A Year in Words

page in typewriter with the words stories matter printed on the page - Photo by Suzy Hazelwood: https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-red-typewriter-1995842/

Last year was the first time I actively tracked my word count for an extended period. I found a great tracking spreadsheet in the 20 Books to 50K Facebook group that I used for the year. It was created by one of the group admins and has sections to support up to 12 projects, and areas to set writing goals.

I tracked my novel and blog content production.

It had ups and downs; chronic pain doesn’t care about my writing ambitions, and neither does COVID. There are some areas with nothing recorded because of that. Those empty sections grated on me. It was difficult to keep up motivation and hard to build up momentum again. There are also streaks where I wrote daily and achieved consistent word counts. My longest streak was 19 days. Even though the pendulum swings both ways, I still mentally berated myself for the patches with nothing recorded and hardly acknowledged my consistency.

I hold myself to high standards, and set greater and greater goals, because I know I’m capable of more, and I want to keep urging myself to surpass previous achievements. I know that it’s productivity anxiety that makes me feel like nothing I do is enough. I’m still learning how to combat that negative thinking. Despite completing my first draft, revising my outline, roughing details for the rest of the series, and starting my second draft, I still antagonized myself, and felt like I wasn’t making any progress.

Last year I wrote 73,877 words for my novel.

Other writers get by without tracking their word count, and I’m happy for them. Everyone that I’ve told about tracking my word count has had a negative opinion about using that as a metric for writing progress. Everyone.

I understand where they’re coming from and the points they made do make sense:

  • Quality is more important than quantity.
  • Word counts don’t reflect the time spent editing and revising.
  • Focusing on targets is a distraction.
  • Forcing yourself to meet a goal takes the fun out of writing.
  • Writing is already hard, why put extra pressure on yourself?

This was the consensus even when I was working on my first draft. You know, the garbage copy. The version that will never be published.

What’s interesting though, is that all of the authors I follow who have published multiple books (whether or not they are well known) do track their word counts. Famous Writing Routines has a great article about Stephen King and his process that is both daunting and motivating, and there are so many more great author interviews there…

A couple years ago I tried to motivate some friends to establish creativity routines (setting goals and checking in with each other for accountability) and was immediately dismissed because they “didn’t want their hobby to feel like a job.” I realize now that that’s where I differ from the other people in my life. I want my hobby to become my job, and the only way to make that happen is to take it seriously; dedicate myself to it and see how far I can go.

I used to joke that routines kill people (because once a stalker or serial killer figures out your schedule; you’re dead), and that’s still true in so many ways for us habitual creatures. Finding patterns and avoiding change is part of our brain function, yet I’ve upended my life (willingly) more than anyone I know.

I taught myself to read tarot when I was a teenager. I moved out well before I was ready to do so, but never returned to live in my family home. I’ve changed careers twice. I work as a website programmer even though I received an education in digital media design.

What would stop me accepting the call of another quest?

Me. Only me.

My brain has a habit of telling me that I’m not capable, that I will fail, that I’m not doing enough, that I’ll never reach my goal and become an author. My own fear stands in my way. Seeing this word count for 2022 has helped to quell some of that. I am doing this. I have proof. I’m declaring war on my anxiety with my word count.

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