World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

Writing by the Numbers

on October 24, 2013

Like a lot of writers, I suspect, I have always been averse to numbers. When I was a little kid, I loved Grover and and when my daughter was little she loved Elmo, but I never ever liked the Count.

images-3I can appreciate obsessive compulsive behavior as much as the next person, but I had a visceral reaction, as if someone had run a cheese grater across my skin, to his particular compulsion, counting everything in sight. As I grew older, I became more and more hopeless at math tasks, and when I got to eighth grade and was introduced to imaginary numbers I was truly perplexed. Aren’t all numbers imaginary? I spent the whole class period pondering this and forever missed what I was supposed to have learned about the concept (expect that for some reason the imaginary number as actually a letter, “i”, and it was italicized, which was kind of cool).

As a grownup writer, numbers play a far greater role in my life than I would like. So here are the three (Count them! Three! Ah ah ah!) sets of numbers that could give me fits if I let them:

1. Book sales

My publisher doesn’t share this with me often, and while that can be frustrating, it’s probably a good thing.  I know people who go to Amazon.com daily – even several times a day – or to Novelrank.com to watch that sales rank rise and fall the way some people tune in to their televisions everyday to watch that lady drop the ping pong balls and choose the lottery number.  In each case, the number seems, in some way, to determine their fate, and that’s a truly angst-inducing process. I’m not being glib here – book sales determine a writer’s fate in real ways. I just prefer to live in denial, to assume that everything is fine enough and, ideally, spend the time writing instead. I never had the goal of being a bestseller. I just want to be able to keep writing and not feel like I am indulging myself, taking valuable time away from other things I am supposed to be doing (like counting cereal Box Tops collected by the students at my son’s elementary school).

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2. Word Counts

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month– is almost here, and it’s a good thing. Every November it motivates countless people to attempt to write one novel in one month, and if even a tenth of those novels are decent first drafts, that’s pretty wonderful. My problem with NaNoWriMo is personal. I hate the way it ratchets up the numbers game, the way writers post in between word sprints their word counts on social media (it’s something some writers do almost daily even outside NaNoWriMo). “210k! Woohoo! Almost at my goal!” I understand that this motivates you and I applaud your progress but I am just petty enough to think, when one of these gazillion word counts taunts me from my Twitter feed, that this person should heed my mom’s advice that no one likes a show off. I know many writers that set a daily word count for themselves and I admire the way it keeps them honest and productive. Word counts just make me want to flagellate myself with a stick as I sit in my kids’ schools’ carlines or at my actual day job thinking “I am not writing.” If I had to attach a number to my (lack of) productivity I would look like this

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3. Twitter followers

I never thought that this would be part of my writing life, and not just when I was a kid dreaming of being a writer and Twitter had not been invented yet. I never thought about it until a year ago when my publisher told me I had to get on Twitter. I was uncomfortable at first because what exactly do you tweet twenty times a day anyway? “Drank a cup of tea”? who cares. Lie and say “Drank a cup of tea. Johnny Depp poured the milk”?

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That would be the only possible version of that tweet that would interest anybody. But now, a year later, I am tweeting away, though my follower count is miniscule compared to others, some of whom sign up for services to glean followers and swell their numbers. Following the number of followers has become a new unappealing numbers game. The follower count can rise and fall literally second to second, and I have to admit that when I lose five followers in one day I am insecure enough to wonder what I did wrong (possibly nothing – apparently Twitter has limits on how many people you can follow and I don’t always make the cut. Which is okay, because I suspect many of you are robots anyway). So Twitter becomes a site of anxiety or, worse, perhaps, a closed loop of commerce in which we all Tweet posts to our book rankings and reviews and book sales and giveaways in the hopes of raising all the numbers (sales, rankings, word counts, and followers).

Enough already. I’m going to Tweet the link to this post and then get back to clipping Box Tops.

And for all participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck! May the words be with you.

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