Of Word Counts, Pissing Matches, and the Lesson of Thunderbird

So, some writers are blogging about writing speed and envy. It’s a common lament for many writers (I don’t think readers give a flying spaghetti monster, but anywho). Folks want to write more to get more done. They compare themselves to those who write faster than themselves. They look to Jay Lake and sigh, wishing they could write at his tempo. I wonder if their head’s would explode if they saw how fast Michael Moorcock  cranked out pages: He makes Lake look like Ted Chiang! (Check out DEATH IS NO OBSTACLE for his guide to writing at the speed of Elric).

And, of course, everyone is saying you’re not competing against anyone else but yourself. The speed doesn’t matter, only the final product. And yet, to envy is human and we keep talking about it. I can’t speak to anyone else’s process, so this dollop is about mine and mine alone.

By some standard, I’m a pretty fast gun. It works for me, a lot of the time, though I don’t drink a lot of the fast writer Kool Aid (especially about revisions). And it has become part of my own bar code as a writer.

I used to post word counts on Facebook. I thought I did it for reasons of accountability. To keep myself in line and meet my goals. But that’s only half the story. The other half, if I’m being honest, was a brag-factor. I met my goals! Look upon my word count, yea mighty, and tremble! I was trying to get attention, positive pats on the back. Which is nice . . .

. . . but it started to feel like bragging more than accountability, and that I was comparing myself to other writers wordage, as if I needed to prove I was as Johnny Bad ass with my wordage.

Which, when you look at it, is bizarre-o. What matters most is writing a cool story or novel and getting it published, the best way you can. Or, to paraphrase Basho, do not imitate the great masters, just seek what they sought. So, I largely stopped posting word counts (hey, a little bragging is okay!), just mention I met my goal, then split.

And it got me thinking . . . ever read Classic X-Men?

Trust me, it’s tied into this discussion.

Classic X-Men reprinted older comics, but they also included modern writers and artist creating little vignettes and asides about the X-Men of that era. One of these vignettes was Storm chatting with Thunderbird in a greenhouse at the X-Mansion. Thunderbird sneaks up on Storm, who is impressed with his stealth skills. Thunderbird retorts that he’s no Wolverine, but he’s damn close. Storm asks him why he always compares himself to Wolverine. Thunderbird’s response? “He’s the best. The man to beat.”

The whole sequence was a prelude to Thunderbird’s death in an act of heroism, where he felt he had to sacrifice himself, be the better man, a true Apache warrior, and more heroic than the greatest of heroes among them. And for this, he is repaid with death. Twenty odd years later, that chat with Storm stayed with me.

So, I don’t do public word counts anymore. I don’t need Storm to try and tell me I’m as good as Wolverine (hell, I know I’m as good as he is!). To quote a favorite author, “I don’t need someone to tell me I’m great. I need someone to pay me because I’m great.” Huzzah!

The sad truth is, despite best intentions, writers do compare themselves to each other: productivity; agents; book deal; life experience; quality of prose; career stats; novel, kindle, and short story sales; whatevah. And we always will.

The key  is to be Teflon and let it bounce of ya, let it go, don’t let it rule you like it did the mighty Thunderbird, who I always thought was just as cool as Wolverine, and had a hell of a lot more reason to be an angry tough guy than a short, quasi immortal Canadian.

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About ridlerville

Jason S. Ridler is a historian, writer, and improv actor. He is the author of A TRIUMPH FOR SAKURA, BLOOD AND SAWDUST, the Spar Battersea thrillers and has published over sixty stories in such magazines and anthologies as The Big Click, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Out of the Gutter, and more. He also writes the column FXXK WRITING! for Flash Fiction Online. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. He lives in Richmond, CA. Visit him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jason.ridler.56
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3 Responses to Of Word Counts, Pissing Matches, and the Lesson of Thunderbird

  1. ecambrose says:

    Nice work!
    I once got ragged on for celebrating reaching the 500 page mark (out of an 800 page draft). To me, who had never gone more than 30 pages before giving up a project, it was a milestone. To others, a brag, or a mark of mediocrity (“it’s QUALITY that counts, you newb!”) I still think benchmarks are a handy thing, but I mostly keep them to myself.

    • ridlerville says:

      Thanks! I agree, benchmarks are critical. And just because something is written fast doesn’t make it bad (nor good). But, like you do, I keep the mileage myself because I don’t feel the need to compare the stats. I know what I did. I know I hit my marks. Time for a cookie!

      JSR

  2. Abby says:

    But most people will remember Wolverine, not Thunderbird, not matter what, simply by virtue of the fact that Wolverine was in the public’s eye first.

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