There’s a viral tweet about a writer who is losing her writing group because they insist only “pretenders” write less than 15K words a month, and she can’t keep up that pace.
1. They’re elitist assholes.
2. They’re wrong.
Bitches, I only wrote 40K in the last year and a half. So the whole concept got me thinking. I’ve been in tough spots with my writing, not gonna lie. I’ve wondered I was washed up, finished. But I’m going to tell you why I’m not a pretender even at 40K words, and I won’t even count my 5 published novels, my dozens of short stories, my 3 novellas.
I started writing again 18 years ago and I hit a million words (blog and novels) in three years. I kept up that pace for several more years. Then I started publishing, and kept a consistent but slower pace. Then somehow I dwindled down to this word count that makes me think of the old expression Pissing Down Rain. I was pissing down words. Just enough to think I could still be a writer, but not feel good about it. Somehow I fell from over three hundred thousand words a year to 40k in a year and a half.
The early years are easy to analyze: The books, in a word, sucked. The writing on the blog was decent and actually had traction, but I decided I didn’t want to be an (early) influencer. Still, we’re looking at word counts. A million words in three years (which is a low estimate, frankly) puts me at about 28k a month. I once wrote a whole novel in 6 weeks. I kept that up for years prior to publishing regularly. I was consistently producing for a serious critique group. I edited a magazine for most of that time. I also made a shoulder injury worse to the point of decades of chronic pain by typing so damn much.
The publishing years ran at roughly 100K a words a year, or about 8300 words a month. Not a terrible rate. Many writers do about a book a year. I also was writing at least a short story a year. But even so, you’ll notice I dropped well below the fabled 15K. Analysis: Many fewer words, yes, but much more polished, mind you, since those books all sold.
The tail end of that time had a lot of impact on this last project. My last draft deadline was ENEMY, which came out in 2017. I finished it during Shark Week of 2016. My last novel THE SILVER SCAR I had written some years prior, and I gave it a solid polish before submission. Then I shook off the dust of deadlines and established worlds. Early-2017-early 2019 I wrote and sold some short stories, but I also wrote a mystery fantasy novel. New world. New characters. New genre and plot structure. I wrote slowly. I wrote without confidence. I struggled and fought that damn book one word at a time. I had a few good days where I got a thousand words in a sitting. Mostly I wrote a page or two. Sometimes a paragraph. When I finished, I had a book I really, really like, but I was exhausted. It took me two years to write 90K words. That’s an average of 3750 words a month, or about 47K a year. Sure, polished words, but my rate had dropped by half!
Now I was a really long, long way from the 15K Club.
So last year, while that book went on submission, I started a new project based on an old legend that I have told exactly 3 people about. But goddamnit if the same thing happened, only worse. I limped along. I started to dread writing. I found excuses to clean toilets. Reader, I considered getting back onto Facebook. I was at 40K words and wanted to throw it away. I also wrote a short story. It was like dripping blood into a tiny vial. Something was wrong and I had no idea what. So I gave up the ghost and took three months off. I had fun, enjoyed the holidays, saw family and friends. But in the back of my mind was all that fear over this book and whatever the hell was wrong with me. 40K words in a year and a half. That wasn’t even 2500 words a month! Had I lost it? Was I finished writing?
By January I started to realize it wasn’t actually me. Some of the problem was just life. 2019 SUCKED to its final moments, which is a whole other blog post. But mostly, my problems writing was with the book itself. I had started down the road of an old legend and in my worry over trying to differentiate my retelling from other stories I kept hand waving with disparate elements. That old advice of writing what you love? Well, hell, I LOVE XX STORIES! That’s why I wanted to write one. It took me three months to realize I needed to quit pretending and just write the story I want to write.
(Reader, writing is a creative endeavor. I’m dedicated to sitting my butt down in the chair. I’m dedicated to honing craft. But sometimes the creativity just stalls. When that happens, it’s okay to stop, crack open a beer, clean a few toilets, and figure out why.)
So. Yeah. Fuck it. I tossed the 40000 words, all of them. A year and a half, gone. I thought about the story. I thought about my characters. I thought about my life. And then I opened a new file.
I’ve written a 10k synopsis and 14K words of a draft since mid January.
I don’t consider that a particularly stellar rate but I’m excited to write the book. I want to wake up and write. I’m excited to show it to people when it’s finished. I have a deadline for myself that I’m really hopeful I can make. But I can tell you with all assurance that what I won’t do is write 15K a month to get it done. I’m also not going to give a shit whether someone else thinks that makes me a real writer or not.
There’s enough obstacles-to-entrance in publishing. Let’s not make arbitrary word counts one of them.