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When I was about eight or nine, I remember hiking with my dad. The sun was strong that day. The desert felt breathless, the colours of the trees and the sky muted by the dust. We met no animals on the hike, which was odd as we usually saw at least a spiny-tailed lizard slipping by, or a couple of ibex up on the ridge. That day was strangely devoid of life, which made me think we should probably head back.
Hiking was a time for stories. That day, my dad told me that someone he knew? Maybe his mom? Maybe him? Believed that people are born with a finite number of words allotted to them. Basically, if you talk too much, you’ll run out of words and have to be silent for the rest of your life. I think he was trying to shut me up. I was quite a chatterbox as a child.
I asked him what about writing? Does that work the same way? He said yes, words are words, and we must consider ours carefully. I nodded with all the seriousness of a 9-year-old and vowed to do just that.
Years passed. I’ve moved out of my parents’ house, got away from my home desert to a white one with a university. I had two kids, moved back to the old side of the world to a lush grey land where buildings and stories grow from the concrete. And, at some point, I realised that what I really wanted to do is write. So I did. And, being a methodical student, I started learning about the process of writing.
Ray Bradbury said that each writer has a million bad words that have to come out before they can get to the good words. Every creative writing course or masterclass would tell you that you need to write bad words before you can write good ones. The more you write, the better. Assuming a novel is about 100,000 words, you need to write ten novels to get all the bad words out. Or about a thousand short stories.
If there’s one thing I’m good at it’s being a student. I follow the rules, do all the assignments, keep a neat notebook. I sit dutifully at my desk, every day, watching the rain lashes against the window or listening to the birds chirping. I sit, and I write. Sometimes the Muse comes, and it’s magical, and I write something almost good. Those are happy days. But sometimes I wonder. What if? What if that story is true? What if I have a finite number of words and someday I’ll run out? Would my words be worth it? Would I?
I wonder about exactly how many words does one have? And do you get, as you do on your data plan, an 80% usage warning? Surely with the advance of technology that is something we can expect. It’s not like one day you just run out of
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