Saturday, August 21, 2010

Back at Last

by Marsha Ward

I'm ba-a-a-a-a-ck. I seem to have been gone a long time, but here I am again. I think the last co-author standing should get a party, don't you?

I've been busy, believe it or not. As I drown in slip-sliding paper falling toward me and my fingers on the keyboard (most of which I could shred, once I extract the odd computer disk, wedding announcement, and hardback book from the pile), it occurs to me that I could share how I keep track of my word count as I write.

Now understand, this can be as complex or as simple as I want to make it. I can use the Excel chart my friend J. Scott Savage sent me several years ago that nags me incessantly, or I can add and subtract words as I write and edit, or I can keep a simple running tally at the beginning and the end of my writing day. I kind of like the simple style nowadays, so I'll tell you how that last thing works.

I love the 9.5 inch by 6 inch one-subject notebooks for this task. They're not so big as to be in the way, and not so small as to disappear amidst the rubble on my desk. I open it up and draw three equally-spaced lines down the page. This gives me two sections of columns to fill up.

In the left-most column, at the top, I put the date. I can put anything else in the nature of notes in that column, like the times I start and end, the scene or chapter I'm working on, and how many hours I work. I see I have a notation saying slippery elm bark and chamomile tea. Ha! I know what scene that one was!

The second column is where I put the beginning word count opposite the date. If I'm starting fresh, this is zero. If I want to, I can add the word count when I do a save, when I get up for lunch, or what-not (I usually only put down the last three digits, or hundreds). The last figure I put in that column is the final word count of the day, unless I want to do a total of words written underneath it. I finish the day with a horizontal line drawn under all the notes for the day, in both columns.

The other section of two columns is for when I get to the bottom of the page. You knew that, right?

How do you find your word count at the beginning and end of the writing period?

If you're in Word, look for a menu item called Word Count. It might be in the Tools menu. That's where I'd look first, because that's where it is in my ancient Word 2003. Before you click it, highlight all your text. Then click Word Count, and you'll have a rough estimate of your words. I say "rough," because it will count every asterisk (*) and Chapter Heading, but it's good enough for starters. Do this again when you quit for the day, and you have the second count.

Or, you can use the software program I now use, yWriter5 (see below for another rapturous account), which tells me at the bottom of the main window how many words I write that day, along with the total of words in the project. I put those numbers in my notebook at start and end of day.

yWriter5 and its antecedents were written by novelist and computer programmer Simon Haynes of Australia. He couldn't find a writing software that suited his needs, so he wrote it. He updates it quite often, sometimes to meet suggestions of users, but it's a lean program written to use few resources of your machine. It even runs off a flash drive, so it's highly portable.

You can find yWriter5 at (Hal Spacejock is the hero of Simon's futuristic sci-fi series). There are several other useful programs to be found there, as well as a link to the new how-to wiki created by the folks in the next paragraph.

This software is free, not only no-cost, but free of nasty surprises like virii, Trojan horses, and other malware. There's an active community of users in a Google group who support each other. The old hands answer the questions of the newbies, and Simon occasionally pops in, too.

Can you tell I like yWriter5? Let's see how many converts I can make. Let's see, |||...