For not being a numbers person, I got very attached to the number of words that were piling up as I neared my 80,000 first draft word goal. At the beginning of June, I set the mini-goal to go to the Haven retreat having reached 65,000 words, which I did. That meant that when I came home five days later I would only have 15,000 words to go minus whatever I'd written during the retreat.
In addition to texting Dan my daily “page done” texts, I began texting him my daily word count. He cheered me on until one day he'd had enough.
“Are you writing for word count or for the story? Stop counting words! The word count doesn't matter!”
I insisted that I was writing for the story, but that the word count was a goal I had to meet. I had tricked myself into believing that if I didn't finish 80,000 words by the end of June I would have somehow failed.
“What are you talking about? Failed? Because you wrote a book you didn't believe you could in a few short months? There's no failure there,” Dan said, exasperated.
I wasn't granting myself much gentleness around this time.
But Dan was.
“No word counting for a week. Just write and see where you end up after the week.”
By this time I knew that following Dan's advice was the only smart thing to do. Look how far it had gotten me already. I had 5,151 words to go. So for one week I wrote. From June 24 to June 30, I didn't look at the word count. And my frenzy fizzled and I regained perspective and composure about this big task I had undertaken and at which I was, in fact, succeeding.
On July 1, per our agreement I was allowed to look at the word count and I did. In a week's time I'd whittled those 5,100 words down to 2,126 and I kept writing. On July 7, I surpassed 80,000 words!
I couldn't articulate until after I'd met my goal why those 80,000 words had become so important.
Two summers before I had written an essay that I had carried with me for twenty years. It had taken me that long to be brave enough to commit it to paper. I poured my heart out in this narrative. I had been vulnerable in class and workshopped it. With my classmates' help, I had crafted a beautiful story of which I was very proud. I put so much effort into the story, and when I turned it in it was seven pages. SEVEN. Those seven pages had felt like seventy. Going into the class, I believed this story was going to be a book one day. And now I'd written it and it only took seven pages to tell. My hopes for a book were dashed. If I couldn't write this story into a book, I convinced myself that I didn't have a book in me after all.
Writing to 80,000 words was my way of proving myself wrong. To Dan's point, by 75,000 words, I had already proved myself wrong, but in those last weeks of June, I'd lost sight of that. With Dan's help, I regained equilibrium about my goal and my unbelievable success.