I have been working with women who have eating disorders. I’m doing research into how creative writing can be used in eating disorder recovery. One of the first rules of the room:
No lbs, inches or calories. No steps counted or miles walked, or hours on the treadmill. Measuring our worth, limiting ourselves to digits in order to prove we’re too minute too matter, that is where danger lies.
Day-to-day, numbers allow us to measure things practically – how much time do I have to finish this work? What time is my meeting? How many more words do I need to add to this? How many mistakes on this page? How many minutes to correct?
But numbers limit. Numbers define, numbers encroach and numbers do not show our worth.
As an author, numbers are another root of obsession:
What Amazon ranking am I?
How many books did I sell this month?
How much is my book worth?
What percentage of that is my royalties?
What do I get paid next quarter?
How many retweets?
How many likes?
How many times have I posted this hour?
How many new followers?
Part of the reason I loved writing was that it was free from numbers. Okay, the occasional number popped up when I kept an eye on how many words I was writing per day, or roughly what I was aiming for in total, but in general, I liked writing because it was the one place my self worth couldn’t be broken down into numbers. Just as I did not want to be the numbers on the scale or the inches on the measuring tape, I do not want to be my ranking, or my sales, or my retweets. It’s too easy to get obsessed in that same way, to define your worth by those numbers.
How to combat this? With stories.
Just as I am not the numbers on the scale, because I am my silly sneeze and the sound of my laugh and the way I move in my sleep, I am not the numbers on my rankings, because I am the people who reread my stories, or emailed me to say they found comfort in hard times, or snorted in laughter at something I wrote.
That is what I am made of. Not the clicks per page or the sales per day or the discount price. Every time my sales are not what I thought they should be, I was crushed, taking it as a sign of my failure as a writer, my gradual fading out of this world I have now taken on as my home, the world and life of an author. So I choose to reject the numbers as much as I can. I choose to remember those times people have talked to me about my characters like they’re real people, the times people have asked for sequels or have been excited about new releases.
So this is my refrain, my promise, my war cry:
I am so much more than numbers, for I am made of stories.