>[Not] Counting Brush Strokes

>Day 6 of my personal writing retreat at Seagrove Beach, Florida, is half over, and I’ve been fighting the urge to count words. It’s not that I really want to, it’s just that lots of writers I follow on Facebook and Twitter do this, and their posts can be, well, intimidating:

“3000 words today. Time for bed.”

“Hit 40,000 words today. Only 10,000 more to go.”

“How many words did you write today?”

And then there’s the NanoWriMo group–the folks who have signed up to write a novel during the month of November. Their goal is 50,000 words by midnight on November 31. I do love goals, but I just don’t do numbers well. (But hey, whatever works. I wish all writers success!)

Here’s the thing: For me, writing is art. And because I’m also a visual artist (writing/painting icons with egg tempera) I’m always keenly aware of the creative process when I sit down at my computer or take pen to paper to draft an essay or work on my novel-in-progress. When I’m painting, I can’t imagine ever counting my brush strokes. You don’t see artists posting things like this on Facebook:

“2000 brush strokes today!”

It’s almost distracting to me to see the page number and word count at the bottom of each page of my manuscript as I work (I suppose there’s a way to turn that off, hmmmm) because my goal is to serve the muse, to make the words sing. The quote at the top of my blog is there for a reason:

“You have got to learn to paint with words.” – Flannery O’Connor

This morning I went for another walk on the beach, for just over an hour. It was there, where I could feel the warm sun and the cool breeze on my body, where I could hear the roar of the ocean and watch the white birds fly over the deep blue water, that my art came alive for me today. Two new characters introduced themselves to me (I can hardly wait to write their stories into the book!) and I finally began to see the ending more clearly. (Some writers can write without knowing the ending, but I have to have something to write towards. I think it’s my creative nonfiction background coming through. Read Ken Follett and David Morrell’s very different approaches to writing in their interview in the November/December issue of Writers Digest, by Jessica Strawser.)

Back in my new chair (I went to Target yesterday for ink cartridges and bought a cushioned folding chair, after 5 days of sitting in a hard wooden dining room chair in the condo) I’m ready to pick up the story where I left off yesterday and write. I don’t know how many words or pages I’ve done so far (each chapter is numbered separately for now, so I don’t see a combined total as I’m working) but I do know this: giving birth to this novel is at once the hardest and most joyful work I’ve ever done. And maybe there will come a point during the labor when I’ll be counting the minutes between the contractions, but not now. For today, I’m just happy to get this baby into the birth canal. And when November 31 rolls around, you probably won’t hear me scream, “It’s a book!”, but you never know.

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