The other day I wrote a little over 2,400 words. I don’t use a fancy word count app, or even know where to find those things on my laptop. I count manually, from the place I start writing to where I stop; and that’s only if I really want to know how writing my past traumas, measure up against numbers. Weird, I know.
It wasn’t the first time I had written that much, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. I started my memoir’s sequel at the end of June, and it’s just been pouring out of me. The first draft is whizzing by. I understand first drafts don’t have to be perfect. In fact, they shouldn’t be. They’re allowed to be downright shitty.
If you’re anything like me, your first draft is messy—sentence flow and punctuation might be off, certain word strings don’t make sense, and don’t even get me started on editing while writing a first draft. The words “edit” and “first draft” should not be anywhere near each other while you’re just beginning your creative flow.
However, that phrase—word count— keeps stabbing me in the side, as it does with other writers, perhaps. Some days my word count is in the thousands, and some days, barely in the hundreds.
I read Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, and among many tidbits of sound advice, he mentioned that he shoots for 1,000 words a day at minimum. I’m no Stephen King—there can only be one, and he does it perfectly. Yet, I recognized this as a challenge—and knowing me and my perfectionistic tendencies—I accepted. After all, who doesn’t want to at least try and emulate Stephen King? I realize some of his advice is 100% personal preference, and some of it is absolute gospel.
So I tried on different pieces of his advice, along with the advice of other writers, only keeping what fit into my own little writing corner. It seemed to be working. Writing intuitively felt right; and if you want more information on writing intuitively click here to read my writing coach, Lauren’s, take on the subject. She’s amazing.
Trying on the 1,000 words a day started out rough and I beat myself up over barely making 500, a couple times a week. I thought, I can’t call myself a real writer if I’m not writing everyday and barely breaking 500 words when I do. Then Stephen asked, “Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one? God, I hope not.” Well how can I call myself a writer, Stephen, with my writing schedule and word count? I felt fucked, in a catch 22, with no lube.
Then I stepped back and remembered some of the conversations Lauren and I have had. Her advice echoed in my head: “INFJs need time to process things. Sometimes it takes a while and although it seems like you’re not actually doing anything, you are. You may not be writing, but your brain is working; it’s in a creative space. You just have to trust it.”
It took me a while to fully grasp what she was telling me. Once I had seen and felt it play out, while in different stages of my own creative process, it all made sense. So what if one day I get 500 and the next day I get 2,500? So fucking what? Maybe the day I got 500, I was interrupted by something. Maybe the day I got 2,500 was a glorious uninterrupted day that most writers dream about. And maybe the day I got no words in was a day I worked; which often leaves me drained, and my head full of other people’s words.
I had to learn (and I’m still learning) how to forgive myself for not meeting this desired word count. The count definitely helps keep me on track, I appreciate it for that reason. But in no way does it measure my self-worth as a writer, and in no way can it measure my healing process. It’s kind of like the dreaded scale on a weight-loss journey—it can’t measure all the steps you take to getting happy and healthy. It can’t measure how you feel.
And honestly, now that I think about it, it’s not really the word count that keeps me going. What keeps me going is how proud I am that I can write through some sordid, past experiences—see patterns within the bigger picture—and deal with my own shit. That’s worth counting—how many times I feel good after writing.
And isn’t that what Stephen King said writing is all about? “Getting up, getting well, getting over, and getting happy?” I believe it was. And that bit of advice, I’ll happily take to my grave.