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Word Counts

Back in the back of my writing life, I judged myself as a writer by a few things. First, and I probably shouldn’t need to note it, but first was just writing something. Sitting down and typing up a paragraph, character sketch, concept, just something, please. That counted as being a writer. Do it every day, I encouraged myself, come on, sit down and write. I didn't tell anyone except my wife about that activity.


Knowing that typing a paragraph was a first step but didn’t take me far enough, I started timing myself, demanding one hour of writing per day, and then word counts, demanding five hundred words a day, increasing that to one thousand words after early easy success writing five hundred words. I made logs to track them by date. That came to work but to keep me in the seat, I determined I needed to be as rigorous and disciplined as any exercise freak. I had my wife as a model. I actually thought at that time, wow, now fifteen years ago, I need to apply myself to writing as if I was my wife. She’s almost obsessive about things, like test taking, doing homework, reading her book club books, cleaning house, gardening and exercising. When she decides to pursue something, no half measures are accepted.

I wasn’t like that. My first days, I was like, I must call forward my muse. Where is my muse? How am I expected to write without my muse? I felt I wrote better whenever the muse showed up but the muse was as reliable as a broken clock. When the muse showed up, I thought writing was wonderful and easy, admiring the easy way I had with conjuring ideas and scenes and capturing them in words. Eventually I learned that the writing material was actually about the same whether the muse headlined the session or not, and that, given how infrequently the muse made an appearance, I needed to write without her presence.

Now, word counts are far from my process, an afterthought I check when I finish my writing session. Some days I only write about a thousand words. That’s fine. I’m normally editing and revising on those days. Most days, the counts are higher. That’s all right, too. I’m not pursuing the count but that beginning writer in me still achieves satisfaction from a higher word count. After checking how much was written, he often sits back with pleasure, smiling and giving himself a small cheer.

More satisfying for both of us is to finish a story or novel. I haven’t written a short story in several years, focusing on novels. I have finished novels. Nine, I think? I could sit and count them….

The celebration when I finish a novel is usually quiet and solitary. Typically, I’m at the coffee shop. I finish my coffee, however cold it might be, and look around, pleased with myself and my accomplishment. Eventually, I pack up and walk home, and that’s about the end of it, for now.

Word counts aside, I’ve felt like Professor Grady Tripp from Wonder Boys this week, trying to figure out, how do I tie all this novel up? Reflecting on what I like to write, I veer toward literary science fiction/fantasy high concept works. Yeah, not much market for that type of book. My comparison with Tripp is not deep. I’m not having affairs, smoking grass, or going through the wild weekend crap he endured, like hiding a dead dog in his car trunk, but I identify with the character’s yearning and frustration, his search for self and his delivery from himself. The novel’s aimlessness intrigues me. While the movie tightened that up, I thought it stayed true to the plot’s central aimlessness and its lost venturing feel. The novel launched me into a love affair with Michael Chabon’s books.

 My plot twists and turns and the supporting events are shyly emerging, almost like teases, but it’s a complicated plot. Connecting it all is trying. Besides typing and editing a great deal, I spend time staring out the window, examining the clouds for clues. It usually helps. It's harder when there aren't any clouds.


Time to write like crazy, at least one more time. Quickly; the coffee is already cooling. It begins cooling as soon as it’s poured.


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Tuesday, 16 April 2024

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