Sunday, April 09, 2006

Making Every Word Count?

Those of you who, as I did, learned the esoteric art of counting words in the days before word processing was entirely ubiquitous may have noticed something odd about my struggling-with-writing (and drive by Ayn Rand bashing) example of a couple of posts back, of slogging ahead by typing "A is A" 83.33 times.

"Wait a minute," you're thinking, "Since when do words comprised of only one or two letters count towards the word tally?"

Yes, as I learned it, way back when we were impressed by 64 whole K of memory, when you're counting the number of words in a project, you ignore words that are made up of fewer than three letters.

Well, I don't know when the convention changed, but when Word counts words, it includes all of them, even "A" "is" and "A."

But two points spring to mind: First, I learned the Fewer-Than-Three-Letters-Doesn't-Count Rule from my parents, both of whom were and are journalists. And that's a hint why the rule is obsolete - it existed mainly to facilitate typesetting. But typesetting is extinct in professional publishing. When the page can be laid out electronically to maximize space efficiency, counting one- and two-letter words doesn't throw anything off. It just makes more sense to have a word count that includes everything.

But that's really a tangential issue. The second, more important point is that I set a word-count goal to give myself a target, something to try to achieve, not something else to worry and fret about.

And that's vital, for me, in trying to develop, or re-develop, the habit of writing: Not worrying about things that will just slow me down.

Before I sat down to try to meet yesterday's target, I thought that today would include a post about throttling your Inner Critic. About shooting the mean little man who sits on your shoulder and tells you that what you just wrote isn't good enough. "Just do it!" I was going to declaim. (Derivative, I know. Give me a break - I'm getting back from erstwhile!)

I would probably have concluded with something like, "I forged bravely ahead, without regard to my inner critic. I ignored the urge to wordsmith. That's the way to move forward."

Which would have been great, albeit pretentious and self-congratulatory. If that's what I had ended up doing.

The fact is, while I did try to ignore the critic on my shoulder, I couldn't always do it. Sitting at the computer, I would look at what I had just written, and worry about something that didn't read quite right. That I could have expressed more simply, or clearly, or strongly.

So I found myself stopping. And worrying. And worrying about stopping and worrying! I quite literally sat there fretting about whether I should stop and edit, or if that was cheating. Or counterproductive. Or something. Instead of writing, I was worrying about the rules that I had invented to help motivate me to write!

And I realized that I could not let worrying about the Rules be one of the things holding me back. I was just replacing the Little Writing Critic with the Little Back From Erstwhile Rules Critic. I was generating obstacles to my own success. So I stopped worrying about the rules. I edited on the fly. I wordsmithed. I did what I needed to do, to get unstuck and move forward.

And that was liberating. If the process is what matters - and right now is all about the process - then I can't let worrying about the process be something that inhibits the process. I will always try to keep going, to meet and exceed my target. Sometimes that will call for charging ahead, and sometimes it will call for doubling back. I will find the best way that I possibly can to just keep going.

At least 250 words every day. No matter what. To build the habit of writing. That's the goal, not adhering to some arbitrary rule about whether I should be editing or not.

But I do still need to throttle my Inner Critic. To that end, I've decided that I am going to post what I wrote last night. But not now - this has taken quite long enough already. (Today I learned the hard way that copying-and-pasting from my version of Word into Blogger does not work. Retype my whole post? That sounds like a great time sink! Sign me up!)

1 comment:

Tragic said...

(Today I learned the hard way that copying-and-pasting from my version of Word into Blogger does not work. Retype my whole post? That sounds like a great time sink! Sign me up!)

When I was still using Blogger, I would use notepad and just include my HTML markup directly into my writing. Then I'd copy/paste the plaintext into Blogger. You'd probably do well with a WYSIWYG, offline editor like Qumana. Avoid direct entry in the Blogger window unless it's a really short post. No greater and senseless waste of time than having the internet eat your post.