Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Pound Foolish, Penny Wise or Counting Words Doesn't Work For Me

I, like most of the nation and likely, the world, have been watching the debt negotiations on Capital Hill.  One side wants to cut defense and one side wants to cut aide to the needy.  They won't compromise and meet each other in the middle and so in one day many people who depend on government assistance won't get it.  I'm one of them.  I'm receiving unemployment for the first time in my life and I'm not too proud to say that my family would be in a world of hurt without it.  The people in power spend all day long haggling over their various points and at the end of the day, they are nowhere.  You might be wondering what this has to do with writing, but I think it is a current and timely illustration of how wrapped up a writer can get in the machination of writing and lose the soul of it.  Let me explain.

So many writers get overly focused in how many words they write in a day or a sitting.  I'm guilty of that myself.  I tweeted last night about writing 2600+ words yesterday.  The difference is this morning, I didn't delete any of them.  Every word counted.  Every word was meaningful and had punch and moved the story forward.  I don't think this is always the case with a writer overly focused on the quantity of the product and not the quality.  I am just as happy if I produce 500 words, but those 500 words do the same thing, ie: are meaningful, have punch, and move the story forward.

Early in my writing life, I would write prolifically and then read it back over at a later time and realize it was  verbal throw-up.  Just too words regurgitated on paper.  It was back story, unnecessary and didn't move the story anywhere.  It stagnated it.  I would end up pounding the delete key.  And think that the time spent writing those words wasn't time well spent.  That part would be wrong.  Maybe I wasn't going to be using those words, but I was learning a valuable lesson nonetheless.  I was teaching myself word economy.  I was learning to be penny wise.  I was learning how to tighten my story and edit myself.  And that is one of the most priceless things a writer can learn.

I'm happy I learned that early.  Tightening my story and editing myself has allowed me to write short stories as well as novels.  I still need editors, desperately.  But, I am so much better than before.  And when I edit, I can see where I went sloppy in some places far more easily than if I never had those early times when I had to delete lines, paragraphs, and more times than I can count, whole chapters.  I strive to never be a pound foolish, unlike my government.  But, I still count words!  I like the way it looks.  Some habits are hard to break.

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