You do what you do, but is it enough?

I do pretty good, at least I used to think so.

When I’m in writing mode, I set a goal of 1,000 words a day and I usually exceed it. It’s not like a drop-dead deadline, if one day I only knock out 700, or 400 or less, it’s not a big deal. Life happens, especially when you’ve gotta pay the rent. But most days I get to my target. 1,200 to 1,500 is pretty average.

And then every now and then you get in the zone. You sit down and the story starts telling itself, like someone is whispering the words to you and you’re just typing them down as fast as you can. Hours go by and your fingers are flying. It feels awesome. Couple of times I’ve ended the day with more than 4,000 words, and once I checked at the end of the day and was surprised to see I was just shy of 6,500 words. Incredible.

And then I read this Sunday, from a brief remembrance of Australian novelist Colleen McCullough, author of “The Thorn Birds” and Australia’s best-selling author of all time. “The Thorn Birds” alone sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. After she lost her eyesight she continued writing, dictating to her assistant, until she died in January.

“McCullough had been writing novels at the rate of 15,000 to 30,000 words a day on her IBM electric typewriter before she lost her sight. When she was writing, she did nothing else. ‘I sort of just pause for the natural functions and to eat … and snatch sleep. It’s a business of, I’m going to finish this before I die.”‘

Think of that. She didn’t even use a computer and word-processing software. She wrote on a typewriter. If she only hit the low end of the scale, 15,000 words a day (or 10 times more than I average on good days) in a week she’d have 105,000 words, which is about 30 percent longer than my book, “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” the YA novel I’m formatting for self-publishing later this summer.

Granted, her 105,000 words are just part of the first draft, and I know nothing of her editing and rewriting habits. But if as little as 10 percent of what she wrote in a week ended up in the novel, that’s still 10,500 words, or 3,000 more than my target of a thousand words a day would yield in the same time before I do my own rewriting. (On second draft I try to cut the volume by 10 percent. Sadly, that’s very easy to do.)

And if she hit the high end of the scale, 30,000 words a day, that’s 210,000 words in a week. That’s a full novel by almost anyone’s standards.

I try to approach my work professionally. I have a goal and I try to stick with it. No matter what else is going on, I want to get 1,000 words a day. And I have a “day job” (although I do it mostly at night) and a family that has its own needs. I do what I do, and I’ve always felt pretty good about it.

But after I finished that short piece (in last week’s Writers Digest,) it came to me that maybe I need to buckle down a little harder. Because – DAMN. It’s a fatal flaw to compare yourself to other writers. You do what you do, and do it the best you can. But reading those words made me realize I’ve got too much I want to do with my writing and too little time to do it all in. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to get cracking. This post is a little over 500 words, which means I have at least 14,500 words to go today.

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