One thing I love about writing and hanging around other writers is the buoyant bubble of optimism, inspiration and hope that surrounds us and keeps us afloat on our Sea of Dreams. I’m sure you’re wondering how I’m going to tie this awkward metaphor to the concept of arithmetic for writers, and come up with that happy ending. Just stick with me here.
Let me start by quoting a Master of the Universe on the subject of optimism, inspiration and hope. And of explaining stuff. Yes, I’m talking about Bill Clinton. A tiny little snippet of his very long speech at the recent Democratic National Convention shows us how it’s done:
“People ask me all the time how we delivered four surplus budgets. What new ideas did we bring? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic.”
Voila! Simplicity itself. I love that he called the secret ingredient “arithmetic” – same thing we used to call numbers in Grade 4 – not “math”. I love how – in a single word – he simultaneously dismissed all the bloated, useless, self-serving rhetoric about the economy, and stated the obvious: economic ideas are all subject to the unforgiving test of arithmetic. Politicians (and statistics) may lie, but arithmetic tells the truth.
So what truth does arithmetic have to tell to writers?
Well, in the case of the crazy group who launched this 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months challenge, and those who follow us, here’s the arithmetic:
- The 5 months between September 5, 2012 and February 5, 2012 span a total of 153 days.
- While some of us 5 writers may already have put some actual words on the page, others (including myself) have been busy clearing our desks and figuring out how to get a successful blog up and running, so that as of today (September 21), we have 137 days to get the job done from a standing start. Okay, not “we” … me.
- But wait … do I really have 137 days? Of course not. There are at least 8 “holidays” over that period, including my Halloween birthday and my 44th wedding anniversary, when I am not likely to write a word … leaving 129 days.
- I also have just a few other commitments … an 11-day trip to Boston to see old friends, a visit with my nonagenarian mother-in-law in California, 4 days at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, and an actual paying non-fiction writing gig for the University of Victoria … so the nice, round number I think makes more arithmetical sense is 100 days of writing time.
Here’s where the buoyant bubble of optimism, inspiration and hope comes into play. I have 100 days to write, say, 100,000 words. What are the chances of that happening?
James Scott Bell says in his very useful book Plot & Structure:
“Set yourself a writing quota. Each day you write – and preferably that is every day – you should not leave your writing desk until you have completed your quota. The magic number for many writers seems to be one thousand words.”
There’s even a very interesting writers’ blog called 1000-words-a-day, and another blog that promotes a 1000-words-a-day project. There are blogs that tell you “how to write 1,000 words a day and not go bat shit crazy” and others that give you tips on how to achieve 1,000 words a day, or tell you why achieving this is easy (easy? really?).
So I think I’ve gotten to my happy ending here – or at least a happy beginning. The ending will be up to me. Because the cosmic grandaddy writing guru of them all, Ray Bradbury (who died this year at the age of 91) famously summarized arithmetic for writers in Clintonesque fashion:
“Write one-thousand words a day…and after a million words you’ll be a writer.”