A message from Overwriters Anonymous

man_looking_at_stack_of_papersMy name is Jamey, and I have Word Count Anxiety. Right now, I should be writing an article about preparing older siblings for a new addition to the family. I am 431 words into an article that needs to come in under 600, and I've only gotten about halfway through all the helpful hints and pieces of advice I've gleaned from my sources.  How do I know I'm 431 words in?  Microsoft Word tells me.  The Word Count feature takes up less than a centimeter at the bottom of my screen, but it might as well be as big as that billboard in Times Square that's featured in every movie that's taken place in New York City, ever. I type, "Include older siblings in planning and preparing," but all I see is YOU'VE ONLY GOT 150 WORDS LEFT, YOU FREAKING WINDBAG.

I'm aware that I could turn off the Word Count feature. But tell me, if you can, how I turn off my brain. The most prominent symptom of Word Count Anxiety, sadly, is a persistent paranoia that reminds you every word you type is one word closer to hitting your max, and no matter what it looks like on the screen, you've probably already gone over. I start a new paragraph and cringe. I look at my notes and launch into the next subhead, and I physically squirm in my seat:  Hooooooow am I going to keep this thing under 2000 words, much less 600?!

Knowing that I can edit a piece down doesn't help. The second symptom of Word Count Anxiety is the certainty that whatever you write is there for eternity. No matter how many times you go back through your article, no matter how ruthlessly you cut, the Word Count feature will always, always read 610, or 605, or 602, or 601 -- but never, never, NEVER 600.

Common side effects of Word Count Anxiety include dramatic sighing; hair pulling; frequent consultations of the thesaurus to confirm your suspicion that there exists no single word to convey the suggestion that mothers breastfeed their infants while simultaneously allowing their toddlers to sit by their sides, reading pictures books, so as to make said toddlers feel included and attended to; and procrastination (hence this post).

Early warning signs of Word Count Anxiety include the apocryphal stories your parents tell about how you were SUCH a jabberbox when you were a small child. I can border on downright taciturn now, but to hear my parents talk, I never shut up before the age of ten.

There is no known cure for Word Count Anxiety.  There is, however, blame to be cast upon others. For instance, in high school, I had an English teacher named Mr. Mason; I consider him my enabler. When he would announce to the class that our papers examining symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye had to be at least five pages, he immediately followed this requirement by looking my way and saying, "Keep it under ten, Bradbury." As a teen, I was nothing but grateful for his leniency. As an adult person who writes articles for magazines with limited space, I want to throttle him.

If someone in your life suffers from Word Count Anxiety, please be understanding. Don't scoff or laugh or make comments like, "I WISH I had that problem!" Though your intentions are understandable, you don't know what the fuck you're saying.

The only treatment for Word Count Anxiety appears to be massive amounts of alcohol.