Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A "Novel" Concept

A provocative story by Megan Garber in The Atlantic indicated that, as a society, we expend significant effort on a specific written pursuit - email - that few of us ever get to see in its entirety: " audience of one" (you!).

"Eureka! I shall compile all my email
and sell it for $19.95 + tax!"
Source: NBC / Free Library of Philadelphia
One conservative estimate from a personal help app averages annual 'Sent' words at 41,638 - which, assuming 250 words / page, equates roughly to several short novels such as The Old Man and the Sea. Well, I thought, how might that apply to a bench chemist / blogger?

First, I counted up emails sent from all accounts: one work account, one personal, and one pseudonymous. Total messages sent in 2012? 1,904.

Next, I concocted a reasonable estimate of words per email - yes, I counted words in about 20 different emails, and arrived at a figure of ~100 words / personal email*, and ~64 / work email. Total words sent in 2012? 148,784. But wait, there's more! I also wrote several grant proposals last year (~20,000 words), and 230 blog posts (~200 words apiece, or 46,000, not counting drafts or notes here). For the coup de grace, I thought I'd include my scientific notebooks, which (OK, not typed) still take up quite a bit of mental energy. In 2012, ~160 words x 402 pages = 64,320!

Sum the bold numbers, and you get 279,104 words. That's 1,116 pages of my potential "Great American novel," pushed annually into unseen folders.

Now you may say that sounds utterly ridiculous or far-fetched. But does it? Remember, I've only mentioned a few different avenues for the written word - I haven't included text messages, tweets (4,000 last year), paper drafts, handwritten notes taken during seminars and meetings, or simple notes scrawled on Post-Its around the office. Yes, it's likely that Derek, Paul, Adam, CJ, Ash, BRSM, David, Mitch, Carmen, or Vinylogous each writes an equivalent of Lord of the Rings - the whole trilogy - each year in aggregate.

*For the critics: I did take into account that some sent emails read simply "Make it so" or "Be there Friday." Contrast that with multi-paragraph emails I write to Editors, local gov't reps, and family members, and you probably strike a balance. Still doubtful? Just remember that 90% of all statistics are made up 'on the spot' : p

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