Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Games Writers Play

Do you play mind games with yourself as a writer? I know I do.

For instance, I always write in Courier. Why? Well, once upon a time publishers would only accept a manuscript in Courier. That was because an editor’s ability to sense how a story was progressing depended on knowing where in the book she was at any given point. As we all know, Times New Roman puts many more words on the page than Courier. So an editor who had a “feel” for where a story should be at page 100 in Courier would be thrown off if the manuscript were in Times New Roman. That is no longer true, and houses now have no issues accepting manuscripts in TNR.

Because TNR saves paper, for a while I switched to using it myself. But I discovered that over the years I too had built up a subconscious sense for where I was in a story, or even in a scene, by the number on the page. I discovered I wrote a faster, leaner book if I composed in Courier. Because faster and leaner is considered better these days, I now write only in Courier.

That’s one game I play with myself. But there’s another reason I stick to Courier: I have a vague daily goal of five pages a day (I know, I know; I’m a snail), and five pages in Courier requires less words per page than TNR. That means that if I’m writing in Courier, I’m far more likely to have the pleasure of feeling productive than if I’m writing in TNR. Yes, it’s silly; writing five pages a day in Courier requires writing my book for more days, but I’m talking instant gratification here.

Notice I said “vague goal” of five pages. That’s because I used to have a rigid goal of five pages, and I’d be very unhappy if I didn’t meet that goal, often staying up late to achieve it. And then I realized I was playing another game with myself. I don’t know about you, but the beginnings and endings of scenes are always the hardest parts for me, because they must be crafted so carefully. Well, I discovered that I was starting to drag scenes out unnecessarily, just so that I could make that daily page count. Since leaner and faster is considered better these days, I scrapped the daily page quota. The funny thing is, my productivity hasn’t suffered. So that wass one game I didn’t need to play.

So how about you? Do you play games with yourself?

5 comments:

Steve Malley said...

I always get halfway through one book and then get really excited about another, better book I could be writing, if only I weren't saddled with the current one.

That, and I have a special hat...

Chap O'Keefe said...

Another excellent post to which I add "me too". I not only use Courier, but stick for novels with what I'm assured is hopelessly outdated WordPerfect software. And as time goes by, I find the five pages a day target harder to hit. I've always been a snail compared to the "book a month" operators in my field. One of them I greatly admire -- used to have a notion that with experience the day would come when I'd emulate him. Now I accept it never will. With monetary reward so uncertain for many of us, the important thing is that the writing experience should be, overall, an ENJOYABLE game.

Kate S said...

I second Steve's hat - I've got a witch's hat for writing paranormals.

I also tell myself that no matter whatever the word count is per Word's version, I can always add a few more, since NY counts it differently, therefore I feel like I've accomplished a lot more in a shorter amount time. Totally bogus, but it works for me.

liz fenwick said...

When I'm stuck or procrasentating, I say I'll write for only 20 minutes and boom the block is broken and I'm back on course.

Charles Gramlich said...

I really enjoy revision, strange as that sounds, and when I first started writing I would play a game in the revision stage where I'd force myself to cut at least one physical line from every paragraph. (That was in the days of longer paragraphs). This really forced me to write tight. I also used to do search and replace games, where I'd take a word that I knew I tended to overuse, search and replace it with some obscenity, and then reread the text. I'll tell you, the redundant word leaped out at you then.