Why the Numbers
(Originally posted to Facebook 01/16/10)
I've been asked a few times recently, why I update my Facebook status with number sentences, and what those numbers mean.
The why: In some ways, the status updates are a diary--a way to keep a timeline on progress and to share it with those who care to know. But, also--much as a dieter would share his/her weight goal with friends as a way to help from cheating--the status messages are a way to keep myself from slaking.
As much as writing is a joy, as big of a blessing as it is to be able to support my family through writing, sometimes it's truly tedious work.
Just like the day job which includes mornings where a person doesn't want to get out of bed, there are times when, if I could, I'd use any excuse possible to avoid sitting at my desk stringing words together. Allegorically, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the weather is begging for a playmate. If my desk chair is empty for the day, no one will ever, ever know.
But writing, as much as it can be a joy, is a job--and if I don't do it, I don't get paid. However, unlike a day job, my deadlines are far off in the future, I chart my own schedule, and I don't have quite the same threats hanging over my head to motivate me to show up for work.
The status messages, in essence, become my accountability--accountability to me, to my friends and family, to my fans, and basically to anyone in the world who cares to look. The threat of embarrassment or public failure appears to be a pretty effective motivator to remain seated and writing, if not entirely focused--definitely not entirely focused.
The what: As readers we tend to think of a book's length in terms of pages, but when writing, the length is more often measured by words. As a general rule, publishers have specific guidelines for the length of their books depending on genre. I write within the suspense/ thriller genre, my publisher has requested works of 100,000 words, and that is my frame of reference as I lay down the first draft.
I don't know how it works for other writers, but for me, to sit at my desk, starting from scratch, with a blank sheet of paper, an idea and an ending that is a contracted 100,000 words away is--well, it's very daunting--very intimidating. So I work as fast as I possibly can to get the story down so that I'm no longer daunted and intimidated, all the while comforting myself in the knowledge that every first draft sucks. Even the best of them. And I plow onward, measuring my progress by the number of words, looking forward to the part of writing that consumes me: turning the first crappy draft into a compelling read.
And that, my friends, is the why and what.
(For those who are interested, here's a link from Wikipedia that discusses novel lengths, and gives some comparisons of famous book sizes by word count. According to that list, THE INFORMATIONIST compares to THE KITE RUNNER in length.)