6.25.14 - On Manipulations

Diana Scharf

Okay, I admit it. I am a goal manipulator. 

One of the big boons of Scrivener is being able to set word count goals, both daily and manuscript-wise. At the beginning of each project, I put in my deadline and my anticipated total word count, and it tells me exactly how many words a day I need to write to meet the goal.

Glorious! It saves me all sorts of time messing with spreadsheets and the like. Tracks everything, and at the end of the day, I simply pop the total into my master, annual word tracker spreadsheet and I'm done. 

I normally shoot for an 80,000 word first draft, with the deadline set a month before the book is actually due, to give me enough time to do edits and allow my betas time to read before it's submitted to my editor. I add words when editing, rather than subtracting, so the books usually end up in the 95-100,000 range.

The past few books, though, have been well over 110,000, with THE LOST KEY first draft coming in at a whopping 130,000. So I’m a bit off on my normal calculations.

I’m on an über-tight deadline for WHAT LIES BEHIND, so I initially popped in a projected 100,000 word draft for for a July 15 draft date. My goal was in the 1300 range for the first month. Then, as things weren't working, the daily numbers grew - I needed more and more and more to meet the goal. Which means more pressure, and that's not a good thing.

The closer I get to said draft date, the more I manipulate the numbers. Massage is probably a better term. Writing 5 days a week gives a different daily load than 6, or even 7, which is how a book generally progresses for me. The closer I am to deadline, the more I’m writing - toward the end, the last month, it’s 7 days a week, generally anywhere from 6-10 hours a day, whereas in the beginning, it's a gentler pace, 1000 words a day in 2-3 hours writing time.

As you can see, momentum is everything for me.

Writing to a 90,000 word first draft also changes the daily outcomes, as does a 85,000 draft.

Right now, after several massages, I’m set for an 85,000 word draft, due to myself July 21, writing 7 days a week. If I do 2,000 words a day from now until then, I will finish with a week to edit, and a week to marinate. (Of course, there’s RWA to be planned for - and the 4th of July, spent with family this year. There goes my week to marinate.) 

Still, 2,000 word a day is doable. Especially now that the story seems to be cooperating.

Also, something that's taking a bit of pressure off, my editor is reading as we go, 100 pages at a time, so I’m circumventing the beta read process entirely in order to meet the deadline. Betas will get the book at the same time as my editor, something I've never done.

Confused yet? I’ll say this - planning is a big part of writing. You have to be able to organize yourself, know your limits, understand what you can, and can’t do. I read a superb article last week on why projects take longer than you plan, and it’s well worth a read. I always advise people to double the time they think it will take them to finish a project. 

I’m just thankful I know myself and my habits well enough to be able to manipulate these figures with confidence that I'll make it on time. I hope. 

2419 today - and that's not manipulated. Story is starting to shape up. Can I get a hallelujah?

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JT Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.