A Limited Number of Words

Is there finite number of words that each writer can produce—within each week or month or lifetime? Some writers seem prolific no matter what, but for myself, I think I have periodic limits. Last year, I worked about the same number of non-novel (meaning, paid) hours as I have this year, and yet I still managed to write a novel and a half. This year, my novel word count has tapered off drastically, and I’m even blogging less too. Why?

Last year I was mostly doing editing for a living. This year I’m mostly writing for the newspaper. Conclusion: The paper is getting my writing juice, the bulk of my words. And apparently, the supply is limited. My husband would argue that only applies to written, not spoken, output.

This is an odd predicament to be in. In many ways, the newspaper position is the perfect part-time job. All I have to do is write feature stories, which I enjoy. No other responsibilities, and a dependable pay check. It’s an easy, fun job. How can I complain?

But I need to write novels. Excuse me, I should have said, I need to write novels. It’s not about what I should be doing. It’s what I must do, if I want to be truly happy.

Meanwhile, I’m putting in more hours than usual at the paper (because they fired the Dash editor) and struggling to work on my novel every morning before work and on weekends. Blogging will continue to get the short end, and I have to make peace with that. I only have so many words.

Do other writers have this issue? Is working in non-writing fields actually better for your novels?

6 Comments
  1. What thoughtful responses! “Every word is a choice” will play in my mind as I make decisions about what I do and what I write.

  2. Wow your Tweet captured my attention! I find it a constant battle much as you describe. I’m entering the writing world late in life because I felt for so long I had to make a living — I still feel that though I try to talk myself into believing that “do what you love, the money will follow”. So I work as a marketing consultant, write copy, SEO articles for money and find my brain is tired by the time I get to what I want to write. I use two very different parts of my brain for my fiction/poetry than I do for articles and I find switching between them difficult.

    It is true that we are limited in what we can do in a day – whether it’s time or words. It’s easy to overlook that truth when we’re hammering away at the keyboard. I feel the limits of time because I’m older and feel I must make a choice if I am to write what I truly feel I was meant to write. Your blog sparked my need to make more of a commitment to what I “need” to write than what I “should” write in order to make a living.

    When you’re a writer, every minute is a choice, every word placed is a choice. Which words put to the page are most necessary for us and our world? Thanks for sparking this necessary contemplation and discussion.

  3. L.J. . . .

    For me, it’s time, not words. I worked for newspapers for a decade, as a reporter and photographer and later as a managing editor. Long hours, lots of writing and rewriting and editing. A lot of pleasure, as you know from your own experience. We do newspaper work for the kicks, not the money. If money were important, we’d do something else.

    During those years, I wrote for the job, not for myself. There were few hours left for me. My ideas for short stories and novels went into the bottom desk drawer. It was not until I went back to college — for graduate work — that I brought those notes out and wrote the first stories that would make it into anthologies, that I wrote my first novel.

    I’m a fast writer, highly productive. So for me, it has never been that there’s a finite number of words I can pound out in an hour, a day or a lifetime. It’s that there is a finite number of minutes, hours, and days in which to write.

    Jerry

  4. I’m a full-time author; I write how-to and reference books in addition to novels. When I’m working on a nonfiction project, I write fiction in the evenings and on weekends. I do know that feeling of having run out of words at the end of a writing day, but I make myself do something on the current novel each and every day, even if it’s just reading over a couple of scenes. Usually (not always) I find I have a few more words than I thought I did.

  5. When I used to be a spaghetti cook who ate spaghetti five nights a week for three years, I didn’t eat spaghetti for the next seven years. When I worked as a video game tester for six years, I found it impossible to play video games at home. I have resisted all attempts to do technical writing at work, which I did only once for an internship many years ago. That would be the death of my writing outside of full time work.

    Now that I been unemployed for six months, pushing myself to do more writing is a challenge. I no longer have that one-hour lunch break to focus on writing two to five pages per day for my novel. I find ceramics easier to do than writing. 🙂

  6. Hello L.J.
    I just saw this post on Facebook and had to respond. I do SEO copywriting and web content creation as my “bread and butter,” while working on my most completed screenplay and novel. Honestly, I have to say, I worked more on my novel when I was an office manager at a dentist office five years ago, than I do as a freelance copywriter, who writes for a living with that type of writing, versus novels. So yes, I would agree that for me it is a challenge. And now that it’s been brought up to the surface, I’m dogged on finding solutions to this dilemma for myself. I also NEED to write novels. So I totally empathize with you, L.J.

    Good luck and happy writing, when you can! Thanks for posting…
    ~Stacie

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