Life by the Numbers

What is it about humans that makes us so quick to compare every aspect of our lives to others? We obsess over the numbers—sometimes becoming unwitting slaves to what those numbers represent. From the size of our paychecks to the size of our televisions (and other things…), we’re experts at using numbers in virtually every aspect of our lives. We measure the hours, the minutes, the seconds of our day. All day. Every day. We quantify our lives based on the money we make, how many chores we’ve completed, how many miles we can run, the number of sit-ups we can do, and—as a writer—the quantity of the words we’ve written each and every day.

So, let’s take a little look at my average numbers. Writing numbers, that is. I’m not going to tell you how many carpets I may (or may not have) vacuumed, how many loads of laundry I did (or didn’t do) last month, and I’m certainly not going to tell you how many miles I can(’t) run—mostly because I don’t want to.

Plus, let’s face it. No one really cares.

In the past, my writing was mostly done in the spare minutes after I’d gotten home from work, when the evening had come to an end, and the kids were finally in bed. Writing was something I did for fun and, sure, I hoped it would lead somewhere someday, but it wasn’t really a task I took seriously.

I managed to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo in 2013 when I added 50,000 words in one month to a novel I already had a 50,000 word head-start on and that was exhilarating, but that’s the most I’ve ever written in a single month and even now, when I’m writing on a much more full-time basis, I don’t write 50,000 words in a month. If my memory serves me well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything else that month that wasn’t related to writing, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, or putting children to bed. My husband stepped up and did it all that month. If I want to stay married, though, that’s probably not a good longterm strategy for writing.

My writing habits have definitely changed since I began to take writing seriously. Whereas I used to rejoice in putting any number of words on the paper on any given day, I’ve got a schedule that I (generally) stick to pretty religiously these days and it usually results in 5,000 words or more added every week. The key for me is sitting down and making the words happen no matter what. Some days, the words flow like fine wine and other days, I’m lucky if I manage to make the pages sound like they were written by my second-grader… But that’s what it takes to get a first draft done. Fine-tuning can come later.

And some days? Some days life just gets in the way. Case-in-point—I planned to spend a large portion of this weekend writing. Instead, the husband ended up with a migraine in the early hours of Saturday morning, which meant I needed to take him, kids in tow, to Urgent Care for a shot of the good stuff that magically makes migraines disappear—all before breakfast. Then, kids and I got to wait for an hour and a half (because Urgent Care was a madhouse), tired, hungry, and cranky. Half of the day was gone by the time we got home and, to be honest, I was so fatigued just from the running around (introvert much?) that I didn’t have it in me to write. I think I managed maybe 250 words that evening, but really? I didn’t even care about words at that point. So, it’s okay to throw in the towel some days, and admit that it’s just…Not. Going. To. Happen.

The key is making sure that’s not a regular occurrence in your life, and that can be tricky. The novel I’m currently working on is one I started in November of last year. Originally, I wanted to be finished with the first draft by the end of February, but sick kids, sick husband, and life in general got in the way a lot those first few months and it kept me from making the kind of progress I had hoped to make.

I picked up the pace by January, and I am on track to be finished with the first draft of this story by the end of the month. This makes me a happy writer for sure. My numbers show an average of 15,000 – 20,000 words over the last two months because I’ve been living by my own rules and getting the words written, even if some days it’s like pulling teeth to do so.

Most of the time, I don’t encourage assigning a value to the things we do. After all, it’s not what we do, but why we do it that really matters. And you don’t matter less as a writer if you write 500 words a week. (Just the same, you aren’t valued more if you’re a writer who gets 10,000 words written in a week…even if I do gaze longingly at your ability to get so many words down in such a limited time.)

Do what you do because you love to do it and it makes you happy. If the numbers make you happy, keep track of them and rejoice when you hit your milestones! (I do!) But if they don’t, turn off the wordcount feature in your file and plug away without looking. There’s no need to be a slave to living life by the numbers—now or ever!

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My current WIP progress from start to today, 3/11/18.

3 thoughts on “Life by the Numbers

  1. Great post about giving yourself permission to take breaks. This past weekend I attended a book festival and one of the authors quoted Oatmeal, who writes and draws comics with a message, and he said (I’m paraphrasing), if you are always exhaling creativity, you need a chance to inhale creativity as well, or you won’t be able to produce. That is why we need to read as writers! Every book, article, blog or graphic novel, movie or show can inspire us, fuel us, and put the wind back in our sails. Yours is the second blog I’ve read just today that has expressed the need to give ourselves permission to take breaks and refuel, so we can return to the task with a renewed attitude.

    Great job writing all those words! Persinally, after “winning” NaNoWriMo as well in November, I didn’t want to write for probably two months, turning off my 5 am alarm and going back to bed more days than not, and I just started coming out of this slump in February. It was pretty intense. Anyway, good luck and keep on chugging, at whatever rate you need to go.

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    1. This. So much this! You definitely get it. Thank you! Some days it comes naturally, some days it’s like pulling teeth, and some days…well, some days you pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep! (I slept today!!) Keep the faith that what you’re writing is worth every word you put into it AND every hour you take to nap (i.e. recharge)!

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