Back before the Internet threw a massive wrench into this whole writing-for-a-(meager)-living game, back when we still used our cute little typewriters and the quaint US Postal System to deliver manuscripts... well, back then, when things were really cooking, I could occasionally earn up to $2 per word to write. Of course this dollar amount was a sort of imaginary/arbitrary thing, determined in order to write up contracts. In the end, if you counted first drafts, revisions, overhauls, sidebars and the rest of it, really it wasn't $2 per word. And to break down a fee into an hourly calculation-- well maybe then $2 per word might translate to $10 per hour.
It didn't matter though. I liked the sound of $2 per word. Hell, I liked the sound of $1 per word. With the Internet came a glut of "writers" aka content producers. And with these content producers have come an uber-glut of words. And bazillions of magazines folded. The bottom fell out of big ad dollars. It all changed. Not all of the changes were bad-- I'll explore that more later. But on the money side, these days you can find all kinds of websites offering pennies per word, or a few dollars per post, or-- and this chaps me like nothing else-- a "chance for exposure!" (I've said it before, and I'll say it again-- If I want exposure, I'll hop up on the bar and take my shirt off, asshole.)
Today being the last day of the year, it just popped into my head, "I wonder how many words I wrote this year?" Impossible to know for sure. I did an extremely rough estimate that looks like this:
I wrote a novel that weighs in at 75,347 words. I probably wrote around 45 columns for the Austinist-- those run 1500 words each, so that's another 67,500. Then there was the JetBlue blog gig-- they hit me up for around 52 posts a month for around 9 months. Some of those ran at around 700 words but mostly I kept them between 300 and 400. So let's say, ballpark, I wrote 163,800 words for JetBlue. Then there's my personal blog, which I did not tend to daily. I'm going to say maybe 20,000 words there.
I have no way of proving this-- or let's just say I have no intention of doing the necessary work to prove this-- but I would say, far and away, the most words I wrote were those that took the form of emails. There were business emails, friend emails, and emails to my writing students which, they could attest, sometimes ran quite long. Since the very beginning, when email first took off, a running joke among my friends is my stunning capacity to write emails that run 1,000 or 2,000 or even 4,000 words. I love to write.
I've tamed the emails for the most part, but I've still got a few friends with whom I correspond very regularly-- sometimes several times per week. And these friends are often on the receiving end of essay length "notes." So let's just say, what the heck, that I wrote 200,000 words in emails alone.
And I won't even count the number of words I wasted arguing with trolls or any of the silliness posted on FB. We'll leave those numbers out of the equation. So what does my extremely rough math problem net us in words for 2010? Are you ready?
526,647 words in 2010
Holy shit. That's a lot of words. And let's pretend I got paid $2 per word for that output. That's a cool $1,053,294. Ha! I wish.
In fact, the first agent who read my novel pronounced it way too snarky. (Another topic for another time.) JetBlue paid enough, while that gig lasted, to cover my monthly nut. I don't get paid for the Austinist. In short, let's just say I didn't approach anywhere near a million bucks.
That's fine. I'm more interested in the fact that my output was so ridiculously high. I think about the poets who wrench out a gorgeous gem, sparse stanzas revealing whole worlds in just a handful of words. I think of my friend Southpaw Jones who can tell you a long, funny, poignant story inside of three minutes, using maybe 200 words max, and not only that they'll rhyme and be set to music. I think about William Carlos William and the epic movie he contained in what, on first glance, appears to be no more than the equivalent of two sentences, a few plums, an icebox. (word count: 33 including the title.)
I am forever fantasizing about slowing down, which is perhaps the fantasy of many of us who overbook ourselves year in and year out. But honestly, with three book ideas and a screenplay concept on my To Think About Doing List for 2011, I seriously doubt next year's word count will be significantly lower. Let's have a haiku on the topic, shall we:
This is just to say
I've eaten the alphabet
Soon, lots more word poop!