Monday, July 13, 2015

A Few Words about Word Count

I know now a week after hitting my goal of 80,000 words why that became such a singular focus.

Just two summers ago, I studied creative non-fiction at the Washington University Summer Writers Institute. There I came to understand that I love writing so much--the stringing of words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs--that I will always do it regardless of whether my words land in the pages of a book or magazine or simply remain in my growing collection of journals. That I could call myself a writer simply because I love doing it and regardless of where my work landed was an epiphany.

At the time, I labored over a story that I'd been writing in my head for twenty years. I workshopped it in class and on the weekends I continued to mold it like a lump of clay in a sculptor's hands. The narrative became my final project and I was so pleased with how it came out. But it was seven pages long. The effort it took to produce those seven pages felt like seventy, and so at the time, I heard a tiny door shut. I had thought this story would be a book one day. But I'd basically said all I needed say in those seven pages. I heard myself say, "Well, that must mean there's not a book in me after all. Just essays and other random non-book-length pieces." And so for the past two years as I kept talking to myself about squeezing daily writing into my already full schedule, I kept book length at arms length.

And then I challenged myself to write fiction. Day-by-day my imagination met me at my lap top and new stuff appeared. And kept coming. And I felt good. Really good. Empowered. Capable. And so, I kept writing (not without the encouragement of friends). That's where the 80,000 word goal originated. I wanted to see these days of writing pile up. To prove to myself that I had more than seven pages of anything in me.

And so I did. I have 212 to date. My characters have turned off the light and are having a little nap in my mind. I miss them already and once in awhile I check on them like a parent who slips into her daughter's room. But I'm letting them sleep. We'll all know when it's time to wake up and start working together again.

For now, it's enough carrying around my notebook of words. I did it. And now I know I am capable of so much more.

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