From 2 To Infinity: Writing by the Numbers: A Guest Post by John David Anderson

We librarians at Mackin are much better at words than numbers. Having divided the nonfiction subjects and fiction genres between us, we read and evaluate only books in our areas. Math is always the last subject to be chosen.

Many thanks to middle-grade author John David Anderson for giving us word people a unique way to look at numbers and math in his funny and touching post.


My better half is a middle school math teacher. This makes her remarkable on multiple levels: that she teaches middle school, that she is still my wife after so many years, and that she understands how pi is made. Sometimes she shares her work with me and I nod dumbly, pretending to understand how to solve quadratic equations or proofs. Then I remind her that I am a “words guy,” that “mathing” is not my forte, and that I know how to make pie (I’m just not very good at it).

But my wife’s love of numbers got me wondering if I could express some of what I’ve learned about writing in mathematical—or at least numerical—terms. So here goes.

6: The number of weeks it takes me to write the first draft of a middle grade novel.

24: The number of weeks it takes me to revise that first draft into something close to shelf-worthy.

24 > 6: An expression that represents both a mathematical certainty and a stone-cold truth about writing: that when you think you’re done, you’re just getting started.

8,476: The number of changes I made to my latest novel in between drafts three and four.

7: The number of novels I’ve published.

20: The number of novels I’ve written.

20 – 7 = X: An equation representing what we might call “a learning experience.” X does not equal time wasted (though some days it feels like it).

2: The number of free copies of the literary magazine Spindrift I received when I published my very first short story. Those two copies represent the total amount I was paid.

12: The number of candies in one box of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels, one of which is consumed by yours truly at the end of each successful day of writing.

10: The number of pounds I’ve gained since becoming a full-time writer. Go figure.

X ≥ 1,000 words: What I consider a successful day of writing.

3: The total number of curse words that can be found in my first novel, Standard Hero Behavior. I sincerely believed their inclusion made my book YA. My editor was the first person to tell me I was writing middle-grade fiction. (Note: one of the words is “arse” so it may not really count.)

1990: The year I decided I would be a novelist.

2007: The year I got my first book published.

17: Seems like forever.

23: The number of times I’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back, the first movie I ever saw in the theater and the reason I still spend a few seconds each day trying to move things with my mind. Also, the reason I started telling stories as a kid.

160,000: The approximate number of kids who stay at home from school each day because they are afraid of being bullied. Also one of the reasons I wrote the book Posted and evidence that language is our most powerful and dangerous tool.

100,000,000,000: The estimated number of planets in our galaxy, and a constant reminder that the universe is a huge place and I’m just an infinitesimally tiny part of it.

7: The number of kids who came up to me at my last school visit and told me they loved my books, reminding me that even infinitesimally tiny parts can have an impact.

: The number of worlds our imagination can create. The number of characters we can grow to love. The potential for great books to rock our world.

I’m not sure what it all adds up to—infinity plus something—but I know there’s room for more. My wife would call that funny math. I would tell her that there are just some things you can’t place a definite value on. Like doing what you love for a living. Getting lost in a great book. Inspiring a ten-year-old to read.

And splitting a piece of pie with your better half.


Titles by John David Anderson:

The Dungeoneers (Book 1). 9780062338143. 2015. Gr 4-7.
Insert Coin to Continue. 9781481447041. 2016. Gr 4-6.
Minion. 9780062133113. 2014. Gr 5-8.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. 9780062338174. 2016. Gr 4-6.
Posted. 9780062338204. 2017. Gr 5-8.
Sidekicked. 9780062133144. 2013. Gr 4-7.
Granted. 9780062643865. 2018. Gr 4-6.

From the Publisher:
John David Anderson is the author of POSTED, MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY, SIDEKICKED, MINION, and THE DUNGEONEERS. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at