How to Fit Your Word Count: Cutting Edition

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about doing a CW degree, is seeing my own and others’ attitude towards word counts change. In first year, a 1500 word essay seemed almost unmanageable but now 2500 words are never enough.

I’ve talked a lot about word counts on this blog lately, and here is my list for quickly cutting words to make sure your story can fit your set word count:

1. Are there any scenes you can remove?
Cut any scenes that don’t move the plot or develop your characters!
Of course, if you’re writing a book with a 100K words, you can afford to put in a page of pure location description, or have a couple of slow scenes that set the tone more than drive the plot. However, when you only have 2500 words to establish a plot, your backstory and characters, plus create an interesting story, scenes that don’t drive the plot are a luxury you can’t treat yourself to.

2. Can you shorten the beginnings of any scenes?
A bit like with poetry, it’s easy to make the beginning a bit wordy as you often think you need to explain concepts you don’t need to explain. Instead of wordy introductions to each scene, get right in on the action! This helps your pacing and gives you more words to play with for the exciting and intriguing parts.

3. Can you remove any characters?
Removing characters might mean removing whole stretches of dialogue or entire scenes, but if what’s conveyed in said dialogue or scene can be shown in a different scene, then this might drastically shorten your word count, making you able to put more story in there.

4. Give all your characters names!
This might seem like a stupid one, but one I figured out while writing my dissertation. As I was writing a piece of children’s fiction told from the perspective of a child, I decided to have the narrator call another character’s parents “Georgie’s mum” and “Georgie’s dad”, simply based on the fact that kids rarely think about parents having names at all. However, this meant that every time I mentioned these characters I had to spend two words on them, and by giving the parents their own one-word names, I was able to cut one word per mention, which actually turned out to be quite a few words in the end.

Note: I’m not saying to not do this ever, of course. It’s a fun way of talking about people in writing, but it’s important to think through whether it’s worth using up your word count for it.

5. Remove the “that”s!
Leave the “that”s where they’re grammatically correct, but don’t overuse them. This post/article actually explains it really well! Apparently the word “that” is so overused in writing, that four different lecturers felt the need to warn us about it in first year. I never remember to heed their advice while writing, but never forget it while editing either.

6. “Kill Your Darlings”
In writing situations, your “darlings” are scenes, ideas, sentences and description that you as the writer loves, but that might not do anything for the story. These darlings have often stayed with the piece from the first draft, and often end up fitting the story a little awkwardly, as they don’t change with the piece as it develops. This can lead to parts of your story reading a bit awkwardly, like you’re taking a break from the actual story to shoehorn in this beautiful, poetic sentence, that really doesn’t do much for the plot.
Getting rid of such “darlings” might be a team effort; you might need the help of someone who aren’t as attached to these phrases as yourself to clear them out.

Most of these tips are tailored to writing fiction, but some can also be transferred into non-fiction, copywriting and any type of writing, really. I hope this could be of some use to someone, if only as a reminder of something you already know!

Have a lovely day,
-Andrea

Tricking Motivation Pt.3

And now we’ve reached the end of this mini-series; how to unblock your mind if you’re feeling stuck while writing.

We’ve looked at how to find the motivation to get started, how to stay focused during long sessions, but what if you’ve settled down in your designated workspace, you’ve got your writing music on, and still find yourself stuck? Maybe it’s a creative issue, like where to take a plot or how to handle a character or maybe you’re struggling with finding the right angle for an essay question or finding relevant connections in your resources and references.

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There is a key-phrase for this post, and one phrase slithering like a red thread through this issue of being stuck; change of scenery. If you stay staring at your computer screen, in the exact same place, on the exact same word document, you’ll most likely stay right where you are on your problem, but with a little change of air, you might see some solutions start appearing. Read on for some ways to find this change whilst working!

7. Go for a walk

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Leave your computer where it is, leave your documents and notes and research behind and get outside. Walk through town, have a wander through a nearby park, do a little hike if you live and work near some woods. Getting out, feeling the wind on your face and breathing some fresh air might help you see your issue in a new light, and even when you’re not actively thinking about it, you’re processing the issue in your head, subconsciously working with your problem. I always find an essay feels less daunting and chaotic after a little walk, after you’ve seen some people and heard some bird chatter. You don’t have to go too far either, just a stroll around campus might be enough if you’re on a tight schedule or just not feeling a long walk. Try it, maybe you’ll be surprised!

8. Have a shower or a bath

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This point is quite similar to the one above; take a break and just think about what’s got you stuck, without staring at your screen, actively trying to solve it. Let the warm water wash over you and let yourself relax completely. Then put on some comfortable clothes, tie your hair up, put on some moisturizer and pamper yourself a bit. Make yourself a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate, and get back to your writing or your work, and have a look at it with fresh eyes. This has helped me so many times and might be my favourite trick to get going again when I’m stuck.

9. Change up your workspace

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Pack up your stuff and move to a different space. This does contradict creating a consistent workspace, but if you’re really stuck, it might not be enough with just a break to clear your mind, you might need a new workspace altogether. Grab your laptop and your notes and get comfy in a cafe, in a park or just in a different part of the library. The new people surrounding you, the new smells and sounds and different impulses, might help jolt your brain out of whatever rut it’s stuck on, helping you find that new angle or the solution to that plot-hole.

And last but not least, a point that spans over all three posts in this “Tricking Motivation”-series;

10. Write with someone else

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If you’re stuck, if you’re struggling with keeping your focus and motivation or if you catch yourself whittling time away on your phone, collaborative writing may be the solution for you. Working with someone is very useful for writers for a lot of reasons. First of all, writing is often quite solitary work, but having someone to bounce ideas off of, to brainstorm with and to workshop sentences and pieces with, can both make the process of writing quicker, more productive and more fun, and it will most likely lead to a better product. Working with someone also means that you have someone who keeps you accountable for how you spend your time. They can catch you if you start drifting off before the designated break time and they can help you keep your eyes off your phone and your fingers on the keyboard. This is, of course, as long as they’re not the one drifting off or distracting you with chitchat and cat videos. I do believe everyone’s been both of these people, one or two times before.

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So, there you go, three posts about how to find motivation, keep focused, and get back on track when you’re stuck. This was my first attempt at a scheduled “article-esque”  mini-series on this blog, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot! Looking forward to writing more posts like this in the future. Hopefully, you found some of these points helpful, either as a reminder of something you already knew or as easy solutions you’ve just not really thought about before.

Thank you so much for reading these “Tricking Motivation” posts, and I wish you all the best for your writing sessions in the future.

Question of the day: What do you do to get your brain going again when you’re stuck?

-Andrea

 

Tricking Motivation Pt. 2

More motivation talk! Hopefully, yesterday’s post was helpful to you, even though I’m aware none of my tips are in any way groundbreaking. It’s always nice to be reminded of things we already know, though, so view these two posts as gentle reminders to not eat and work in the same space and to take a breath if you’re stuck.

In today’s post, I wanted us to have a look at how to keep motivated when you’ve first started writing, so basically, this is more about focus than motivation. Sometimes you need to just buckle up and move into the library to do what you need to get done, and long sessions of work can be tiring and unmotivating. When you’ve found your designated workspace, you’ve got all your notes and research ready and you have your schedule/deadlines in front of you, how do you stay focused on the task at hand?

4. Listen to your “work music”
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A lot like finding one place to work can help kickstart your brain, finding one playlist or a type of music that you only listen to while working can help keep your brain in “work mode”, for as long as you need to focus. Personally, I always put on this video/music, when I need to stay focused.

I don’t know why, but there is something about this that makes me forget that time is even passing, and that might be the point of having a playlist to work to; it has to make you disappear into your work and help you not get distracted by every single sound around you.

5. Make sure your phone is out of sight

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I am an avid smartphone user with no desire to completely cut my phone out of my life. I appreciate how social media keeps me connected to my Norway friends when I’m in England, and my England friends when I’m in Norway, and I frequently use it for study purposes, with for example translation programs and online journals. However, after reading this article about how “the mere presence of a cell phone can distract you by diminishing your attention span and cognitive ability, even without using it,” I tried out just putting my phone behind my laptop screen or computer monitor while working, and it made such a difference. By not having my phone next to me I didn’t feel the need to check any social media apps once during my work session, and it did make for a more focused session. After trying it once I started incorporating it into my work habits, and I can honestly say that it has changed my focus while working for the better.

6. Keep your breaks sacred 

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Of course, you need to spend more time actively working than you spend on a break, but breaks are very important in a balanced “study diet”. Schedule short breaks throughout your working session; I like to work for twenty minutes and then give myself five minutes to just sit back in my chair and stare out the window for a while. Whatever intervals work best for you, remember to be productive during work-periods, and properly relax during your breaks. Working like this will most likely let you keep going for longer, instead of just powering through hours upon hours without letting your brain rest at all.

Question of the day: How do you stay focused during long sessions?

-Andrea

Tricking Motivation Pt.1

Motivation is a funny thing that often rears its head at the most inopportune moments, like on a long car journey or at 1 AM. Motivation does not care about deadlines and timetables, it’s doing its own thing

Of course, we should all be doing our own things, and following your heart should always be encouraged. Motivation doing its own thing, however, is not awfully helpful when you’re getting close to the end of the semester and are desperately trying to meet all those deadlines that pile up. As I have now officially handed in the last assignment of my BA, (stay tuned for a post about the last stretch on that piece!) I figured it would be time to share how I’ve tricked myself into feeling motivated (when I really didn’t want to work) these last three years.

This post will be split into three parts, and in this first part, we’ll just have a look at some easy ways to find (or make) motivation before you start writing.

1. Make yourself a workspace

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My number 1 tip for how to be productive and get started with what you need doing, is to have a designated workspace. It might be difficult to differentiate between workspace and relax-zone, especially if you live in halls, where you eat, sleep, relax and try to get work done, all in the same room. Choosing a part of your desk that is for working only,  finding a cafe you never go to for anything but work or a spot in the library, will often help kickstart your brain if it’s a bit sluggish and work-shy. Personally, I cannot work in my room. For this, the library has been my saviour these last three years. The amount of time I’ve struggled for days with assignments at home, only for the words to flow out of my fingers the second I’m sat by a library computer is ridiculous, but at least it means the work gets done. Having a designated workspace also means that you can take proper breaks by leaving said space, and I’m all here for the most productive breaks, as this means you can get back to work again quickly!

2. Make sure you have all your notes ready

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Oh, how I’d love for my notes to look like this (I’m aware the notepad is blank, but I appreciate the aesthetic, okay?), but I’m pretty sure no one’s desk ever looks this clean while working. A girl can dream, though.
However, what I’ve found to be useful while “faking it ’til you’re making it” in the motivation department, is to make sure you’ve got all your notes and research ready before you start typing. Find all the books you need in the library, print out those essays (you can always plant some trees later), highlight and colour code your notes if you need to – just have it in front of you. Flicking through stacks of paper is less likely to have you switch your internet tabs to social media, something that might be tempting if you’re looking through online research while working. Also, colour coding makes you both look and feel prepared, which is never a bad thing.

3. Set your own mini-deadlines

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I “found” this skill while working on my BA dissertation this year; make small, in-progress deadlines for yourself throughout your projects. There is almost always a correlation between the deadline and the workload; if your uni lecturer or teacher or whoever is assigning you work has given you a long time to finish a task that most likely means you need that time. Make deadlines for yourself, like when you want the idea fully formed and finished, when you want the first 500 or 1000 words done, or when you want your first draft complete so you can spend the rest of your time just reworking what you have. Making yourself a schedule with small deadlines as you go along can make a big assignment or piece of work seem a lot more manageable and easier to get started on.

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Of course, these tips aren’t just for finding the motivation to finish assignments; it’s for getting all kinds of work done, for revising or studying, and for any sort of writing in general.

Question of the day: How do you find motivation when you need it?

-Andrea