Writing by numbers

Shoving creativity into neat little boxes of specific sizes is difficult. Still, I tend to quantify my writing. It provides the sense that I am actually accomplishing something and adds to the vague hope that someday the rest of the world will get to see the accomplishments that have consumed my hours.

How much can I write in a day? During writing sprints with friends, I produce anywhere from 100 to a smidgen over 300 words in 60 minutes. That makes participating in NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) impractical for me. At my slowest speed I would spend over 16 hours a day writing, and at my fastest, about 5 ½ hours. That amount of time might not kill me if I didn’t have 40 hours of work every week. I plan to keep my paying job. I like eating food and living somewhere other than a homeless shelter.

I have discovered that attempts to keep up my average pace of writing for eight hours on a weekend day also flounders. After years of deducing a reasonable amount of time to spend writing another problem raises its head like a pesky snake. How long can I sit still and write before I start producing drivel? I’ve set a more practical goal of one thousand words a week, or fifty thousand in a year. I do know math—I plan to take two weeks of vacation from my work in progress every year. However, I have yet to keep that promise to myself of only taking off those two weeks.

Despite the fact that I outline anything longer than poetry I run into a limit for the number of words based on coming up with new ideas and new ways to express old ideas. Over the years I’ve learned to spend time living through the story in my head. I get my physical exercise by strolling down the block while reciting conversations between my characters. I suppose my neighbors think I am a bit crazy (or maybe they just assume I’m wearing a Bluetooth headset). If I don’t allow characters the luxury of time to live they start repeating what they said yesterday. The fictional problems that crop up in their lives never do get solved.

Even when I allow characters time to unfold in my mind, roadblocks still pop up. I have never cried “writer’s block” in despair. Instead I pull out another story from my file of ideas. When I had young children, all I had time to create was sketches of stories. That brings up the next question in my tangled tale. How many different books can I work on at one time? I struggle to keep that number under five. The newest one always promises to be the best until the day I get stuck and shove it aside for an undetermined amount of time.

However, the most difficult part of mapping out writing by the numbers is the task I find when I’ve finished a piece. I discover after completing what I had to say that it required too many words, too many details, and too much that the reader could simply not care less about. How many words can I edit out of a 100,000 word manuscript in an hour? I don’t have statistics on that, but I am sure it is a lot less than I can write.

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