Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Writing Pal

I've blogged before with worries about my weight. All that Blue Door Cafe French toast! All that free food at Prindle Institute events! One of my blog readers, fellow author Brenda Ferber, wisely recommended that I try the approach of "taking emotion out of the equation": banish guilt, banish ought's, eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full. I tried that for two days, but then couldn't sustain it, even as I know it has to be the only long-term solution that there is. To channel Anne Lamott, I am not remotely sane enough to do that.

Then a dear DePauw friend recommended My Fitness Pal, a free online tool that allows you to track everything that you eat every day. You record what you eat and how much you exercise; it does the math to tell you how many calories you have left for the day. It's enormously simple. Best of all, at the end of every day, when you sign off, it tells you, "If every day was like this, at the end of five weeks you would weigh x." Sometimes x is a smaller number than what you weigh now. Sometimes it is a bigger number. But either way, it just feels so GUARANTEED: if this is what you do, this is what you'll get. After all, My Fitness Pal said so!

Now I'm wondering whether I could create My Writing Pal on the same principle. You would enter your target number of pages, or words. Then you would enter what you write every day. Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope actually did this, though of course without any online tools to help him. In his magnificent autobiography, he writes:

When I have commenced a new book, I have always prepared a diary, divided into weeks, and carried it on for the period which I have allowed myself for the completion of the work. In this I have entered, day by day, the number of pages I have written, so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labour, so that the deficiency might be supplied. According to the circumstances of the time,--whether my other business might be then heavy or light, or whether the book which I was writing was or was not wanted with speed,--I have allotted myself so many pages a week. The average number has been about 40. It has been placed as low as 20, and has risen to 112. And as a page is an ambiguous term, my page has been made to contain 250 words; and as words, if not watched, will have a tendency to straggle, I have had every word counted as I went.

On my version of My Writing Pal, at the end of each entry it would say, "If every day was like today, at the end of five weeks you would have written x pages." Now, this means that if the number for today was zero, then at the end of five weeks, if every day was like today, that's precisely what you'd have to show for yourself: zero. But, oh, if every day had even just one page, think what you would have in five weeks: thirty-five pages. In ten weeks: seventy. In fifty-two weeks: three-hundred fifty. And at the end of a lifetime of writing, so many many books.


  1. I love this post! I too have discovered My Fitness Pal. I'm hoping for some miraculous results myself. But I particularly liked the quote from Trollope. Do you know he has been excoriated for a supposedly bean-counter-like and hence unromantic approach to writing? But anyone who thought that writing had to be the result of inspiration can't really have written very much.

  2. I love that we both have Fitness Pals, Mitzi. And I did know the reaction of Trollope's contemporaries to his candor re his writing process in his autobiography. But he's my man!