By the Numbers?

I can tell you I wrote well yesterday morning, that my characters pushed the scene forward with little help from me.

I can tell you that the switch I blogged about a couple of weeks ago in “Course Correction” — setting aside the novel I was working on in favor of one on the back burner — is working out really well.



I can tell you that when I knocked off at 8:50 p.m. I was drifty to the point of disoriented. This is a sure-fire good sign: when I’m absorbed in what I’m writing, it takes a few minutes to come back to earth.

What I can’t tell you is how many words I wrote. This is partly because I was writing in longhand. Reading my scrawly handwriting is hard enough; no way am I going to count the words.

Actually I may have that backwards: I write in longhand so the internal editor can’t second-guess what I’m writing, and so the internal bean-counter can’t count the words. The internal bean-counter wishes I’d stick to Word, which oh-so-helpfully counts the words as I type them. Then the internal bean-counter could rest assured that I was really writing.

When someone crows that she wrote 893 words this morning, or 1,125, or 1,499, my internal bean-counter gets worried. Maybe I haven’t done enough? Maybe I’m not doing it right?

Dear Internal Bean-Counter:

Take a break. Seriously. It doesn’t matter how many words I wrote this morning, or yesterday morning, or in the middle of tomorrow night. If I wrote 893 words yesterday, I may jettison 878 of them today. So how many words did I really write yesterday?

Yours truly,

The Writer

Spilled beans

Spilled beans

Our society loves to quantify. It loves to count and then compare the numbers. I get it: numbers are precise and, well, quantifiable. Real life is messy and hard to pin down. Numbers can be useful. Right now WordPress is telling me I’ve got 313 words on the screen — 320, 321, 322 . . . This is good to know. When the word-counter hits 800, I know it’s time to wrap it up. (Don’t worry: we’re not going there today.)

But numbers are deceptive. They don’t tell us as much as we like to think they do. Polls don’t tell us what people think. The number on the scale doesn’t tell you how you feel. Your word count for yesterday doesn’t mention the breakthrough you had in that floundering scene, or how many words it took to get there.

Creative beans

Creative beans

Don’t worry about the numbers. Get your hand moving across the page, or your fingers moving on the keyboard. See what happens. Your writing will teach you what you need to know. Numbers are dumb in comparison.

(Word count: 443.)