Okay, here's why I'm bothered by the daily word count advice often given to aspiring writers. It's simple: some passages must be written slowly. Especially, I've found, beginnings and endings. One must take care as one begins, to be sure one's setup is sufficient. In my experience, once I get the opening setup just the way I want, I'll be able to vomit the words up quickly later. Once I have a firm grasp on the situation to which I'm writing and sufficiently developed characters I know can make their own decisions, I begin to write very quickly. It flows from there. I wrote the second half of "Out of the Jar" (a 70k word novel I'm currently shopping around for potential publication) in just a couple of weeks. There was one day I wrote 8000 words.
My point is that productive writing comes from putting in consistent time and effort and should not be judged solely on word count. Although I know Stephen King is known for his 2000 words per day rule, and, on the other end of the spectrum, James Joyce is said to have struggled for days composing a single sentence, one would do best to shoot for a general weekly or monthly average. I believe in what Mark Danielewski called the "Jane Goodall Method" where the writer has to be present every day in front of his/her work so that, even though many days may be uneventful drudgery, when inspiration strikes you won't miss that perfect moment and you'll be in front of the page to record it.
Which is all to make myself feel better as I've struggled this week to start a new piece (having completed the first draft of "Within Us All," which I will now put aside for at least a couple of weeks before I tackle the next draft). It's probably a novella, but it can be difficult to tell in the beginning. I know the direction I want to go in; I can see the story, the vague disturbances I want to feel, but I haven't known how to begin.
It took my three days to write this opening passage, combing over it again and again, scrapping things I started, but just weren't right for the story I'm trying to tell. It's still going through changes, will probably evolve somewhat as the story progresses. Here it is:
The night before, he’d dreamed about her.
She had dark, straight hair--black--that fell past her bare shoulders rich and glossy like caramel. She didn’t see him. He watched her closely through the window, as the flow of traffic drew him past. She wasn’t sitting on the bus bench, but crouching to the side of it, looking down. Something she’d dropped? She was feeling the ground with her hands, padding the bare soil, the lumps of grass. Her head was cocked, as if listening intensely. She stood. She lifted her hand and cupped it over her eyes, to shield them from the sun, and looked up. Her face lit and he could see, even from this distance, her eyes glimmering blue as the breeze caressed hair from her cheeks--her smile illuminated the streets. It was nice to see a woman smiling so openly in public. He craned his neck at the stop light, realizing she wore a grimace, not a smile, and her eyes were wet. A cloud passed over the sun and the world was veiled in a gray pall, but she continued to shine bright. He wondered what had happened to her, what had upset her, what she saw that he couldn’t. Something gleamed about her head, ultraviolet--her eyes shone--and he noticed several other people watching her, staring. And then someone’s car horn blared and he accelerated forward and around the corner and gone.
The next day, everything was different.