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It is all in the numbers.

mom and her brother

my mother and her older brother

Isabel Allende begins every novel she writes on January 8th. Lots of hopeful writers begin their first novel on November 1st thinking that 30 days and 50 thousand words will tell a story. Julia Cameron says to write 3 morning pages a day to reach far enough into your creativity. Joseph Wambaugh says he writes 1,000 words a day. Erica Jong writes 10 pages a day (with a pen). Tim O’Brien claimed to write 9 hours every single day no matter what day it was.

Then there is the magic of 10–top 10 rules of writing, top 10 joys of writing, top 10 fears of writers, top 10 ways to get published, top 10 books of the year, top 10 books ever written (let’s make that last one 100 because ever is a long time)

Plenty of writers hate math, but they like numbers.

In my novels I pay attention to how many times a person knocks on a door–there is a world of difference between the girl who knocks once and the girl who knocks 3 times, the family who has 7 sons and the family who has 1 daughter, the number of days between the first hello and the first kiss and the number of kisses…

20 years ago today my mother passed away and I can’t shake the feeling the feeling that today I should write something great, something she would like, something important. But I am still the writer I was yesterday and no number of words is ever the right number. When my mother died I remember thinking that I could not survive feeling that way for 20 years.

I worry that I can’t keep writing if I don’t get published in 1 year or by this date or another. And how many novels I have written? 6. Unpublished. That number seems magical too as if it is the number of failure (that many and still not published?) or determination (1 of those is bound to be the 1!).

Do you have a magic number? A day or an hour you like to start your writing? A particular number of pages or words? A deadline that keeps you going or trips you up?

In this new novel so far I have 31,658 words. That is not a bad number, but I’m still counting.

7 thoughts on “It is all in the numbers.

  1. I have had all sorts of magical deadlines that have passed unfulfilled. Now I am doing something simple and doable: 100 stories in 100 days. I wasn’t sure I could even do that, but I finally committed myself to a bite I could actually chew. It doesn’t mean anything special except that I can do it, or at least half of it so far, most of them about 500 words, and if I finish, maybe it will give me courage to set the bar higher, or just keep the same going on for longer. It’s more than I’ve even sustained regularly before. I must have been ready. There’s something about each piece having to be a complete work. No drafts.

  2. Last year I got all worked up because a bunch of numbers were lining up, and I was convinced it was a sign I would be published during a specific window of time. It was hard to rebound from the disappointment of that week passing quietly.

  3. Nope no magic numbers. Just before I die sometime, I’d like to be published. Sooner is better than later, as with most things regarding our dreams, but sometime before I die will have to suffice.

    On the other hand, I feel this constant pressure to perform and it makes me stop and freeze and sit there stagnant. If I ever figure out a way out of this mental and emotional log jam I’m in, I’ll be sure to let everyone know if a magic number surfaces.

    For now, though … no numbers. Maybe I need one?

  4. I’m sorry today is such a sad anniversary for you. So often I wish we could forget those sad dates, but they seem as indelibly inked on our hearts as much as the good days, no matter what we do.

  5. Hmm, some numbers…

    If I don’t have at least 90 minutes to write in the morning — meaning just write, not check email etc. — it’s even pointless to try.

    I used to do word counts for each session, and if I were doing NaNo I’d want to go back to that. But the numbers were wildly unpredictable; if I’d used them to gauge a session’s success, I’d probably have quit long ago. If I had my bare-minimum 90 minutes, and a lot of editing from the previous day to start with, I might do a couple hundred words. But I’m generally a fast writer and tended to think anything less than a thousand words probably didn’t really count.

    When I was in my early 20s, I once calculated what I thought must be my personal magic number. I started with every numeric identifying I could think of which connected to me — date of birth, phone number, street address, Social Security Number, employee number where I was working, etc. Totaled up all the individual digits. Repeated with the result, then with THAT result, and so on, until I had a single-digit result. Which was 6.

    …but in the next moment, I realized that the number was going to change every time I moved or got a new phone number. I realized how arbitrary my selection had been in the first place. If phone number, why not license-plate number? Why not EVERY phone number I’d ever had? Why not count how many siblings I had, and why not their phone numbers and street addresses and birthdays? Why not include the date on which I calculated the magic number?

    If I’d kept at it and updated it every time there was a change, and if it always totaled up to 6: now, that would’ve been spooky…

    Really, anymore I’ve got only one number which counts: one. As in: one book which really honest-to-God counts, and one lifetime in which to finish it, and at least one hypothetical reader who doesn’t and will never know me who says to himself or herself at the end: Damn. Just… Damn. Who the hell is this author, and why haven’t I heard of him or his book before?!?

  6. Pingback: The Quickening Squirrel

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