SURF'S UPI’m like Tank the penguin in the movie Surf’s Up. Between action scenes, I’m holed up in my room, endlessly polishing my ladies.

It’s a guilty pleasure, which I have shelved (temporarily) after eavesdropping on other authors’ daily word counts on facebook.

There’s John Birmingham, working to deadline on his new thriller, with chest-thumping accounts of his daily tallies:

“Haaaaaar!!!!! Smashed thru the last eight hundred words & carried on for another three. Five thousand words for the day. This IS SPARTA!!!!!

He is Writer, hear him roar. Thank God I’m a girlie, or my goolies would have shriveled at the mere thought of trying to compete with all that writerly testosterone. Talk about inducing performance anxiety: his word count is sooo much bigger than mine.

I am Re-writer, hear me keep my word count to myself. Once I did manage to unwrite five thousands words of pure shite in a single day. But write – uh uh, no way.

No less impressive is the versatile and productive Kim Wilkins, who gets up before her two kids to knock off a couple thousand words before breakfast. Now that’s commitment. Which, incidentally, is also the key difference between the professional writer and the amateur.

The professional writer writes, even when it’s hard. The amateur waits for inspiration.

(That’s from “Confident vs delusional writers” in A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. It’s an entertaining post, well worth the visit.)

I’ll be honest. I struggle with the first draft. Its imperfections bug me and I’m constantly side-tracked by the need to fix them.  But as Hemingway said ‘All first drafts are shit’. Get over it.

So each day now, I tell myself, just concentrate on getting it out. Write first, then you can polish with impunity, later.

I’m not alone in my fixation on polishing. Kate Grenville did thirty-eight complete drafts of The Idea of Perfection – and won the Orange Prize for fiction.

Melina Marchetta says she must have rewritten the prologue for Finnikin of the Rock fifty times; it won an Aurealis Award and she’s been at the top of her game for more than a decade.

Marcus Zusak says he would have rewritten sections of the The Book Thief a hundred times – and he made it onto the New York Times Children’s Bestseller List.

But that doesn’t alter the fact that first, we must write. In my case, a thousand words a day till it’s done. And then, the exquisite pleasures of the rewrite. Polishing my ladies, without feeling guilty, until I am spent.

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Comments
  1. I hear you, sister!! 🙂
    Damn the urge to fiddle with the imperfections of every page of first draft. And bless that luxuriating pleasure of freedom when you can rewrite without guilt and the base metal is all laid out to be polished.

  2. Lynne Green says:

    Take heart. No two writers on the entire planet write the same way. John Birmingham is a god, but I don’t plan o writing like John – even if I could. And he suffers for his art.

    Polish your ladies your own way…and I’ll polish mine. (((hugs)))

  3. Chris, I think you’re being a bit hard on yourself! 1000 words a day is a very respectable word count, and a reasonable goal to set. You’ve already shown you can get there with Dust, so you will do it again, and keep doing it. The writing critic is especially loud during the first draft though, especially for writers who love to fiddle and edit – I feel for you. Good luck shouting it down with Hemmingway’s quote!

  4. chrisbongers says:

    Thank you ladies – I’m on a roll at the moment, so am diving back into it!

  5. adairjones says:

    I too get bedazzled by so many writers out there counting words. Something recently changed with my computer and I can’t even find word count on the toolbar! It’s been liberating. (I’ve found other ways to measure my progress, of course.)

    Looking forward to reading the ladies all polished and gleaming.

  6. chrisbongers says:

    Lucky break with the word counter, Adair! It is always wonderful to hear from one of the truly polished ladies of the blogoshere. 🙂

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