When I was younger, I don’t think that I really understood the purpose of reading a book. I didn’t care about plot. I didn’t care about characters. I didn’t care about retaining any information from the pages whatsoever. I cared about reading books just for the bragging rights.
I remember when I was in first grade, my older brother started reading the books in the Redwall series, by Brian Jacques. When my brother was telling me about the series, I didn’t care about the story that he was explaining. I cared because the books looked huge. I’d never even attempted to open a book the size of a Redwall book. They were as big as so many of those books that my parents would say were written for adults. And I see my brother, a third grader, reading these huge things, and damn does he look impressive.
So I started reading them for myself.
I remember the first Redwall book that I read. It was long. I got about a quarter of the way through it, and then I started skimming. And then I started skipping paragraphs. And then I just kind of started turning pages. But whatever. It wasn’t about the story. It was about showing off to everybody that I had read a huge novel.
The nice thing about the book I’d selected is that my brother hadn’t read it yet, so when he asked me if it was any good, or what it was about, I could just smile and say, “Yeah, there’s animals and they have battles and journeys and they
It was enough for my brother, and my parents probably bought the lie too because I doubt that they could imagine why anybody would pretend to read for fun. I read three or four other Redwall books in elementary school. That’s a lie. I checked them out of the library and stared at them.
Once my brother was in middle school, my dad told him about the Lord of the Rings series. Well that simply would not do. Now my brother was reading books that were even bigger! So I waited for him to finish the books, and I snatched them out of his bedroom, and then I cracked them open in a place that I would be easily noticed by my family. “Oh, look at Joseph! He’s reading such a big book!” Nobody actually said that to me. But I was certain that they were talking about it behind my back. Right?
When I had finished turning several hundred pages with my eyes glazed over, my brother asked me if I liked the books. We were discussing this Frodo guy, and how there seemed to be a lot of walking and fighting, but when he asked me who Gollum was, I asked, “Who’s that?” That was kind of a botch, wasn’t it?
It’s strange that I’ve been doing creative writing since preschool. How is it that a kid can care so much about writing but not ever feel like reading? Well, I did care about reading in a weird kind of way. It was the patience that I lacked. That would also explain why the stories that I wrote were only three pages or less before I gave up on them.
I’ve always cared way too much about the length of my writing. Around middle school, I would try more ambitious projects, writing “books” that had actual plots rather than just stupid incident after stupid incident. I remember being in 8th grade and writing a story about a kid with a rich uncle who had hidden a sacred Egyptian treasure somewhere in his mansion, and it was basically just a version of National Treasure that took place entirely indoors. Each chapter was only four pages long, and it frustrated me, because every book that I’d read usually had chapters ten to fifteen pages long.
Then I learned that another guy in my middle school was writing a book, and get this: He had double spaced it. It was ingenious. Suddenly my rip off of National Treasure was twice the length. Now my chapters were eight pages! And you know what happened next? FONT SIZES. Twelve-point font? Nah. Fourteen. Oh, it was beautiful. If I had known more about Microsoft Word back then, I probably would’ve been adjusting the margins too, or picking a font that takes up a little bit more space. Why stop at fourteen-point font? Why not seventy-two? Now calm down, let’s not be silly. This book was the real deal now, not some joke. I mean, the chapters were eight goddamn pages. Have you ever heard of an eighth grader getting a book published? Because I was going to be the first.
But then I got impatient, and the book never got finished. Weird, right? Didn’t see that coming. Maybe the chapters were too long to hold my attention.
It wasn’t until 11th grade that I had a realization. I discovered a thing called NaNoWriMo, a sort of book-writing competition(?) thing. The goal was to write a book in one month, but it wasn’t page numbers that mattered. You were supposed to write fifty thousand words.
My old formatting ploys were rendered useless.
And at this point I started looking through some books that I had read (actually read, thankfully), and I thought to myself, yeah the word count makes a lot more sense as a measurement. You look at the tiny font of Lord of the Rings and compare that to the 100-word pages of Holes, and you do some mental comparisons to realize that if Holes had been written in the font of LOTR, it would be a fifty page book.
Now whenever I write a book, my friends will ask how long it is, and I’ll rattle off some multi-thousand number, but they say, “Hold on, how many pages is that?” And I honestly don’t know how to answer, because now I make myself write in ten-point font as punishment for old bad habits.