The memoir manuscript is currently at 101,800 words, though I already know a lot of those will be coming out once I get to the serious editing phase. My word count of new writing each day over the past weeks, on days I’ve written rather than cutting and pasting what I’d already written before I came to Vermont Studio Center, and taking notes on that writing and then coloring those notes, has been 1,510, 2,508, 1,555, 1,017, 2,561, 2,034, 1,606, and 1,657. I’m already at 2,153 today and there’s more to come. There’s a particularly painful passage in this story that I’ve been reading about in my journals and saved emails for several days now, and I want it out of my head and on to the page. Today I care more about getting past this part of the book than I do about the word count. But I’ll still record it.
Does this seem a bit obsessive, to be counting how many words I write a day? I’m not alone, and that’s one of the wonderful things about being at a writing residency. Over lunch yesterday I talked with another writer about how much we both like boxes. She’s writing a novel in boxes. I told her about the boxes of poems in The Truth About Death, my obsession with shaping the poems on the page to look like containers for the grief and disorientation I was pouring into them.
Then at dinner I sat with two other writers and we started sharing word counts. One is writing a novel, another a nonfiction book. Could we all cram another 500 words in during the hour we had between dinner and the poetry reading last night? We did, and in fact we all went over.
Besides counting words, I’m counting the days I have left here. Two after today. We’re all counting in some way, and we know we’re among others who count and keep track or let go and lose track. Wherever our creative process takes us, we follow. At least while we’re here. That’s why we came.