Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, I posted on Twitter that I was going to write every day for a year and post my word counts under the #yearofwriting to keep myself honest. Today, I finished the year of writing with 2005 words, working on the opening chapters of a book that I’m doing just for me. It has been a long year, and in terms of word count, it has been fruitful. I have written over a million words, most of which take the shape of six novels, two novellas, and a couple of short stories. I have written for young adults, middle grades, and adults. I have written science fiction, horror, contemporary, and straight out silly. I have created new worlds and new characters and familiar places. Along the way, I learned a few things about my writing and myself.
First, I learned that the act of writing is a joy in itself. There were days when my word count barely reached a hundred, and there were days where I wrote more than ten thousand words. The huge word count days were the combination of time, opportunity, and knowing exactly what the plot was. The days with low word counts were a combination of no time, little opportunities and technical glitches, and not really knowing where the story was going but just letting my imagination unfold.
Second, I became more firmly convinced that the drafting process and the revision process are two completely different things. While putting words on the page is often fun, the real work of writing comes during revision. During my year of writing, I only counted the new words on the page, not revisions (and not blog posts like this one). I have been working on one particular novel for a year and a half, and this year I wrote thirty thousand new words for it. I also revised the other seventy thousand words, and I did not count those revisions in my word counts., Even though I certainly wrote a lot of new words during revision. For me, revision is a different skill and a different process. In some ways it is easier, because you are working with the words on the page, not with the ideas forming in your head. In other ways, it is very difficult because you’re holding the entirety of the novel or story in your head as you work and you are focused toward the goal of finishing perfecting the story
Third, there is nothing like creating over a million words to realize that you have certain patterns in your work. There are catchphrases that you develop. You like to format dialog in a certain way. Your characters tend to follow the same personality traits. For me, it is the traits that I admire that I write about the most. For writers, though, patterns can be lethal. It is easy to fall into the trap of writing the first thing that comes to your mind, especially when you use dictation software like I do. When I realized that I am becoming repetitive, I remind myself that all of my patterns will need to be looking during revision. It is a form of procrastination, I know, but I think it aids the flow of words to the page. Trying to revise the sentence as soon as you have written it is the best way to get bogged down in a first draft.
Fourth, the mental activity of writing takes a physical toll on the writer. When I began the year of writing, I was still typing on the keyboard. I soon discovered that I have the beginnings of arthritis, and my knuckles swelled to more I typed. It quickly became too painful to use the keyboard. So I switched over to dictation software, which has been both a blessing and a curse. Like most things, when the software works correctly, it is amazing. When it fails–and it fails very often–it is extremely frustrating. Also, because writing is a sedentary act, even with the treadmill desk, all of that being still takes a toll on your body and your health. I am sure that my doctor would like me to make next year the year of getting off my butt and eating better.
Fifth, the one surprise that I took out of this process was the number of people who followed my word counts. I was surprised at a recent conference when several people who had never liked or retweeted my tweets came up and told me how much my work had inspired them to write, too. These were not other authors, but teachers and librarians who had been wanting to find time to write themselves.
Finally, I realize that I truly hate counting. The real burden of this process was not doing the writing, and keeping track of all the word counts and then compiling them into a spreadsheet and updating with monthly word counts. Over time, it became a huge burden, and once I reached a million words, I stopped writing counting. I still put up my word counts, although I got pretty slack at doing that every day toward the end because of the holidays and a full-time job I work. I suppose I could go back and pull up all of my tweets and hashtags and find out exactly how many words I read this year, but I really don’t care. In the end, all that mattered was I wrote every day for year (the couple of missed days, I have to admit) and now I have enough work to keep me in revision mode for many, many months.
Thank you for everyone who followed me on this journey. Now it’s my time to follow you on yours. So start writing, and I’ll be following along.