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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Those of you who keep up with my ramblings (thank you, dear reader – you are my favourite) may have spotted a recent hint of wordcount mithering. Once upon a time, it hardly concerned me. I am my mother’s daughter. She was a great one for saying things took as long as they took. Driving to Rhyl on holiday for instance: ‘Are we there yet?’ And Ma insisting that knowing how many miles we still had to cover didn’t help one bit, so my sister & I may as well give over.

For years, wordcount struck me as something similar: it wasn’t how many words I wrote each day, it was the process that mattered. Showing up & writing what I could happily conjure. I was almost dismissive of wordcount. It was a hindrance to creativity & could wait until it became important to someone. Like an editor.

Perhaps the pressure of writing a third book was what changed things for me, saw me gradually getting caught up in wordcount worry. And an actual numbered goal. (90 k to be precise.)

Recently, I’ve found myself far too hung up on numbers. At about 70 k or so, I began eyeing the thin blue line that is the Word toolbar, checking the damn thing every five minutes. If I didn’t get a minimum of 1,000 words a day down, it felt like a fail. And it was at pretty much this point I lost my way for a week or two. I ran out of breadcrumbs & found myself running round the wordy wood in circles.

The plot was quite literally lost.

For a while, frankly, writing became a chore. This has never been the case with me. Never. I was still showing up & banging away but it felt like pressure.

Yesterday I had an email conversation with a friend. As we chatted about our ‘next book’ & the usual concomitant pressures, she reminded me that the most important thing was to enjoy the writing, for it’s own sake. And it occurred to me that I was in the process of becoming my own worst enemy. For a short precious time, I’d stopped enjoying myself.

And it was the wretched wordcount doing it. What I’d lost sight of was that I’m on track to finish this book & to do it fairly soon. As things stand, it’s coming out at roughly the same length as the other two. And that’s the magic. There’s an instinct at play – mine – & it’s been there from the beginning. My story knows the way. All I need to do is show up. Get the words down & enjoy myself.

Listen to my mummy – my very own Irish word bird, gone these past eighteen years but still whispering in my ear.

‘It takes as long as it takes, acushla.’

BIRD HAIR mags phelan stone
Picture © Mags Phelan Stones