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Do the MathMay 27, 2013

I'm on deadline, and I've just hit the point in revising the book at which I finally believe it will probably be good. Up till this point, it's been the WORST book ever written, but since this is my seventh book, I know that I feel that way every single time. 

When I reach the point at which I love the book, right when I fall in love with it, I send it away to my editor. She, in turn, will find areas I can make better, and I'll hate the book briefly and viciously again. Then I'll revise again, and it will be the BEST book ever written. 

What's nice to realize is that neither of these things are true. They're just feelings. I haven't ever written the worst, or the best, book in the world. Nor will I ever do so (thank god). 

All that matters is doing the math. Isn't that funny? That writing comes down to numbers? But it does, for me. 

My books are about 90,000 words long. I write first drafts more slowly than I revise. I can reliably write 2-3k words of new stuff in a day before my brain fizzles. I can reliably revise 6-8k words in a day. 

I look at my calendar and I map it all out. Every day that I'm not at the day-job gets a word count goal (thanks, Google Calendar!). If I have thirty days available to write a first draft, then I need to write 3,000 words each day. I keep a chart for every book, so I can tell you exactly how long it took to write any given book. Somehow, it's comforting to me to look at the numbers. 

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 3.12.32 PM

Click to biggify

You can see that I'm doing this revision quickly, much more quickly than it took me to write the first draft. (And yes, you can tell by the above math that I didn't write the ending the first time through. I never know how my books end until I've written them at least twice. It's not ideal, but it's the way I work.) 

This method works, by the way, for writers not on deadline. How long do YOU want it to take to write a book? Do your math. Say you can manage to write a page a day (only 250 words! You can do that in fifteen minutes!) on your work days and you can up that amount to 1000 words/day on your weekends. That's 90,000 / (5 x 250) + (2 x 1000) = 28 weeks, or about seven months. That's seven months to a first draft while working full time. Not too shabby, my friend. (Seriously, I love doing math like this. It's like doing our budget, which I also love doing, now that I use YNAB*.) 

And if you're an average-paced writer, you can pull this off while only writing 3.25 hours/week (1000wds/hour). That's nothing! Everyone can find that in their week (unless you're the mother of newborn twins, in which case, good lord, you just get a hug from me along with my eternal respect. We'll see you in eighteen years).

And what do you with all that time you're not writing or fretting about not writing? That's when you're planning! Sitting down to write words every day only works when you know where you're going (I say that lightly but plotting is the hardest thing, to me). Do THAT instead of doodling in meetings. Plan the next scene while you're in the shower. Then plan the next one. Make notes on your phone or on your hand. If you're bored thinking about a scene, nix it. Don't write it. Only write the exciting parts, the parts you love. I recently found myself--literally--writing a city council meeting. I bored myself. When I woke up from my little chair-nap, I made someone take off all his clothes at the meeting (Elbert Romo, if you remember him from earlier Cypress Hollow novels). Do what you have to do.

And remember the most comforting thing of all: Your voice is your voice is your voice. The words that came so painfully last Tuesday will just read like all the others when you look at them next month. The book you hate today will be the one you love later.

Do some more math. 

Then write some more words. 

* $6 off coupon HERE for YNAB, which stands for You Need a Budget, and it's the best thing we've done this year. We're actually saving money now, and we know what the money is for. PLANNING AHEAD. Who knew we could do this? Highly recommended, and I think they have a 30 day free trial. I've actually learned where our money goes, which was something I literally had no clue about until this year. Perhaps I'm growing up. PROBABLY NOT THOUGH.

** I got some mail! Real mail! Seriously, so exciting. I'm going to try to write back to each one. And yes, this trick (see previous post) got me to the post office. 


*** We also prettified the porch. I'm in love with being out there. Yay spring! 



So, I have always hated math. Never though much about math with regards to writing. But, now, I can see how much it totally will be helpful with writing. Thank you! Enjoy the mail. Unlike math, I have always loved letters. As a kid loved them, as an adult love them. Happy reading you to you. The porch looks nice too!

That was informative. It's amazing how math weasels it's way into so much that we do. It's in our knitting. It's in our cooking. It's in the sewing I do. It wasn't until many, many years later that my husband called me and said, "I finally used algebra for the first time since high school!" I hated higher math. Still can't do it. I'll stick to fractions and the basic stuff. It's all you REALLY need, IMO.

And yes, the porch is adorable! And I've got a letter rarin' to get to the P.O.

Good for you, being on deadline!
LOVE your suggestions for writing! When you break it down, it is do-able! Hubby's editor says, "I can fix anything but a blank page."
A few years ago, I created a "receipts" excel sheet that breaks down our groceries, home repair, gas, md/dental, WINE & yarn, dining/entertainment and many other catergories. That has been incredibly helpful to figure out where our $$$ is going.

I love your posts about writing. They make sense and are honestly and practically helpful. I'm supposed to go to an audiobook conference tomorrow in NY but have had bronchitis for five weeks. Imagine, an audiobook narrator with bronchitis. Boggles the mind. Anyway. I'm obsessing like mad, should I go, should I not. Felt that writing it out might help. sigh. Doesn't help that all the practical people in my life have told me not to go. Including mother in law, sister, and son. I guess going is stupid. Oh well. Oh drat.

I have forwarded this on to one of my BFFs who hopefully will see this as encouragement. If not, she'll smack me over the head ala Gibbs on NCIS.

I love this! Printing it out now in order to implement it. I suck at writing not-on-deadline (which is all I have at the mo, since I'm working on Novel #1 and have been off and on for, um, 13 years! My book should be in middle school by now!) but this is a way to build my own deadline and stop treating writing as something I do when all the other chores of the day/week are done.

Sucks that math was turned into the enemy when it was crammed into our brains as kids. It is so very, very useful. And why didn't school teach us to balance a checkbook? Hmm?

No worries, Guppy; no smack is coming. Thanks to both of you for sharing this!

Love reading how you do this. Thanks for the insight!

This is great. I'm writing a very different kind of book (academic monograph) but the numbers game is still the same. I've allotted this summer to get it DONE, but then I started to panic that I've not left enough time. I'm not nearly as disciplined as you are about writing (oops, it's my job!) but this math has helped me realize that it should at least be possible to do it. And now I must go forth and implement.

Also, I love it when you talk about money. That is, budgeting. I use Quicken to track all my finances and it can do reports on spending categories etc, but I'm going to check out this budgeting tool also. Thanks!

Wow, I read your second book because it was featured at my local library and being a newly addicted knitter and unabashed lover of romance I snatched it off the display shelf. I had no idea you had a blog and pressed a link from the Harlots blog and found myself here. I quickly backtracked to your first ever post, and have spent the last two weeks with your blog as my nightly memoir reading. I have never posted a comment on a blog before but I feel I owe you a huge thank you for your writing. I admit to reading very slowly the last two nights because I didn't want to catch up to real time. I feel kind of like I've watched you grow up. Thank you for sharing yourself, being truthful, positive, heartbreaking, and inspiring.

You're my hero. That is all. xo

Yet again you have given me what I need! Thank You Rachel. I need a budget, badly. I really appreciated your honesty in your story of your own financial difficulties). I really need to be able to pack in a small, small case, and I really need to get back to writing on the word count method. I know it works, I had just deluded myself that it no longer applied.

BTW your books are flying off the shelves here in Australia - every where I go I see your name. Congratulations!

Thank you for your sweet and encouraging response to me - I somehow deleted the email so I can't write back directly, but I want you to know that you're a dear!

OMG Rachael! Every time I pop in to my RSS feed and read one of your posts I'm like "Hey, I do that too!" It's crazy and maybe a little creepy. For example, we've talked about how I do the Paleo Diet too. I found it a little over two years ago and it changed my life. I nearly squeeled like a 13-yr old girl when i read your blog post on how you've discovered it as well. And now you're <3'ing YNAB. I <3 YNAB too! We've been using it for a little over 2 months and I've already saved about 10x more than the software costs. I've also just finished listening to all of the YNAB podcasts. I admit, I might have a little knowledge-crush on Jesse, the founder. I can't wait to see what else we discover next! Miss you!

Hi Rachel, I need to give you a belated thanks for YNAB. I bought it before the $6 coupon but it was still worth every penny. Although I've not managed to make a ton of progress (yet) I actually know where my money goes for the first time in my adult life (yes, its embarassing, I know).

Thanks again! Love the blog and your books!

I love this. I participated in NaNoWriMo when I first moved to Florida to give myself something structured to do while I hunted for a job. The habit actually held. I don't do the massive sprint of reaching for 40K-60K in a month with my day job, but if I can get out a couple thousand words a week, I'm happy. For dealing with low motivation or stuttering inspiration, I schedule writing dates with my friends where we stalk each other's cursors in Gdrive. Nothing can drive you along better than someone whose opinion you care about nagging you because they need to know what's coming next, and they need it like breathing. Meeting the wordcount quota feels like nothing with that kind of cheerleading squad. :)

I think I've read everything out there on writing. I was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years. But your math is amazing. Maybe I could write a book!

How did that feel, to type that you have written 7 books?
It should feel amazing!

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.


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