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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A thousand words per day

Right now, I'm trying to get the thesis, or at least a readable second draft of it, wrapped up as quickly as possible. The only way I know to make something like this actually happen is to set a wordcount schedule for each day and stick to it ruthlessly. That's how professional writers get so much done.

My current aim is a relatively modest one - every day that I am actually at home at all (i.e. not interstate or otherwise tied up for the whole day and evening), I will write 1000 words of material that is good enough to "stick" without much revision until I've finished the draft and can see how it all fits together.

In a sense, that's not too difficult - a lot of the work is just selecting and polishing existing material.

Fact is, I started off a few weeks ago with what I like to call my "first draft" but is really just a horrible mess - a kind of loose bag in which I threw every thought, etc., that might come in handy, in a very rough order. This document was 220,000 words. The "second draft" is intended to be something like 80,000 words, so my other daily task is to be ruthless about jettisoning material, however good or potentially good I think it is, if it doesn't fit into a very tightly structured thesis. I'm managing to do that - despite having written quite a lot of new stuff, I now have 190,000 words on my screen, a net loss of 30,000. But obviously a lot more has to be rationalised, or simply cut out completely and used in another project. I don't have a daily target for this, but I intend to lose some significant number of words each day, by which I mean hundreds - preferably thousands.

It's nice to be writing hard and purposefully again. For a lot of the time, lately, I've been reading, wrestling with ideas, producing short, relatively exploratory pieces, pursuing various tangents, but not really writing something that feels like it might become a book. I've now regained that feeling, and it's a good one to have.


Blake Stacey said...

That's how professional writers get so much done.

(smacks forehead)

Now they tell me!

Russell Blackford said...

My work is done for the day. Two thousand words that will probably stick.

Yes, Blake. :) This is how I once wrote four solid, publishable novels in about two years, and how more devoted professional writers can produce even greater (sometimes much greater) annual wordage than I can. All you have to do is be totally ruthless with yourself and your long-suffering loved ones.

Alas, though, in terms of producing polished words quickly, the current project is rather different.