We all write in our journals.  That’s how I start my day, rattling off ideas, adding to the to-do list.  Meandering around paragraphs, tripping through weed-infested sentences.  I keep a running journal, a few years deep, and the other day, like finally checking the car odometer, I checked the word cumulation on my Scrivener program –   700,000 words.

Like walking 10,000 steps or practicing a new skill for 10,000 hours, I decided that 700,000 was close enough to a million to justify comment.  Like all the above numbers, they are irrelevant but certainly nice and round and easy to remember. All that throat clearing is to say that it often takes a thick journal of words to create a small novel.  

How many words are you writing?  Do you track your words in your journal?  Should you?

Except to offer some pandemic bragging rights, casually mentioning that you just wrote a million words during lockdown, does your word count really matter?

Word count matters because it takes a surprising volume of unnecessary words to reach and produce the perfect sentence, the cogent idea.  Most of my million words are little more than crumpled origami cranes, soaking wet watercolor paper, lumps of clay that never reached their dreams of a matched set of mugs.  Yet every word needs to be released. There are health benefits to allowing all that lumpen clay to emerge, squeezed out like a  play dough press, we called it a machine, much sexier, it was a glorified garlic press, brilliant. 

Anyway, we have all these words, particularly if we are female, and in a lockdown situation, there aren’t many places or persons on which to inflict, er, express those words.  Thus the million-word journal.

And from those million words can come a considerably smaller novel, a tiny blog, a brief poem.  But even as an advocate for unmitigated creativity and experimentation, I was surprised at how much experimentation, just how many words it takes, and how many words to reject, before coming up with a finished project – a shiny perfect novel. 

Certainly, some of our first thoughts could be our best, but most thoughts need a little later editorial help.  Back in the days of radio, on average it took an hour of work to produce a minute of on-air promotion.   It takes thousands of words to produce a haiku,  tens of thousands of words to produce a blog, hundreds of thousands of words to circle back, and launch that 70,000-word novel.

Like pounding clay (or sourdough dough) enjoy the process of making words and sentences. Worry about making sense later.


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