Writing as discipline

Three years ago, I started the practice of writing every day, and counting the number of words I wrote. It’s a strategy I learned in Boot Camp Keegan, a web programme for short fiction writers established by the incomparable (and difficult) Alex Keegan. It’s good practice, and works well for prose; it sets a bar and forces you to meet it, rather like NaNoWriMo. It’s good for this day-and-age, where people like to talk/blog about being writers but don’t necessary write.

The difficulty is that the numbers become far less impressive when one switches genres. Poetry, for instance, doesn’t get measured by the number of words one writes; when revising, one may cut more words than one produces (and probably should). How do you measure the kind of effort that goes into that? And when one sets one’s mind on Spew, that’s what you get when you write poems — spew, pure and simple.

Drama’s a little different, but do you count words like the names of characters, stage directions (which I try to avoid), and so on? And again, a good play often works like poetry; you cut, slice, tighten until the language sings. Anybody who’s familiar with David Mamet knows that dialogue like this just doesn’t come from blurting.

And so I say all of that to say this: I stopped keeping the wordcount. At times, after I took up blogging, I wondered whether I should start again, but couldn’t decide whether blogging was Real Writing (I’ve since made up my mind that it’s anything you make it out to be, but it’s a little late now). I’d written almost hald a million words in a year and a half, which is not unrespectable, but my problem has always been assessing the value of those words. Of the half-a-million, how many should one keep?

That said, the discipline of writing every day is an excellent one. Writing’s like running; you have to keep at it, otherwise stuff gets flabby and you don’t attain what you should. That’s why I like NaPo and NaNo.

But I just looked at my 2006 wordcount. I didn’t record anything, and it’s pretty depressing; I’ve been at 442744 words for a little too long (and I’m sure I’m over the half-million now, even with my dismal record this year, but I just wasn’t counting).


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