Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Word Count: The Evil Enemy

I’m in week 8 of The Artist’s Way. Once again, I’m struck by the messages that were surely written specifically for me.

Here’s a passage:
Instead of allowing ourselves a creative journey, we focus on the length of the trip. Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can seem foolish or barren. Creativity lies not in the done, but in doing.

I’ve learned that when you tell someone you’re writing a book, the first question you’re asked is “What’s it about?” The second question is “When will you be finished?”

The “word count” feature in Microsoft Word is an evil enemy because it keeps your eye on the product (a finished work of at least 80,000 words).

On my intention board was a Post-It note that read “Finish novel by Dec. 31, 2009.” I’ve replaced it with “Write each day. Show up.”

How can the story unfold naturally if I give myself a word limit and a deadline? I’m not a journalist any more. I’m a conduit for a story that aches to be told, that’s still being formed, that needs time and space to expand and contract.

Granted, a map on this journey would do a lot to ease my anxiety. But what if I decided to see that anxiety as anticipation of what’s to unfold?

In five or 10 years, when I look back at my path, I’m certain it won’t be one that I could’ve predicted.

What's the “product” that stands in the way of your creative process?


  1. I agree with you - word counts and deadlines can be death on creativity. But. If I didn't have those parameters, I'm not sure I'd get much done.

    Since I don't have an editor standing over me saying "I need that draft, stat!" the writing can get pushed to the bottom of the pile. I like having the pressure of deadlines/word counts - it keeps me moving.

  2. I think my goal of writing every day implies a future "deadline" for my book(s). But I understand about needing parameters. My writing days seem so wide open -- perhaps mini-goals and mini-deadlines are what I need. ;0

  3. I like what your note says "Write each day. Show up." I have had to put a note on my coffee pot, my bathroom mirror, and other strategic places to "Write for 30 minutes". You see, I'm also working on a novel, but I have been having a hard time just putting my butt in the chair, and actually continuing the work. I always find some kind of excuse. I am editor of a newspaper, and I do write frequently, but this kind is so much different. And writing fiction is already stretching my comfort zone...So...my point is....deadlines are good, but a BIG deadline is not a good thing for me. The mini-deadlines you talked about sound better. Maybe a daily word count would be good. Sometimes, I don't even write on my novel..>I just write. Your recommendation of the writing exercises sounds like a great idea!!

    By the way, I like this blog, and plan to come back to it as much as I can!!


  4. Thanks, Jeanne. Glad you are getting something out of the blog. I'm so happy to connect with other writers experiencing the same challenges and joys!