600k Year: A Conclusion, More or Less

Warning: word-count neepery associated with the 600k challenge follows. You can skip today’s post if that’s not your thing.

Right.

So yesterday, at Write Club, I did this

End Chapter Nine

Which means I’ve now written nine of the ten chapters I had planned for the novel I’m working on and there’s just one more to go. Probably about 65,000 to 72,000 words, depending on how accurate my words-per-page assumptions are, with another eight to ten thousand words left to chase down before I hit the end.

It…may not be done by GenreCon.

Which hurts to admit, since I was confident I’d get able to do so until about Monday, but we’re starting to hit the point where the conference stops having things that need to be done and starts to have minor disasters that will eat hours of your time as you fix them. Since I’m the only person whose disappointed if this book doesn’t get done in time, and there’s about 180 writers counting on me to get GenreCon right at present, it’s becomes one of those needs of the many situations.

SOME STATS ON MY FAILURES

Since my deadline for the 600k year dare coincides with the GenreCon banquet, I think it’s safe to say I’m not going to make it. I can accurately track 285,559 words that were done on computer between November 1, 2014, and August 17, 2015. After that we’re in the land of rough estimates, ’cause I switched over to the notebooks, I’ve filled 528 notebook pages – approximately 90,000 words.

Realistically, I’ve got maybe six to eight thousand words left in me before GenreCon makes writing pages at a time impossible.

That’ll leave me about 220,000 words off the 600k mark, but does actually put me about 120,000 words over what the inimitable Alan Baxter figured was sustainable in our discussions last year.

Which means, fair is fair, he gets to mock me when he sees me at GenreCon next week.

SOME STATS ON MY SUCCESSES (FOR CERTAIN DEFINITIONS OF SUCCESS)

On the other hand, this year’s given me an almost-finished novel draft, a completed novella draft,  two novelettes that are scheduled to be published, one paid work-for-hire gig, and about 30,000 words of finished short fiction drafts. The great curse of chasing the 600k year is that it doesn’t leave a lot of time to rewrite.

That’s the good news. The 600k challenge has also give me: 42 unfinished story drafts; five unfinished novella drafts; and five novel drafts that have between 8,000 and 37,000 words written but aren’t yet finished.

I’ve had a couple of conversations on Facebook about how the sleep apnea may have impacted on things – I’d say you’re looking at the answer right there. Almost everything that got finished in the last twelve months, with two exceptions, has been since I started CPAP back in May.

And, I should note, we’ve only started to get the CPAP therapy right (meaning: I sleep longer than five hours a night, on average) in the last three weeks. I may have failed hard at this challenge, but holy fuck, I am looking forward to seeing what I can do on the writing front in 2016. It won’t be anywhere near 600,000 words of writing, but I got a lot of things to start finishing and sending out.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

I may have failed, but I still disagree with Alan – 600k a year isn’t an unsustainable pace for a writer. The interesting thing about tracking my word count as closely as I have for the last twelve months is the patterns is shows up.

For instance, it will probably surprise no-one that my most productive days – literally three times higher than most others – are Write Club days I spend with either Angela Slatter or Meg Vann. These days are so damn productive that if you gave me an extra write club every week, I could probably sustain a 400k year pretty consistently.

What is surprising – and potentially counter-intuitive to the way people think about writing – is that weekends are a dead spot. While I’d occasionally get it together and bust out a big word count over the Saturday/Sunday stretch, it’s generally the day when the lack of routine destroys all the habits I’ve built up around getting some words down, and I’m more likely to flake out playing computer games or doing stuff. All my triggers for writing, it seems, are built into going to or getting home from work or write club.

I did figure out a way to hack this particular problem – I can trigger a good writing day over the weekends by leaving the house and getting a coffee at my local cafe, a new habit that freed me from my regular distractions and frequently let me get two pages down while I waited for my flat white. Those two pages made the rest of the day easier to focus on, but it quickly fell apart when I didn’t have the discretionary cash to devote to it.

The second thing my stats have taught me: do not load the CIVILIZATION computer game. Ever. In fact, uninstal it. It’s traditionally been the game I’ll play when I’m stressed or freaking out, and it’s not something I booted up often, but every time I started a game in the last twelve months it would correspond with a minimum of three days where I didn’t achieve a damn thing.

The third thing: getting the apnea treated slowed me down. The quality of the work is probably better, and my focus definitely is, but in terms of raw writing time it hurt me. Yes, the apnea meant I’d doze off at the keyboard, but I’d also wake up a few minutes later – and the only upside of apnea is that there’s no considerable difference between eight hours of sleep and five when it comes to how you feel the following day. I’ve had to be a lot more disciplined about guarding writing time now, since I can’t just slog through the night to make up for a few wasted hours.

NEXT YEAR

For a while, I toyed with the idea of doing the challenge again in 2016 and taking a crack at it while actually awake. In the end, I decided against it – the trick with writing is to take the jobs, challenges, and opportunities that best suit your needs at the time.

Part of the appeal of the 600k challenge twelve months ago was that it would force me to address the issues I was having with actually sitting down and writing regularly. It’s done it’s job, in that respect: my routines are in place, I’m getting stuff done. What I’m not doing is finishing stuff, or getting new work published, which becomes the next challenge. Word-count alone is actually a terrible thing to focus on as a writer, to the exclusion of all other things, once you get past a certain point.

Instead, I’m going to take two months off – so to speak – and set some very specific project goals for 2016, putting less focus on getting words on the page, and more focus on actually doing something useful with them.

  6 comments for “600k Year: A Conclusion, More or Less

  1. Charlotte Nash
    23/10/2015 at 10:18 AM

    Oh yes, Civ is a killer!!. Really enjoyed this analysis – tallies with my own observations. And well done on the spectacular word count anyways, even if it wasn't 600k 🙂

    • petermball
      23/10/2015 at 12:59 PM

      I\’ve been putting some serious thought into uninstalling it, but I can\’t quite bring myself to do it.

      • Charlotte Nash
        23/10/2015 at 1:02 PM

        Completely understand. It's still installed on the desktop here. I manage it by avoiding that computer. :/

        • petermball
          23/10/2015 at 1:09 PM

          I abandoned computers altogether, while writing. It didn\’t help.

          • Charlotte Nash
            23/10/2015 at 1:21 PM

            I discovered that the baby eats my hard copies. I left a short story ms in reaching distance yesterday and the first page has been destroyed. So far, the computer is at least safe from that.

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