While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Rules

As I was making the above graph, I realised that it might be a leap year in 2008, meaning I would have a bonus day. The calendar confirmed this. Yes! I thought. Then I calculated the difference this would make to me on a daily basis, and it only lowered my daily word count target by 8 words. The moral of the story is that I'm going to have to chip away at this Everest everyday.

Anyway, here's the basic rules:

(*) Daily word count consists of words written for the purposes of fiction (prose or poetry) and selected non-fiction, in a format such that a word count can be electronically calculated (e.g. typed in Microsoft Word).

(*) Applicable non-fiction is anything written during a day using full sentences and involving original thought.

(*) Word count for revision is calculated as the difference between the word count of the piece before and after the revision session. The result will always be considered a positive addition to my overall word tally.

I’ve been writing a few short stories lately, and since I came up with this million words a year idea, I’ve been keeping an eye on how much fiction I write on a daily basis. On my good days, I crack the magical 2732 word count, but this is what I would have to write each and every day in 2008 to reach my one millionth word (probably at 11:59pm on New Years Eve, heaven forbid). This is why I’ve broadened the scope to capture non-fiction involving original thought. This way, I can write essays and reviews and long, confessional emails if I’m running low on words on a particular day. I believe this is just as useful as plugging away at fiction. A lot of my story ideas come from times when I've been forced to put life into words, not merely from life itself.

As for revision, it’s the real wrinkle in this scheme. An hour spent revising a story is often more useful that an hour spent writing a first draft, but the net effect in word count terms is minimal (sometimes negative) when revising. Going after the one million wildly for 12 months could result in a mass of unedited first drafts that are still a long way from publication. (Also, I doubt I could have enough ideas to fill 300-odd 3000 word stories in the one calendar year). I could have calculated an average words per hour rate achieved when writing fiction, then multiplied the hours spent revising on a given day by this average hourly word rate to get an relative word count… but this would not be real. At the end of the year, I would have to asterisk my word count with a breakdown of real words and imaginary ones. Whatever the flaws, I’ve chosen to take the net effect on word count as a revision session’s contribution to my tally, (but I’ll use the absolute value of the net effect to make sure I don’t get to precious about cutting the fat).

This all sounds very dry at this stage. Once January rolls around, I'm sure there'll be daily-word-count-boosting oddities to grace this page.

My final word for now: I know this is a gimmick. But if it makes me write everyday, regardless of mood or circumstances, it's the gimmick for me.

(By the way, the above was 561 words.)

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