This morning, I pulled the dust cover off the old manual typewriter, rolled a sheet of paper into the carriage and typed something. I wanted to see what it felt like again to be a “real writer.”
In truth, it felt like getting on an old bike after having not ridden for years; slow going at first… a lot of fits and starts but eventually that rhythm… aw, who am I kidding. It was painful as heck. It felt more like learning how to walk and talk again after someone hit you upside the noggin with a hammer and broke both your legs with a Louisville slugger.
Kids really have it easy today. Analog is so unforgiving. It forces you to see your mistakes, to think through what you wish to write and how you wish to write it before you start typing. There is no whole line delete. There is no copy-paste and move that paragraph up here and that one down there.
I should have done the math before I started writing this blog post, but somehow I thought that if I would just start writing, the calculations would come to me. I was wrong, so the word counts that follow are entirely made up. (If someone from the New York Times, The New Yorker and Random House want to verify and/or correct, that would be WONDERFUL!)
Each New Yorker has about 80 pages of 1,000 word a page. My New York Times has probably just as many, depending on the day of the week. An average book has 250 words on a page, about 300 pages. I read about 1/2 a book a day. This blog post to this point is 270 words and will probably stretch to
500 720 words. Over the course of a week, I will have consumed a bit over 1,000,000 words not counting emails and other blog posts I read. My reader list has 31 blogs on it right now, scaled back from well over a hundred a few months ago (if you have to ask, your blog probably isn’t on my list.. but if you tell me why it should be in a comment, I’ll put it on.)
I tend to produce a minimum of 10,000 words a week just from normal activity. When I’m in “writer mode,” I’ll easily pass the 50,000 words mark. Most of these will end up on the cutting room floor. From the dreck I read on a lot of blogs, I suspect that most don’t edit themselves as aggressively. That is not a value judgement, just an observation.
It used to take a lot of effort — both physically and mentally — to produce 1,000,000 words a week but with the explosion of electronic publishing platforms, it is easy. It is also very, very easy to waste 1,000,000 words a week. I skip major sections of a New Yorker because I run out of time. Sometimes I’ll skip the sports section entirely and when I get bored with a book, I’ll skip to the end and read the last chapter to see if it gets better or I should bail early. (I’m at 50-90% done about 100 books at this point.*)
I spent twenty minutes typing up a half page of material on the typewriter. I will throw it away as the words I put down weren’t worth much. But the exercise of physically typing up a thought that ran for 100 words was invaluable. It put the value of well-thought out writing in perspective.
Being able to publish anytime, anywhere for writers has been hawked around the social media town like it is the best thing to happen to publishing since Gutenberg. I’m inclined to disagree. I think it makes it easier for the more prolific and the noisy to get noticed, but it buries quality in a sea of quantity much like a chow line at a Golden Corral buries food. It also gives the reader an excuse to ignore millions of words with abandon. How much am I really missing? There will be more words to read.
A thousand words in a million keystrokes is probably a good ratio for a writer. Beyond that, I think he is flinging poo out onto the “press” to see what sticks.
*A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (@donmilleris) is not one such book for those whom the title sounded familiar.