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Art and counting - The Motive Center
April 24th, 2005
10:56 pm


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Art and counting
I presented to a writing group (actually, three groups) in Cambridge, and someone asked me a question I have never heard before: "you talk about counting--do you have to stop after 600 words or whatever?"

Good God, no! Once again: it's not the counting that matters, it's the feedback--specifically, the feedback on progress towards your goal. When most writers set daily goals, it is because it allows them to reduce the distance from their goal in a safe and measurable way.

I'm still grappling with this negative perception of the "counting and measuring" thing, so I thought I'd try to go totally non-numerical with some suggestions. Some of these are things I've done myself, because frankly I'm not the most regular and predictable writer myself! Perhaps readers of this LJ have noticed this...

In my previous post I referred to the "scene card" counter, who wrote a scene at a time. But she was also looking at the relative sizes of the two stacks: (a) to be written, and (b) written. Let me propose some others, which may be suitable for nonwritten media as well (kamenkyote...?).

1. Space covered (2-dimensional). If painting, duh, if writing, filling a page, a screen, a wall, or writing enough to fill your desk. (One writer whose name I forget wallpapered his bathroom with rejection letters--an interesting way to track your progress and get a bit of personal revenge...)

2. Size of stuff (3 dimensional!). Piles of paper, number of piles of paper, amount of a box, filling a manila folder, filling a hanging folder, filling a drawer. There's a certain satisfaction I got in college from filling one-ream (500-page) paper boxes with my completed papers at the end of the year. I think you could use all these as stages! An outline fills a manila folder at the first fold; a first draft may go to the second or third fold (depending on the length of writing), a novel-length manuscript fills a hanging folder or two.

3. Tactile. I'm guessing here, but would there not be satisfaction in layering on enough paint on a canvas that the entire texture is your paint and not the canvas itself anymore? You might have to paint like Van Gogh for this to work, of course.

4. Completed goals. I loved turning in papers in college. My dissertation became trickier, because there is no end, really, until you and your advisor say so. Though I did like putting them into those nice spring-loaded binders...

5. Anyone else...?

Current Music: Tangerine

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2005 07:13 am (UTC)
It could be just me, but setting up some sort of measurable index to work-goals in painting just doesn't work. Some I just want done in the one day, or sitting (I do a lot of this, but that's how -I- work with paint; some can work for 13 years on the same portrait!). Others, I work for a few hours until the feeling's no longer there. Sometimes I make myself paint until I start messing up. Likely this is just me as some folks have no trouble at all sitting down and just painting for their day's work (Rockwell) and have to have palpable goals as they make their living this way. Also, with a painting, there's no discernable 'end.' You can't say, "it needs x hours work to be done." Stories are a little different in that there's a specific beginning middle and end, though length is the variable here. Hell, sometimes I don't even know WHAT I'm going to paint when I start! There's also factors like waiting for paint to dry that necessitate breaks. Lighting conditions, too if one's painting outside, or using natural lighting on a model.

Perhaps because of my visual background, I'm most drawn (heh) to the cards with scenes on it approach to writing. I've actually thought, before this, of visually composing a novel with color first before writing it to get the rhythm down and then filling in words later.

Good stuff, Steve! Thanks!
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2005 05:56 pm (UTC)

Doing something

Actually, there's one measure I don't refer to, because it's a difficult measure which is "when it feels like enough," or "I think I've gotten out what I needed to." Sometimes I write until I start messing up, too, and sometimes I write without knowing where I'm going!

Natural conditions are an interesting point, and one that writers don't usually have to face. Research, perhaps, being the nearest equivalent. But we don't have to wait for ink to dry anymore! (Remember blotting paper? It used to be required for every page...)

If you can write a novel more easily visually, why not? I can't think of anyone who's admitted to doing that yet, unless it's a graphic novel, but I'm intrigued by it--I'm a very visual person myself, and hate outlining a plot. Nonfiction is different. There's a certain elegance to laying out a structure I've never been able to duplicate for fiction.
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2005 01:14 pm (UTC)
I count words. Not so much of the x number of words per day variety but as a goal for each chapter or the novel as a whole. I have a spreadsheet set up which shows the count for each chapter and the total so far, with the total to be done. And thanks to loupnoir I now have a nifty word counter:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
37,155 / 100,000
[User Picture]
Date:April 25th, 2005 05:59 pm (UTC)

Words, words, words

I like the word counter--I have to plug it in somewhere myself! I know an SF writer I appeared with at Worldcon who used a spreadsheet to do a tracking graph of progress and pacing. Great things, spreadsheets.
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