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Word CountOctober 20, 2006

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
    Annie Dillard

That quote has both inspired and scared me for years. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, as I've been finishing up some little things, completing a small writing project prior to the Big November Challenge.

You know, sometimes I wonder if I'm really a writer. This isn't the place to pop into the comment box and give me a pat on the shoulder; I'm not looking for that, but thanks. It's just me talking.

I answer 911 to pay the bills. I drive dogs around. I vacuum. I watch Project Runway. Is that how I'm spending my life? Do I write? I babble here, and I publish random articles in random magazines, but really, writing? What I call myself, do I deserve to give myself that label?

But I was futzing around online -- I want to write and store my NaNoWriMo novel somewhere online, so I can access it from wherever I am -- and I was playing with applications. I used older documents to test the apps out. I happened to check word counts.


NaNoWriMo's goal is a novel of 50,000 words completed in 30 days. That's a short novel, to be sure. But that's what they've defined their novel to be.

The two documents I pulled up? One is the Long Work, that's been in the pipes for years now. That one was 149,000 words (it's been THIS close to being finished for so long). The Short Thing I've been playing with for a little while now, that was already at 38,000 words. So in terms of the NaNo word-count, that's about three and a half novels. Sure, neither are done, and neither are published, and I'm not sure either ever will be. Doesn't really matter that much, honestly.

It's really that they're there, you know? That these two alternate worlds are in my computer (and backed up, yes) and in my head, that I can drop into them, and it's like they exist. I can picture my character's living rooms. Their hair in the mornings. What they order at the coffee-shop. Who they miss.

That's writing. I guess I've been writing. I'm happy about that. It's kind of strange how much better seeing word-counts made me feel. Writing doesn't weigh much in your hands. It certainly doesn't pay. It's hard to prove. But word-counts don't lie. I guess I have been writing. Yay.


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Yes, yay. Word-counts do help to provide validation.

I'm still waffling about Nanowrimo, but, hey, there's still a week or so to go, right?

good for you. I tend towards the spare, myself, thinking I have written a great deal and finding few words. It can be... frustrating sometimes.

And writely, for my money, is a fantastic free online word-processor.

I think NaNoWriMo is crazy, but I absolutely believe you're a writer, and I recommend Google Docs (nee. Writely) if you haven't settled on an online app yet. I actually wrote a book in it while it was still in beta version and it was smooth sailing. A knitting book, not a novel, but still.

What? Writing doesn't pay?


OK, time to revise the game plan ... and maybe see if I can take back that letter I wrote my boss *g*

Seriously (and no, I haven't sent any letters that would be the equivalent of shooting myself in the foot) yes, you are a writer, dude. I have proof. Look, up there! Words!


I have always thought I could be a writer, but finally admitted, that I am not. I am not a particularly good or interesting writer.

But I have also always thought there is value in small lives. I don't think we are all meant to do grand things. Some of us are just meant to putter through our lives, be our dogs' mom, paint a little, knit a little, smile at people and brighten a few days. That is my life, and I am really good with that. I don't have to do great things to have a great life. As long as you are satisfied with your life, I think, is the thing. How you feel about it. So I stoppped worrying that my life didn't have big purpose. Now, I am really happy with that.

Two thoughts: 1. create a Typeepad blog for your novel, perhaps password-protected (can Typepad do that?); I created a blog for mine because I was posting online as I wrote - I also had a separate text file. 2. Store your novel in a Gmail account - mail yourself the text file every time you're finished with a writing session. Obviously, date-stamping the text file is key here, so you always have the latest one.

I feel obliged to point out that you've just written a 417-word blog post, which is certainly a non-trivial number of words. I think we - can I say "we"? Am *I* a writer? - tend to dismiss our blog writing AS writing, but it is.

Do not dismiss the blog writing. It may not be fiction, and you may not be getting paid for it, but it's connecting you to the audience in a way that your novels (which are locked on your hard drive, even though I REALLY WANT TO READ THEM!!) currently aren't. And it's exercising your writing muscles, keeping them flexible and ready to POUNCE. On the writing.

I have considered joining nano for the last three years running. Each time, I decide that (while it's a worthy project, and it does a lot of people a lot of good) spending a month churning out 50,000 words (most of which will be rushed and ill-conceived) would be a sub-optimal use of my time.

(I've often mulled over the idea of creating a Nano-like project, where people sign up to spend the next month finishing their current writing WIP, whatever that may entail.)

That being said, Nano is a good kick in the pants, and a fun way to spend a month with a community of like-minded people. The Nano feedback and user forums are insanely great, and it's fun even just to watch everyone and cheer from the sidelines.

My master's thesis, which took me MONTHS to write, is 36,815 words. It was liberating to finally be able to just blah, blah, blah, instead of being restricted to a page count ("Have pity!" the TAs used to say - Imagine having to read and grade twenty 10-page papers) Since school, so much of what I've written for work has to "fit", so I've learned to edit, edit, edit and whittle it down to 100-150 or so extremly well-chosen words. I'm not sure I could turn out the requisite 1666.66 words needed per day to participate in NaNoWriMo and be able to tell a coherent story. My hat's off to you for tryin', my writer friend.

love you

And I'm not looking to start a bar fight in your comments, but no, blogging doesn't count as writing. Not for what we do and how we define it. So I know exactly what you mean re: those word counts.

Beacuse you are, of course, a writer.

mmm-hmmmm. i oscillate between thinking of my job as a "day job", secondary to what i do and what i love, and being worried that the day job and the hundred other little things will become my life-- or has. sometimes it's good to have something tangible to hold in your hand and say yes, THIS is what i do.

I feel exactly the same way when I flip through my notebooks and see all those pages filled with my handwriting (yeah, I still write by hand.)

It may seem like I'm not getting anywhere, but, dude, I wrote all that.

I have had some conversations with my husband (the as yet unpublished writer) on this subject, and I agree: you write. You are a writer. Even if you don't get to do it every single day, you DO IT, and have the will to continue.

I love Annie Dillard and I believe that she is right. And I believe that how you, Rachael, spend your life, is by expressing/experiencing love in any number of spheres. I think that is a pretty big deal and I regard you highly for it. You had me at that as whats-her-name said to Tom Cruise in that movie. But, you can also admit that you want to do things differently and that's so human. And you get to plan it, work it and maybe get there and maybe not. And I think that't also what we're given live to learn. Struggle/fail/rest/struggle. Gather sticks, carry water. Or whatever that old saying is. Thanks for your honesty.

I always think its not what you are actually doing when you are living your day, but what your state of mind is while you do it. I know I have been woefully unhappy while doing things that should have been so fulfilling and wonderful but just werent.
I dont actually buy it that definition (and fulfillment?) only comes from the activities of the days as they add up... it comes in the way you approach it all.
I go with Milton-- the mind is its own place, and in itself can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell.
Dude you made me get so philosophical... Im gonna go drink a White Russian now ;)

I don't know if anyone else has said this because I didn't read all the responses yet -- BUT - A writer is someone who writes because they must - they have no choice - they don't do it only to make money - they don't do it to write 50,000 words in 30 days they do it because if they didn't they would be less they would not be themselves. Much like I am sure Lala MUST do music -- being paid doesn't define what she is or what the others in the band are - they are musicians - even if they didn't get paid (which is a super perk BTW) they would still be musicians and would still play -- so no matter what anyone else says or what their criteria is -- you are a writer! You write here, I bet you have a journal to write things in as they come to you - I bet you enjoy words and playing with words and learning new words -- believe me in your heart, in your mind, in your very soul - you are a writer it IS what you are - no getting around it. :D

Now if I could just figure out what I am..... ;)

I think that a writer is just someone who writes. If you get paid you're a professional writer and if you don't then you're an amateur writer. You don't have to be compelled to do it, you don't have to be paid to do it, you don't even have to enjoy it -- you just have to DO it.

I think that people have a tendency to overthink things! Also, there's a mystique that goes along with writing (and being an artist or musician) that makes people waffle about whether they're a "real" writer, as if there was some sort of template you had to match yourself to. When is one a "real" gardener, a "real" computer programmer, a "real" cook or a "real" anything? I think all you really need is to be interested enough in something to do it fairly regularly and have a desire to improve your skills in whatever-it-is. And then bam! there you are. A writer.

NaNo is a fun thing to do once a year (and by "fun" I mean "insanity"). I keep my novel on my work machine and I just log in remotely when I need to. Anyplace I'm likely to be will either have remote connection software installed or won't have a computer at all. If it's a real emergency there's always notepads. Google mail and blogging sound like a real pain in the butt when you need to put everything together in one text file.

Anyway, good luck with NaNo!

De-lurking to say that I've loved checking in to your blog for a really long time now. (I'd just been quite shy about commenting before.) It makes me very happy.

I really appreciate this post in particular. I just started a blog last month, in part to get into the habit of daily writing. And it's funny how quickly all these questions come up about what it says about who I am... or am not. (I assure you I am not a NaNo contender. I don't even know what that would take.)

Thank you for sharing these dilemmas about writing and for being such an all-around rockstar!

Being a writer is a difficult title to define, isn't it? My mother writes poetry and has won lots a awards and writing contracts, blah, blah, blah...but she introduces ME as a writer. I maybe write 15 poems a year, and a couple of short stories. I was worried for awhile that she was putting pressure on me to pursue it farther, but she told me that if the work has meaning, care, and dedication then you are a writer. I never realized it could be that simple.

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