Wind chills in the single digits and still no snow. The sun sets at 5:27pm tonight.

It took some time to humble myself and write yet another draft of this novel I’ve been working on for years. But at last, I’m settling into a steady writing groove for the first time in months. I write in the library for an hour or two each morning, which is terrible because I’m a night owl in my bones. But I’ve learned the hard way that I need to write fiction before I let the world into my head and start doing things for money. As much I dislike these early hours, I’m beginning to savor the routine: Brewing a thermos of coffee while last night’s dreams evaporate. Warming up the car in the January cold. Taking a seat in the far corner of the Quiet Room. 

I do my best to write longhand for an hour before looking at a screen. But how do you measure progress? It’s easy to applaud myself for spending an hour or two each day on my draft, but when does this end? I need to get back to counting words. Tonight I made a spreadsheet with a reasonable daily target of 500 words. I’m a slow writer, but I should be able to hit this no matter if I’m in Ohio, London, the desert, or some state of emergency. It also outlines the task for the day, and there’s a spot for me to note how many words I actually wrote to make sure I’m not kidding myself. (Maybe my reliance upon counting words is hardwired; I used to count how many words I spoke each day because I was so shy.)

I can keep rewriting the same story forever. If I’m not paying attention, I can push commas around for hours or lose a whole day deliberating between that and which. Years ago, I came across an excellent Finnish word for someone fixated on the unimportant details: pilkunnussija, which means “comma fucker”. Yes, that’s me.