words. What a great learning experience this was. I learned that Hannah’s brain should be donated to science (when she’s done using it) right alongside Jonathan’s. By the time I went to bed last night, she had written over 25,000 words (100 pages) and was still going. (Hannah is on Hawaii time, so she works from mid-afternoon until the hour when vampires are seeking out their coffins.)
And then there’s me. The one with the perfectionism problem. I set my word count goal ridiculously high (for me) at 25,000 words, or 100 pages. The idea was to force myself to write without looking back. The outcome was mixed, but I learned a lot. Here is a day-by-day accounting.
- Day 1: I learned that planning, preparation, and excitement does not automatically unlock the floodgates. (2,452 words, 10 pages)
- Day 2: I confirmed that family comes first. (1,377 words, 5.5 pages, and a hospital visit)
- Day 3: I learned that word count might be a lousy measure, but it is also a great motivator. Jonathan mentioned something about timed writing sessions in a tweet and I decided to try it. At first I could only manage 250 words in a twenty-minute session, but that grew to as much as 390 words. It turns out that my self-competitive urges are capable of overriding my perfectionism. I will remember this for the future. (3800 words, 15 pages)
[On Day 3, I also reconnected with my subconscious and interesting things began to happen. For me, this is perhaps the real benefit of #laboringaway.]
- Day 4: I learned that I really need to build up some stamina. But during a last spurt of energy, my subconscious went to work and I managed to write a completely unexpected scene that I’m pretty happy with. (3,157 words, 12.5 pages)
Did I defeat my perfectionism? Not completely. You can tell because my total word count (10,521, 42 pages) does not equal the sum of the daily word count.
I tweaked. Bad girl.
But I did discover some tools that will help me in the future. Which is good, because it turns out that fighting perfectionism is not just a one-shot battle. It is a war.
*Special thanks go to our Twitter supporters, especially Char Newcomb, who joined #laboringaway for a couple of days, achieving personal best word counts. Way to go Char!
FAntastic! That’s all I can say!
50K? Wowee! I’m more like you. Family comes first. How’s your daughter’s ankle?
Ankle is sprained, not broken. She’ll be hobbling for a while, but she’s in good spirits.
That’s a relief. Although sometimes a fracture heals better than a bad sprain.
Way to go, Marie! And Hannah…unbelievable! But she always amazes me! Cathy
Terrific counts all the way around. Congratulations to all.
Wow, I had a super long comment about the value of word count, but I got an error when I tried to submit it. Even thought about copying it before hitting submit, which I’ve found is usually a good idea. Oh well, maybe we’ve already talked about it. The general gist was that I use word count for two reasons. The first is to see when I’m in the “acceptable novel word count” range. The second is to track my progress as a writer. I use a daily tracker for my writing. I learned this from someone who said it helped her realize what times of day she is most productive. As a father of two kids, I don’t really get to choose when I write, but I have noticed that the more I consistently write, the higher my average hourly word count is. Granted, I have days when I’m writing a scene that really flows and my fingers are flying and I exceed that count, and days when the opposite is true (which makes me doubt the scene, of course. There’s that perfectionism), but overall, I’ve noticed a significant rise in output when I am consistently practicing the craft.
Anyway, glad to hear it was a good experience for you (and cool about Hannah. Didn’t know she was a writer as well). Keep going!
Yes, clearly word count has it’s uses, as long as it’s not the focus. A 200 word day can still be a good one if the passage is particularly difficult or important.
Congrats to all of you, that’s just fantastic! Those were some tough goals to face and I’m really impressed with the sheer volume of what you produced.
Thanks, David. I think you do pretty well yourself 🙂
Exciting and fun, Marie. I combat my own perfectionism by browsing in a book store–