Not a dig at my writing brothers and sisters. Not nearly. Instead, call it a curiosity:

Word counts.

Whether as the landmark measurement of yearly writers’ events or as a passing note on FaceBook, the posting of the day’s output seems to wield an almost mystical importance. I’ve done it myself. I’ve never been quite sure why.

The number of words achieved through the intellectual and emotional wrestling match that is the day at the page seems a strange yardstick for triumph, as if we were marking an ascent of Everest rather than the quality of output. Sure, it indicates the dedication of the day. But what is it really?

Writing a novel is a marathon made up of a series of sprints—work (and in this I am speaking of those of us who write while holding full-time jobs) fit into dedicated weekends and the hours carved into weekday work nights. And perhaps that’s what bothers me.

The number is a passionless one. Numbers always are. Yes, it is the evidence of the accomplishments of altitude or mileage, but not a sign of what getting there cost…the hours and hours of lonely roadwork, the toll of altitude sickness in the strictly solo climb.

For all its exultant joy, Writing is emotionally expensive for those of us who do it. It is often the choice between a weekend day spent working and a trip to the movies; between breaking the back of a feisty chapter and dinner with friends. It is—especially, I reckon, for those of us who write for a living—a constant battle against brain drain. Noting the progress of a living story as if it were a tote board of output seems to under-serve both the breathing characters and labor pains that brought them into the world.

As I said, I have, in the past, joined my compadres in the observance. Not sure that I’ll do it any more. Writing is more to me than a creative odometer…it’s the way we get there.

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