I wanted to post again about software and writing. I probably won't say anything new.Word: How Design can Screw You
. I had an inkling that this might be true, but now that I've completed a draft of something completely outside of Word, I feel I can speak with a bit more certainty. Word is a problem. Well, a problem if you're anything like me, that is. Word looks too finished. It looks like you're working inside a layout program rather than a writing program. It's very cool that you can see exactly what it would look like if you printed it out, but that's the problem right there; it looks like the finished piece. You could even format it to look like it's completed and in paperback format. That's neat at first, but it only underscores a sense of doneness
that doesn't serve you well. Word is designed to look like the final draft.
Unless you are actually working with your final draft, I don't think word is terribly helpful.Word Counts are Evil. mrissa
said it just yesterday
It's very easy to say, "Oh, I wrote 5K today, I am awesome, I am a book-writin' machine!" or, "500 words, that's a start." But then when you start revising, if you've gotten too addicted to statistics, you grasp at something else: notecards destroyed? Chapters revised -- but what if you have different things to be done to a chapter that ought to be done at different times? Pages gone through -- but again, one page may have a tiny red mark indicating that you mistyped "heart" for "hearth" while another says, "Fix this conversation so it makes sense." So I don't know. I think the best thing is to cultivate a sense of how much you've accomplished, calibrated internally somehow.
I agree with her. And to add to what she's saying; if you get addicted to your word count, what do you do when scenes just don't work? Cutting them out is the right thing to do oftentimes, but that might drop your word count by 2000 words, making you feel like you just failed yourself. And you can write thousands of the wrong
words, or 200 of the right ones, and the latter would be the best goal. If cutting the scene, or drastically shortening it, makes the story work better, that should be the feelgood moment, not the current word count.
And this is why Word is once again an evil program. Because it keeps track of your word count so easily, and displays it where you can always just glance down and see it. I say this as a former stats addict; it's not helpful. It's the wrong kind of pressure. It's not actually measuring how far you've come; just how far you ran. Sure, you want to get the draft done, but likely not just any which way. You want to do it thoughtfully, not mindlessly. If at the end of the day you end up with your 100K words, but you just plowed ahead to get there, spending all your time on stage
writing the action and not backstage
working out the best direction to head in, are you likely to end up with something you can actually work with? (Unless you're matociquala
, in which case you're so many miles over my head that my beginner proclaimations must be merely quaint and amusing.)
I agree with mrissa
that we need to work out a better sense of useful metrics rather than mere numbers. This is like the "getting slimmer" game; you can fixate on the numbers, but if you're doing weights and running and trying to get healthier
as well as slimmer, the numbers aren't going to look the way you want them to. So you need to judge it in another way. Do you look the way you want to? Do you feel the way you want to? The numbers on the scale aren't measuring what you think they're measuring. So what do you do next?
I have no actual answers to these things, but I can tell you my experience writing on a wiki. This is a really weird thing to do, and I'll be the first to say that. Wikis don't have the features you expect/want from a word processor, after all; no spell check, no word count, not even a hard and fast printable file, really. No easy font or style changes. No button to push to centre your text. I have to use mark up to add italics, even.
I had two things going for me in this project; one, it's not a manuscript project, it's a script
project, and two, I'm not working alone. Since I knew in advance that I was not working on a project that I would be finishing, that every word I typed would really only be seen by one or two people and would never be seen in the finished work, there was a tremendous sense of pressure removed. It's not a writing project in the same way, not at all. It's only an ideas and plot project. I've never been able to separate those things out before, and trying to do so was, I think, a healthy experiment. It forced me to see the two distinct parts of the work involved; crafting sentences and paragraphs that are engaging and interesting on one hand, and building characters and a story on the other. Once again I would call these the one stage
and off stage
elements. Working on an entirely off stage project forced me to look hard at what's involved with one and what's involved with the other, and see what kinds of energy each needs. I sense now that I wore myself out trying to do both at the same time. I can walk and chew gum at the same time, but I'm a better singer if I don't try and dance as well. My collaborator is an excellent dancer, after all!
So of course word count didn't matter to me. Who knows how long a script is supposed to be? Who really cares? Given that I'm only describing what something might look like or what sorts of expressions characters might be wearing on their faces, the word count is meaningless. Working on a wiki didn't give me the option of seeing a word count in any case. So I just didn't think about it. I wrote until the scene was done, or until the chapter was done. I knew when a chapter was done by the feeling of it, or how that scene fit with the next one, not by its length. Though there were a few times where I felt that a chapter was too long and I whined about it, but in the end I didn't do much to change it. Because I didn't have a metric, and the feeling of chapterness
overtook the nebulous and unverifiable feeling of too-longness
. That made me realize that too-longness
too often gets the upper hand when you're working with something like Word that provides you the unarguable proof that you need to feel that a chapter is too long; without the metrics, you have two gut feelings that can duke it out, and hopefully the stronger one will win. There is, of course, such a thing as a ponderous chapter that goes on too long; but the fix isn't to alter the word count. The fix is in the construction of the scenes. I've seen people read 100K in an evening; the word count does not matter
to the reader. They're not going to sit there with a "words read" meter ticking; why should we write that way?
So all this is to say that I finished draft 1 of the graphic novel project, which is very exciting. For the first time it feels
like a draft too. And because I spent my energy in plotting and characters and not in fine tuning language and sentences, I still have tons of energy to talk about what to change, what does and doesn't work, who we need to see more of or hear more about, and what doesn't make sense.
Finally! I learned how to write a draft! I shall now celebrate with iced coffee and english muffins!