Numbers

Writers love to tell you their word counts.

“Just did 500 words before breakfast!”

“Got my 1,000 words done for the day!”

“30,000 words done on the new novel!”

We take great delight in passing on the numbers we produce. I have been no exception. If you trawled back through my Facebook and Twitter posts, you would find statements similar to those above (though probably not without profanity).

Well, I’m here to tell you that’s all in the past. Aside from those punching the keyboard, no digits will ever again offer any implied measure of my authorial efforts. And if my colleagues on the shelves have a high regard for the craft – as I know they do – they will avoid any future reference to word counts, too.

Why suddenly anti-number? I came to the realization I was aiding and abetting a criminal view of creativity. The worth of a work should never be reduced down to sequences you’d find on a credit card. Indeed, numbers are the natural enemy to a writer’s words: number of rejections, number of slush piles, number of acquisitions, number of marketing dollars, number of sales, number of stars, number of reviews, number of awards, number of Goodreads comments… All strive to quantify the ethereal, box in the boundless, head count the rods and cones in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes they are harmless; more often they hurt. Either way, they never reflect the true value of the work they try to pin down.

All of the above numbers are out of the writer’s control. Word counts – we alone are responsible for those. And make no mistake, they are just like the others: a straw-man parading as a prince. I wrote 637 words today…big deal. The statement has no inherent worth. What were the words like? Difficult? Easy? Beautiful? Dumb? Compelling? Did your characters speak to you? Did they hide? Did your plot twist pour down like an avalanche? Did it settle over the story like falling ash? Describe the process, not with a number…with a few words! For Shakespeare’s sake, that’s what writers are supposed to do!

So, my pledge going forward: If I ever assume you to be interested in the progress of my latest work, I will address you as an author, not as an abacus.

I will tell you how, not how many.