I. Another thing word count goals are bad at
In some (important) sense
the core of the art is
so word count goals
best come inverted
if they come at all
II. An answer to Craig Mod’s question
I’ve been reading Craig Mod’s fabulous Ridgeline newsletter all year. It’s a letter about walking—kind of. That’s the jumping off-point, anyway. Mod asked a question, back at the beginning of the newsletter, and I kept thinking about answering it but never getting around to it, until in today’s issue he poked and prodded: “Just reply to this email with a sentence or two. Brevity is godliness. Don’t overthink!” So, I did:
I wasn’t always a walker (though I grew up in a family that loved hiking and even backpacking). I got to running first, in fact. But I picked up the habit during my years in seminary: looooong days of reading and writing for school and programming for work, needing to somehow keep my brain moving—and finding that getting my body moving did the trick better than anything else. 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of walk. Repeat. Circumlocute the little mall where the coffee shop is a few dozen times. Walk a few miles in a day. Body loose, mind still working, even 12 hours along. And it stuck—so you’ll still find me, even on a cold Colorado winter morning, bundling up and stepping out of the house and walking halfway down our street and back.
III. Keeping learning
My friend Ben—look at that lovely new website! He just relaunched it—sent me an interesting article tonight, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, where by “broke the camel’s back” I actually mean something much less… destructive? Something like “the pebble that started the avalanche,” but that too is destructive. Same goes for “tipped me over the edge.” (I didn’t mean for this paragraph to be a reflection on these destructive metaphors, but here we are.) The point is: the article got me digging into something I’ve been thinking about for a while,1 and now I want to dive so very deep into that subject. I spent the better part of an hour tonight wrapping my head around it a bit more, starting to get the feel of it by way of a bunch of examples.
I love that feeling. My brain stretched a bit in a way that I love: like a set of muscles feeling a hint of pain, but a pain that means progress. We were explaining this to our 7-year-old daughter recently, as she was learning something. “That feeling—that almost a pain, a special and strange kind of tiredness in your head—it means you’re learning!” We celebrated it with her, let her know that it is good and that we still feel it too: we hope she comes to love it the way we do. I hadn’t felt it quite like I did tonight in a while. It was good to dig in a bit, and it makes me want to do so all the more.
IV. Which words should I count?
The point is to be writing. But which words count? The issue I wrote up on the TypeScript repository this evening? The answer I offered to a question on a forum about a software library? The notes scribbled in a notebook this morning, gestures toward the essays I would like to finish this year? The couple paragraphs of documentation I wrote for an open source project? The contents of this post? Would the words I sent to Craig Mod count if I dind’t include them in this post? I’m overthinking this. It is my way. It doesn’t really matter, of course. There’s just the silly part of me that wants to know how much I have written when the month comes to a close. And so I have a spreadsheet! It tracks the daily average so far, has a little calculation for the expected number of words at the end of the month given that average. But spreadsheets demand specific numbers, and so I need to count my words, and that in turn makes me want to know: which words?
Again: it does not matter. This whole project would work equally well if I opted not to track it this way. Somehow, though, I find it motivating to do so. And so here we are.
(Because I know at least one of you is dying to know, will be driven a little mad if I do not say: the contents of this post, and the documentation I wrote for that open source project—but not the words in the open source issue I opened or the answer I wrote up on a forum. Entirely arbitrary. That’s what seems right for this project, though.)