There was a time when I used to write several thousand words per day. In fact I subscribed to the idea that unless I wrote at least five thousand words a day, I wasn’t really writing, merely dawdling. Oh how wrong I was. These days I barely write two hundred words per day.
Simple – I spend the rest of the day and the one after, even the one after that, endlessly checking each word, often substituting a far better one. I lengthen or shorten sentences, move them around in the paragraph before me, until the end product flows.
I was watching the fifth in Steven Fry’s latest series “Fry’s Planet Word” on the subject of the written word last night. He was discussing James Joyce’s work with an aficionado in Dublin.
Imagine my total surprise when it came out that Joyce approached his then current work in progress in exactly the same way as myself. Some days he would write a chapter, some days a paragraph. But more often than not he would only write a sentence, spending hours poring over it to make sure that each word was the best possible choice to use, and that it was in just the right place within the sentence.
Now I’m not claiming by any means to be the 21st century version of people like James Joyce, or George Orwell, or even my literary fantasy hero J.R.R Tolkien, who all used this method. But when I learn from programmes like Steven Fry’s that I have unwittingly adopted and employed the same techniques of my literary hero’s, all of a sudden I don’t feel alone anymore. More to the point I no longer think, or believe, that my daily word count is the be all and end all.
My current work in progress is a fantasy anthology of thirty sequential short stories set in a mythical land about the lives and adventures of five wood goblins. While the concept is a simple one, my characters are anything but simple, with one exception who is a simpleminded soul. They engage with all of the other beings living within their mythical land of Goblindom in their daily struggle for life.
I finally finished writing the twenty-sixth tale two days ago. Instead of what had become the norm (four days) to complete each tale, this one took nearly two weeks. I agonised over each word, each sentence, and each paragraph until I was happy.
The acid test of all that agonising will be when my editor gets his hands on the manuscript and whips out his red pen…