By the Numbers

WIP Widget

Dream with a deadline

Those of you who visit this blog with some regularity have no doubt noticed the word count widget in the right-hand column. The question of why I keep it there has come up with some frequency of late: is it there to keep me on track? Does my agent want to see my progress? Am I communicating with my readers? I suppose I could answer in the affirmative to all of those, but that’s not really why I do it. The truth is that some part of my brain (probably because I have undiagnosed OCD) is deeply, profoundly satisfied with the visual representation of progress.

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” ~Napoleon Hill

If you know me, you know I don’t need a bar chart to keep me moving toward a goal. The dream, the deadline, and the goal are all self-imposed; I created them because I want to do the work, not because I have to or because anybody is waiting on me. So why then do I need to measure my progress? Because that bar chart is the graphical equivalent of a glass of wine at the end of a busy day, or a hot bath after working outside in the cold. It’s a pat on the head, a thumbs-up, a way-to-go. Updating that widget and refreshing this page gives me a little rush of pleasure that simply saving and closing my document cannot.

Because writing a novel takes such a very long time, opportunities to enjoy the rewards of that labor can be infrequent. Unless, however, one creates those opportunities. Charting my word count is one way I celebrate my forward momentum—even though I know that I’ll have to delete and rewrite some (or many) of them before the manuscript is ready to be read by others. It doesn’t even matter if my final number doesn’t match the expected word count I started with; that the bar is creeping steadily from left to right is the joy.

And so now you can see from my chart that I am almost finished with The Weight of a Piano. I have one small chapter to write this week, with information that my expert source at the Blüthner piano factory in Leipzig, Germany is collecting. And a dear friend and musical genius is transcribing the score of an original piece of music that will appear in the novel, though I’m not sure how to count those gorgeous notes in the word count. Nonetheless, my plan is to send the manuscript to my agent by week’s end, and await her reply.

In the meantime, I’m going to leave my bar chart up there for a bit. I’m not going to be writing anything new while I’m traveling throughout the spring, but when I’m back and ready, I want to be able to begin tracking progress on the next project—whatever it may be.