How Important is Your Word count?

The Word Count Conundrum

When this past weekend started the word count on my work in progress (WIP), tentatively called Blood in the Water, stood at 29,822.

Given the way this story has been progressing I was looking forward to a very productive weekend.

Saturday was a day of limited work. I had to meet with my tax preparation professional in the morning (yes, that’s right…I procrastinated as long as I could on that one!) and in the evening I was out for dinner and a comedy show with the family to celebrate my sister’s birthday.

Total word count for the day…less than 1,000.

No problem.

Sunday was a free day.

No plans, no chores, no interruptions – I could make up for Saturday’s dismal progress.

After an early morning bicycle ride I got down to business.

I would love to tell you that I hammered the keyboard relentlessly all day and finished the weekend with a word count that exceeded my expectations.

I really would love to tell you that.

Here’s the thing…

I am at a point in the story where something big needs to happen. I think the technical term is the “mid-point shift”. Whatever it’s called…that’s where I am.

It’s like being at a fork in the road and trying to decide which direction you should go.

yogi fork

Except in this case there are at least four different forks.

They’ll all get me where I need to go, but which one is best for the story?

On my bike ride I gave it lots of thought.

I could go this way…which would mean this has to happen, and I wouldn’t be able to do that, and some of the stuff I wrote earlier would have to change.

Or I could go that way…which would mean something else would have to follow and the stuff I’ve already written would be good, with some minor tweaking.

Then again, if I choose fork number three it would mean something else would follow and there would be some significant reworking of previous material needed.

What if I sort of combined options one and two? Or one and three?

intersection

You get the point…

I’m not a planner. I don’t draft outlines of my story or write key points on index cards to keep me on track. At best, I’ll scribble a thought on a scrap of paper and add it to the pile on my desk (many of these notes go unread and get thrown away).

plan

In the writing world I’m what is referred to as a pantser. Which means I write by the seat of my pants. I have a beginning of the story, I know what I want to happen (basically) and I know how it will end, but the rest of it I make it up as I go along. (Here is a more detailed explanation of my style (or lack thereof).

wingin it with Calvin

So when I sat down to write Sunday morning with all of these possible storylines in my mind I knew my first task was to decide which one I was going to use. Unfortunately, with my writing style of choice, there was only one way to do this:

Pick an option, start writing, and see where it goes.

painting the road

Long story short…

After six hours and three different options I found the one I wanted/needed.

When I sat down at the keyboard it was around noon. When I shut the computer off it was almost eight o’clock (Yeah, I know – that’s more than six hours…I never said I didn’t take a break…or five).

After all that typing, I ended up with a net increase in my story’s word count of about 2,800 words – for two days!

Write 3 or 4,000 words…analyze them…decide they aren’t what I want…delete…repeat.

All the planners out there are saying “You see…this is why being a pantser is stupid!”

Sorry – you might as well tell me to not be left-handed.

And in reality – I’m not whining or complaining.

I understand that although my word count didn’t grow, my story did. Now that I know where the story is going I’ll be able to crank out the next 15,000 words (and maybe more) with minimal delays.

Which brings me to the point of this post…

I have a question (or two) for all you writers, authors and scribblers out there…

Do you keep track of your daily (or weekly, monthly, whatever) word count?

If so, how much importance do you put on it?

Personally, I keep track of how many words I write every time I sit down, but the number isn’t important to me. I use it as a gauge to see where I am in the story compared to where I should be.

My novels generally clock in at about 70,000 words – so if my word count is at 35,000, and I haven’t gotten into the story enough, I know I’ve got to get it in gear. It could also mean I’m being too verbose and need to go back and trim some of the fat.

Other than that, my word count means nothing.

As this weekend proved – progress is not always measured by the word count.

I would really like to hear your thoughts on this…

 

As always – thank you for reading

 

 

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “How Important is Your Word count?

  1. I don’t count, nor keep track. Guess I should, lol

  2. Some people are driven by numbers….these are the same people I see at the gym who walk around with a clip board and note each exercise and number of reps, number of sips of water they drank, and the size of their biceps before and after the workout. I think it’s a little anal, but it works for them….so go for it. It’s all what works for you. When I’m working on a novel I barely keep track of word counts. That said, my longest book was about 42,000 words…and it took me a year to produce. I’m personally not out to make a million bucks off my books, or even prove anything to anyone. I just write to write….so numbers…bicept size…that stuff doesn’t get me going. If on the other hand I had some big production goals, I’d probably change it up. It always comes down to what do you want…and what keeps you on track with your aspirations. Comparing one’s production methods to another’s is silly in my mind….just do what you do. If it makes you happy, then keep at it.

  3. I don’t necessarily care about word count when I’m writing. I strive to do about 1,000 per day, but I find that once I get into the flow and hit a good part of the story, I usually go well over that. I aim for a total word count of 70,000 to 75,000 words total and I couldn’t care less how I get to that total, as long as I complete the book and everything wraps up nicely.
    As for the pantser in me, my first novel was done with lots of outlining and things along that route, but when I wrote Whispering Death, I was like you – a definitive beginning, middle, and end in mind – but I just found myself writing it as I went, with no clear cut outline in place. I ended up with some fun plots and twists (I think), and I was really happy with the outcome. I’m also taking the pantser approach with my third novel now, and I’m pleased with how it is turning out.
    Some writers like to have everything outlined before they write, some like to fly by the seat of their pants. I like that I can fluctuate between the two and be inspired to write either way. I personally think daily, weekly, or monthly, word counts are overrated, which is why I hate that stupid NaNoWriMo nonsense. Just write the book at your own pace and write something meaningful, as opposed to reaching your predetermined word count of dribble and useless material. That’s how I see it anyway.

  4. I tend to agree with you on all counts. I tried to outline my last novel (Full Circle) but by the time I got 1/4 of the way into it the outline was in the trash.

  5. Author Rebecca Heishman

    Like you, I’m a pantser. After a lifetime of living with society’s rules and regulations, I’m retired now. I finally have the freedom to write the way I want to. Pre-set guidelines and storylines slow me down. Word count became an obsession for me for a while. I had to let it go because my ADD was kicking in full-blast. Counting words was too distracting.

    I’ve always believed that there is a difference between a technically-skilled writer and a true storyteller. There are a lot of writers out there who are top-notch technical pros. But their fiction falls flat. I’m an old broad who reads everything from literary fiction to commercially-successful trashy bestsellers. I’ve learned the difference between a brilliantly-skilled writing technician whose fiction makes me yawn, and a teller of exquisite stories, a spinner of awesome yarns, a craftsman of colorful tales that captivate me, leaving me breathless with their stunning and unique creativity. I know how to write. But I want to do more than that. I want to learn to tell stories that people will remember. I can’t do that if I’m worried about storylines and word count. But, that’s just me. It’s different for all of us.

    I don’t give a lot of advice. My life has been pocked with painfully-misleading chunks of ghastly advice. I was naïve enough to take it. I suffered because of it. But, if I were asked to give new struggling writers one piece of advice, I would tell them to find a writing process that they are comfortable with, trust their instincts, settle into it, relax, and allow their creativity to soar, unencumbered. Don’t worry about how you tell your stories. Just tell them your way.

    I’m in this for the long haul and for the enjoyment of it. My characters tell me their story. All I do is take dictation. Writing without restriction and distraction gives me an adrenaline rush. It’s like walking a tightrope without a net. It’s my drug. If I fall, I have no one to blame but myself. The risk is mine to take. If I fall, I crawl back up and start over.

  6. Word counts don’t really mean too much to me. When I sit down to write, I try to get through a scene. If it’s a good writing day, I’ll write the bridge to the next scene and maybe even some notes on what happens next. Best of luck with whichever method you settle on.

  7. Pingback: How Important is Your Word count? | Heiditassone's Blog

  8. Reblogged this on Heiditassone's Blog and commented:
    An interesting question.

  9. During the actual six to eight weeks it takes me to compose a first draft word counts matter to me only in as much as they motivate me to press on. When I’m seriously engaged in writing, I may write two hours or twenty hours in one day and press on through time until it’s come full around. Time seems more critical to me than word count and the word count retrospectively becomes a way to monitor how effective I’m using my time. I may write 10K or 20 K words in a week. During the next year or two when I’m revising and editing I pay no attention to word counts and again time bites my heels. I can only write when I’m manic or hypomanic. I can’t write when I’m depressed.

  10. Ah, this article intrigues me.
    Writing is an adventure that leads us to unexpected places, and puts worries of one kind or another in our minds.
    But it’s worth it!

    As for word counts: I keep the articles that I write for my blog in the 800 to 1,200 word range. Part of the reason for that is that I’m not smart enough to expound at great length on any topic!

  11. I keep track of word count in a different way. I count words in scenes after my manuscript is done. I look for scenes that are way longer than others and then decide if they deserve the increased word count based on something really important happening in the scene. If not, I cut it. As for writing, I try not to focus too much on words written per day. Too stressful…

  12. miriamrburden

    Being a pantser isn’t stupid! I’m a big planner, however. That’s my favorite part. There are different ways to do awesome things.

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