Well, I’ve done it again. I’ve gotten sucked into the pointless numerical games that seem to go with creative writing in general. I started writing seriously again on my redraft about three weeks ago and was for the most part just trying to take advantage of the opportunities I had and not worry too much about word count or deadlines…
Which worked so well that I was nearly at the 50-page mark yesterday and suddenly all of the calculating, shifty gears in my brain are turning, and I’m pulling up the computer’s calculator function so I can see how many words I would need to write every month in order to have the draft done by September; how many words every week; how many words every day.
800. The magic number is 800. If I wrote 800 words, 5 days a week, I would have a complete novel draft by September.
For about an hour, this was the best news I’d had all week. I hadn’t really thought it was possible to get a draft done before the baby came. I was just trying to see how far I’d get. Anyway, this ceased being great news when Iris went down for her nap at a weird time, so I only got 500 words written during her nap, and then she went manic at bedtime and wouldn’t sleep until 45 minutes past her usual time, so my time and energy were both a bit lacking and anyway I only logged about 700 words total that day.
Fine. 700 isn’t that bad.
Until TODAY, when I sat down to write during her nap and realized that I’d written a character out of a chapter where I needed him, and the dinner conversation in chapter two isn’t detailed enough to carry the weight I need it to for later development. Fine. Those aren’t complicated fixes, but it takes some rereading and a little finessing and suddenly my two hours are up and, while both problems are nicely resolved, I’m only 200 words in the black.
Also, and possibly more alarming, I’m not really 100% what happens in the next chapter because one of its major objectives, as my notes inform me, is to “develop characters X and Y,” and that’s not exactly a roadmap for success.
This is why numbers suck.
Instead of feeling great about having 50 pages roughed in, now I’m dealing with all this anxiety about whether or not I’ll stay on schedule (I won’t) so I can have a completed draft by September (yeah, I won’t). I read about lots of authors who use word counts and page numbers to stay accountable in the writing process. Victor Hugo is said to have written 5,000 words every working day. Stephen King says he aims for 2,000. And, Graham Greene allegedly wrote exactly 500, stopping mid-sentence if necessary. I mean, I am all about that process—it’s tidy, and you always know where you stand—but that is so not happening for me. And it never has. I’ve written 4 novels at this point (it’s ok, I’m so not bragging. None of them were sellable), and I’ve never stuck with a writing schedule for more than a few weeks.
So right now I’m taking a few deep breaths and trying to go back to the mantra that does work for me: take advantage of the opportunities you have.
Trying to take advantage of opportunities I don’t have is kind of insane, and yet I literally have to remind myself not to do it. Like, for example, while standing next to Iris’s crib for 20 minutes because she’s having an insecure night and can’t fall asleep without me standing there with a hand on her belly. Thinking about my word count makes me crazy at times like that. Being able to say yeah, this isn’t really a good writing opportunity makes it a lot easier to let go.
In my housecleaning rotation list, I have a note that says: everything is opportunity. It’s one of those optimistic zen things (I’m pretty sure that’s an oxymoron, but whatever) you see on calendars and crap that means absolutely nothing until it suddenly means something to you. I’m not saying I’m good at this (hence: a written note to self), but it’s something that I find hugely helpful when I have the patience to remember it at all. Everything is opportunity; the trick is to identify what kind of opportunity it might be.
I’m in a really busy, 2-year marathon of baby days right now. I don’t have a lot of writing opportunities, but I do have some. And I have a MILLION great baby-time/bonding/learning/character-growing/contemplating life opportunities, but that’s a whole different post. Sometimes I feel a little badly that so much of my mental strategy as an adult seems to be about learning to manage and manipulate my thinking in order to keep from triggering anxiety or negativity and stay happy and productive. Then again, maybe it’s just being a grown up. Hard to say.
Either way, that’s where I’ve been lately: writing.