Today I am exhausted. I have been trying so hard. Words. Too many words. Too many words. And then to be dealing with more words. I have used all the words. I cannot be using more.

Someone mentioned in the last few days that Earnest Hemmingway used to write 2,000 words a day. I was suss of this and so looked it up today. In fact, old Earnest did write 2,000 words a day – getting up at 2am and then writing til dawn, but actually he stopped doing that because he started to feel ‘the real old melancholia’. He got exhausted.

So after that he advocated to only write 500 words a day but the tricky part being being that he made them 500 good words.

Hemingway found that about 500 good words a day was a pace he, like most people, could maintain. That didn’t mean he thought once he’d written his 400-600 good words, he was done with them. He liked to write in pencil for his first draft so that he had plenty of chances to adjust and improve it.

So that idea of crafting the words is blatantly more important than the number of words, and indeed this idea of crafting is what I do as a playwright. A whole day could be spent on two page worth’s of dialogue and stage direction- in fact, around about 500 words as it happens.

This is the problem I’m having with this retreat now that three days have passed and I’ve kept my promise of 2,000 new words every day by midday. I have about 4 hours every morning to write a new ‘scene’ (I don’t understand why writers insist on calling their blocks of writing scenes, it’s confusing the heck out us playwrights) I email it in, it gets read by the facilitator, she comments broadly (and more about this in a minute) and then nothing more is done about it. Nothing actually gets crafted.

Heck, anyone who knows how to spell can write a story. There’s a lot of stories to be had. But a writer is not just someone who writes words. The craft of writing is about rewriting. And there is no rewriting being done. No crafting.

The 6,000 words so far amount to three drafted chapters in a story I am literally making up as I go along. About 40% of each chapter is good stuff. The other 60% is shockin’ and what I need to rewrite. Getting to that 2000 is a bit of a thing, and today the facilitator was saying oh, don’t fuss about the 2000 too much, do what you can. This confused me a little. Like wait on, the contract was 2000 words and I will not, if I can help it, break the contract. It’s hell or high water for me. This is what I’ve paid for. This is what I’m expected to do. That’s it. I’m here to fuss about it. Even if it is 60% crap.

The feedback has been good. Possibly too good. By this I mean I would like for it to be more critical, or at least more information about how to go about improving my writing. The 4pm sessions have also not been as in depth as I would have liked, rather than learning about structure or style or at the very least unpacking some of the aspects of each other’s writing or discussing writing elements we are working with, we end up just doing writing exercises. All good, but by 4pm in the afternoon, after a huge effort to get those 2,000 out on to the page and submitted by midday, the very last thing I way I want to spend 1.5 hours is to do some more words. I want to listen, absorb, consider, take notes, hear examples of good writing and discuss them. I was kind of expecting a masterclass style.

This project was made possible by the Australian Governments Regional Arts Fund, provided through Regional Arts Australia, administered in Queensland by Flying Arts Alliance.

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