I'm a full-time writing professor at Northern Essex Community College, where I teach my students good writing is less about talent and more about work. It's discipline, grit and writing every day. I do my best to teach by example, so I write every day, too. We follow Don Murray's mantra: Nulla dies sine linea, never a day without a line.
But some days I don't write. Some days I can't. Some days my words just won't budge.
Sitting at a desk, words poised to spill on the page, that's the best way to write every day. Most mornings, I'm working words between 4:00am and 6:30am. It's what I can do right now. Like my students, I lead a busy life. I teach full-time, I'm a mom, and a wife; I've got piles of essays to grade, meals to cook, laundry to fold, and a dog to walk. Even still, real writers remind me to get my priorities straight, to write more. I visit their websites and see how much they write in a day, a month, a year, and shrink at my lowly word count. Then one day I was done shrinking. I decided to recalibrate Donald Murray's mantra to better fit my life as a working, writing mom.
Have you seen people wearing pedometers to count their 10,000 steps a day? My colleague showed me hers, beaming over her steps. Not even lunch, and she already reached half her goal. She told me the gadget inspired her to use the stairs instead of the elevator, to avoid short cuts around campus, and to take longer walks when she got home.
Later that afternoon, on a lark, I imagined a writometer to count all the moments in the day when I thought about writing, all the times I reached for my notebook to snatch a piece of a conversation I overheard, or a some detail for a character I hadn't even written yet. I also counted all the story ideas I jotted down, the ones, as Donald Murray said, made me itch.¹ Suddenly, I felt much better about my word work.
I thought of other ways to rack up points on my writometer. For as long as I can remember, I've packed books about writing in my purse. These days, I carry Sandra Scofield's, The Scene Book: A Primer for Fiction Writers. Waiting for my daughter's bus, I read about beats and pulses that make my writing better. I also pack short stories, ones I can read between meetings. I study the sentences I love, and feel my writometer tick in my head because when I sit down to write the next morning, I'll remember these sentences and be inspired to write some of my own.
The writometer is also free, easy to customize and instantly activates. I simply imagine the gadget in my brain and my writer's conscience gets a jolt. I collect hundreds of ideas each day, I pay more attention to my surroundings, always seeking details for later use, and I avoid shortcuts around campus to catch the color of grass, for I never know when that exact shade of green will land in a story, but I do know that I have it stored in my writometer.
I believe my writometer has made my writing practice kinder and stronger. By giving myself points for my daily musings, I feel less inferior about my scattered word count each day, and in doing so, more of my words come hatched at the ready when it's my precious time to sit at my desk and write my lines.
¹Murray, Donald M. Write to Learn, 6th edition. Harcourt Brace College Publishers: Philadelphia, 1999: 19.