Monday, May 27, 2013

So Many Words, So Little Time

Stephen King – one of my favorite writers of all time, at least until he abandoned the horror genre in favor of more literary and sci-fi fare – gave an interview to Parade magazine this weekend. He told the Sunday freebie that he wrote 1500 words a day. He didn’t say how long it took him to write those words, or whether that was every day or just weekdays minus holidays, but knowing King’s output, I’d imagine it’s every freaking day of the week.

King has worked hard and built a career to envy. He can write whatever he wants. He can live wherever he wants. He can play in a rock band with other writers. His kids are writers, too. He can write TV shows if he wants, or movies, or novellas, and his work gets gobbled up like those past-eating dinosaurs in The Langoliers.

He was also the victim of my one-and-only act of literary plagiarism, committed when I was 12. My mother had signed me up for a summer writing workshop, held in the living room of a local author, and had demanded that I write something to give to the woman. Not as prolific at writing on demand as I am now, I cobbled together a short story based heavily on a character’s dream in King’s novel ‘Salem’s Lot. I changed things around, but it was still King’s idea, and when I told the instructor that King was my favorite author and she proceeded to devour his books like Cujo terrorizing the woods of Maine, I spent every session in dread that she would confront me over my theft. She never did, but obviously the guilt still haunts like Sara Tidwell.

My desire to be Stephen King has waned little since. I even have a vampire novel (based on my vampire screenplay) whose mythology was largely inspired by ‘Salem’s Lot and is only a draft or two away from a self-published birth.

However, I am a long, long way from 1500 words a day. What could I accomplish with that much output? I currently force myself to cough up 5000 words a week – 1250 a day, with Fridays off. I’m close to finishing the first draft of my second novel (the vampire novel clocks in at 30K, meaning I have to double it before I can even consider uploading it somewhere.)

There have been days when the writing just flows, when I go over the 1250 without even trying, when my characters speak to me and the plot points hit their targets without effort. But most days I want to pull out my eyelashes. Scenes feel flat, dialogue goes on way too long, and transitions are obvious and clunky. Those days, the writing is just torture and I have to drag myself across the 1250 finish line.

And then when I finally hit “the end,” I know what’s waiting for me. My first drafts aren’t structural marvels of graceful plotting and character growth. They’re way too long; they have subplots that add nothing to the main plot; they have scenes just for laughs that lead nowhere. I know writing is rewriting; for me, it’s also amputation. Followed by transplant.

Several years ago, King wrote a memoir/writing book in which he shared an edited section of one of his published works. The editing was all in the writing. A few adverbs exorcised; some sentences reworked or cut altogether and he was good to go. The plot and characters, it seemed, were all there in the first draft. All he needed to do was polish the writing.

Is there a trick to meeting a word count when the work isn’t flowing? Is there a magic formula when it comes to constructing plot and creating character, one that enables a writer to get them right the first time? If so, I haven’t figured it out.

As is typical for me when I can see “the end” from my current word count, my head is filled with stories. Not the story I’m working on, of course, but the story I want to write next. There’s a mystery. There’s another mystery. There’s the YA I was working on last summer and the YA that sprung up in my head last week. And another women’s fiction novel. After all, I’ve written two already (counting my current WIP). And with romance being the best-selling genre, shouldn’t I try my hand at one of those as well?

The only way I’ll be able to write all the stories I want to tell is if I buckle down to a 1500-word a day requirement. Of course, Stephen King doesn’t have to work as hard to do his own sales and marketing as we indie writers do. Maybe if he did, he’d cut down his word count a little. Say, to 1250 words a day, four days a week.

I still wish I were Stephen King.

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