Writers count words.
That probably comes as no surprise to the readers of this blog, but still. Those who write for publication count words. It comes with the territory, as Professor Harold Hill might say (or sing). Writers-for-publication know that published articles, stories, and books in certain genres must meet certain word counts. For example, a two-page spread in a magazine is typically 1,200 words or so. A historical novel tends to be 80-100,000 words in length. And so on.
Many writers plan their writing routine by the word count. Novelist Graham Greene averaged 500 words a day, five days a week; Kate DiCamillo’s daily goal is in the 600-900-word range. Michael Crichton somehow produced 10,000 words daily. My head hurts just looking at that number.
So, yeah, counting words is part of the job. You just do it. But there are other things to count. Better things, perhaps. Not dollars (though some clients of The Steve Laube Agency probably spend a lot of time counting their money). But I’d like to suggest counting more than words.
Count friends. Writing is a solitary task for most. It requires long spells of quiet and solitude. But even the most introverted writers (like me) need friends and thrive when the company and support of others fuels their writing life. If you feel a lack in this area, take out an ad. Or get thee to a conference.
Count skills. Have you learned any new skills lately? Every so often one of my writer friends—or even my boss, the Incomparable Steve LaubeTM—will say something like, “Guess what I learned recently!” My ears always perk up, as I try to be alert to new tricks of the trade.
Count books. Not those you’ve written but those you’ve read. Prolific western writer Louis L’Amour wrote in his autobiographical Education of a Wandering Man: “A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in first.” So count the books you read each year, to ensure that you’re putting enough magic into your brain.
Count your blessings. Maybe it’s because writers spend so much time alone, with themselves and with their thoughts, but we can be a gloomy lot. I suppose it could also have something to do with the frustration of working with editors and agents. Nah. But how often do we lift our heads from our keyboards and think, How blessed am I to do this? How fortunate am I to know so many words and know how to use them? To live the literary life? To rub shoulders with people like Bob Hostetler? Count your blessings. Very few people get to do what you do.
Count incandescent moments. Those flashes of inspiration? You know, when the words flow, along with laughter and tears, as you write? Count those. Record them. Remember them. Revisit them. They may not keep you warm in your old age, but they sure can temper rejection and inspire diligence.
These are just some of the things I think we should count as writers. I imagine you can add a few of your own—right? What do you track and count, as a writer? Or what do you plan to do, moving forward?