I will be posting next week some of my favorite things I've written this year, and listing the publications I broke into in 2015, and other reflections on my year in writing. But one thing I won't be doing is sharing a grandiose, glamorous, impressive sounding number of words I wrote in the prior 365 days, because I don't have one. I have no clue how many words I write per day, or per month, or per year, because that's not how I calculate my output.
Why? Because for me, I tend to be focused on the finished product. I have umpteen half-finished stories and essays and articles that may or may not someday make it into a publishable form, but when I think about what I've written, it's generally about what I've then shared with other people. I love the moment when I hit the end, when I turn in a piece, or know it's edging closer to publication. I'm honored that this year, while most of my writing was read online, I got to hold newspapers and magazines in my hands and admire my words and byline on their ink-stained or glossy pages. Now, I'm not at all saying only published words are what "counts." Certainly, if you're writing a novel or novella or longer form work, especially, that's an unrealistic measurement. But in my case, even then, I am someone who can't afford to count her chickens before they're published, because then I get ahead of myself and forget to actually dig in and finish.
Yet while I measure my words by how they appear in their final, immutable form (although as a writer, I am always willing to tinker with them in my head post-publication, or imagine what if, or learn what I wish I'd done), I do think there can be something valuable to tracking how much you write. I was reminded of this while listening to Chris Fox on the podcast Write With Impact, which is one of the podcasts I recommended to writers. Fox is the author of the book 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter, which also has a corresponding iPhone app. I've read the book and downloaded the app and plan to use them starting next week to get me over some of my early morning hurdles of eek, I have so many things to write, where do I start?
There are lots of authors who do indeed track their output with a number. You can find various posts boasting of feats like "How I Wrote 400K Words in a Year" as Jamie Todd Rubin wrote at The Daily Beast. Maybe my resistance is self-defeating, because the truth is, I often overthink and over-research and then cannot cram all my thoughts and ideas and findings into a limited word count for an article. Or with fiction, I psych myself out because if I don't know the ending or full story when I start, I don't bother.
But for me, especially as I look back on what I did write in 2015 at this moment in the early morning hours of December 24th, I still want to pause and savor the feeling I had when the words got published, not the amount of them. I want to truly feel what it was like to create them, whether at a leisurely or a far more hectic pace. I want to remember what it felt like to be holed up in a hotel room in South Portland, Maine and write three articles in a day. I want to remember the pride I felt contacting interviewees and saying I was writing an article for The New York Times, plus the rush of editing said article from a hotel and in the car and then from my desk, then seeing people with far more advanced tech skills than I'll ever have make videos of opening the newspaper and zooming in on my piece. I want to remember watching porn from a hotel room in Krabi, Thailand, for research. I want to remember the way it felt to turn life's biggest frustrations and annoyances into words that helped soothe me, even for a few moments. I want to remember rereading my erotica story "Flying Solo," one of my rare second person stories, which I'd written the year before, and deciding, "Hey, this is pretty good," and putting it in my new book (which, I admit, doesn't count exactly as writing, but more like, selecting).
I want to remember the good and bad times, the agonizing, stressful moments writing caused me, the ones that woke me up early and occasionally made me cry, and the euphoric moments where I felt so damn happy and proud and eager and excited. Writing puts me through the gamut of emotions; it is an ever-present voice in my head, whispering in my ear, reminding me that this is my role in life, not just my job. Writing makes itself known to me even when I want to ignore it. While I am actively looking for ways to channel my 2016 writing output into both fruitful possibilities and ones that push me to try new things, which includes doing some of the writing sprints Fox suggests (sort of like sprints when you're working out, but with writing, but read his ebook or get his app for the full scoop), I don't think I will ever be converted to measuring writing in terms of numbers entirely, though I admit, I'm curious, not to much on a year's scale, but to see how many words I can create in a day, and how many I will keep after I'm done futzing with them. I want to see if I can jumpstart myself out of the fear that keeps trying to steer me toward the comfortable status quo and away from the big dreams. I want to go beyond my comfort zone, as I did this year, but also continue to remind myself what I want out of writing, why I do it, what it means to me on the most personal level.