Unlikely writing techniques 8: move the goalposts

For most of this year, all the time I’ve been working on the thing that’s currently entitled Wheels, I’ve had a target wordcount in my head. Eight thousand words over the course of the two weeks of each month that I spend writing. Aim for a thousand words each commuting day, not usually hitting that, but making up the difference when I type it up.

August was different. I knew that from the beginning of the month, but couldn’t quite work out why. After a while I remembered (read: was forcibly reminded) that seasonal depression always kicks in for me in August; also, I’d be spending a lot of my evenings watching the Olympics. I was glad that I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to worry too much about the wordcount. Instead, I was going to concentrate on getting my head around one of my characters, one I didn’t feel I quite knew yet. And I’m getting to know her. Slowly. A little bit faster than my narrator is.

As it happens, I ended up not too far short of that eight thousand, but that’s not the point. I needed very badly to give myself a break, and moving the goalposts helped.

To a certain extent, this is a thing that happens automatically: it’s all very well aiming to write two thousand words a day, or whatever it is (personally, I go for a thousand, and rarely make it), but after a while you have a novel’s length, or even more, and you have to start cutting things instead. You’re forced to redefine ‘a good writing day’.

But sometimes, even if you’re still on the first draft and have just got bogged down at the 25K mark, it can help to say, ‘Well, this month I am not going to worry about wordcount at all, but I am going to try to nail the scene where the main character comes to a major realisation about herself, because I have been scared of getting this wrong so I have been putting it off.’ Or, ‘I’m not particularly bothered about whether I finish chapter three this week, but I do want to get a handle on Bob’s character.’

Often, that kind of little shift can give me enough space to unstick whatever’s got stuck. Occasionally I am tempted to beat myself up about not being able to keep up my ideal rate. But this is my pitch and my game, and I put the goalposts wherever I damn well please.

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