If I’m being generous, I’d say it’s about 3.5m. If I’m feeling a little less less so, 2.5m. The number of words I’ve written since I started my career in journalism way back in the mists of time (week before Christmas 1998). Or to put it another way, 25 novels. I’ve been pondering this figure (25 novels? Oh what could have been) since Saturday last, when I read a piece by the author Kei Miller in The Guardian. Like all the best writing, the article did what Alan Bennett describes in The History Boys – it set down a way of looking at things I thought hitherto were particular to me.
In his piece, Miller writes: “It seems a simple enough question – what does your writing day look like?” At this point, I very nearly threw the paper across the room. What I really don’t need to read is another article by a writer who explains that they settle down at their desk to work at 7am only after they’ve done a 5k run and an hour of yoga.
These types of articles, which spring up with alarming regularity, almost invariably include the details that the writers hit the 2,000-word mark in the morning, stop for lunch and then get going again to complete another 3,000 words before heading to the opera. There is none so smug as a smug writer.
Fortunately, I stayed with Miller’s piece. “There is no pattern, no routine, no discernible shape that I can think to describe what a typical writing day looks like,” he went on.
“Writing periods, when they come to me, do not come neatly.”
Hang about. “There are many more days of not writing than there are of writing. I am distracted by bad TV shows.”
Miller also confesses that he sometimes has to check his bookshelves to see that his name really is on the spines of his nine books. He has those days when he thinks this unlikely. I’ve also been published in two books and my latest play is premiered in Leeds next week as part of a brilliant new venture called Slung Low Shorts, which you can read about opposite.
It’s only the fact that I can watch DVDs of my Emmerdale episodes, and that I have on the shelf behind me where I’m writing this box files of my play scripts, that I know I have produced work that has been seen by the public.
When you’re in the middle of those torturous days where producing work feels like the last thing you are actually capable of, all you can do is keep putting one foot in front of another. Or one word in front of another.
I guess I can add another 500 to the list now.