‘What is this obsession with wordcount? Does wordcount count?’ I have wondered many times. Did Shakespeare think of it? Did Doris Lessing count her words every day? Does Jhumpa Lahiri do it? Is NaNoWriMo actually making a big difference in the lives of innumerable writers? Are we sacrificing quality for quantity? With all these questions haunting my mind, I picked up ‘Ernest Hemingway on Writing’ yesterday. It has a place right in the front of my bookshelf because I pick it up often, open any page randomly for a dose of inspiration. You can compare this to taking a cowboy taking a swig out of the whisky flask just before he kicks off on his horse. This time, I got this…
“I loved to write very much and was never happier than doing it. Charlie’s (Scribner’s) ridiculing of my daily word count was because he did not understand me or writing especially well nor could know how happy one felt to have put down properly 422 words as you wanted them to be. And days of 1200 or 2700 were something that made you happier than you could believe. Since I found that 400 to 600 well done was a pace I could hold much better was always happy with that number. But if I only had 320 I felt good.”
- Ernest Hemingway
Then the prolific Stephen King says in his book ‘Stephen King on Writing’,
“I like to get 10 pages a day – amounts to 2000 words – only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2000 words.”
Suddenly it struck me that R.K.Narayan also says in his book ‘My Days’ that he sticks to 1000 words a day every day. Nanowrimo asks for just 1667 words a day. It’s just that we have days when we skip it, laze it and then end up doing 5000 – 10000 words to catch up. When we skip these goals in our everyday life, there is no Nanowrimo to hold us accountable. We should have a Nanowrimo every month.
Writing is a lonely profession with no fixed salaries, recognition or instant credit. It is easy for one to lose focus on the way and go astray. It is easy to grow lazy and hard to overcome the tedium. Every November, a jolt hits us, shakes us up, gets us writing and reaffirms our faith in ourselves. Even today, I had to force myself to say ‘no’ to an outing with friends. Writing needs to shift from my back seat to my front seat. In fact, I think I should allow it into the driver’s seat and take my life in the direction that it should actually be going.
“If you have the opportunity to live an extraordinary life, you have no right to keep it to yourself”
- Jacques Cousteau
December has now dawned on us – the month of revisions and editing. I wonder what the new year is to bring and I pray and hope that it is writing, writing and more writing with a bit of publishing (*fingers crossed) thrown in.