Monday, February 19, 2018

To Count or Not To Count?

Steven James wrote a great post - "From 2000 to 300 - Why You're Writing Too Much" - over at Writer Unboxed about writers and word counts.

"The whole paradigm strikes me as an odd way to go about producing works of art . . . I should say, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong about the technique, but I do think it can be restrictive, arbitrary, and doesn’t take into account the realities of the unforeseen, the bursts and surges and bubbles of creativity. In short, I think it puts an artificial constraint on the artistic process."

Whew! I'm not the only one struggling with making word count goals work. It's a shame, too, because I love the idea of visual progress - a stack of pages, a neat row of numbers. I want to feel like I accomplished . . . something

Now, this concept of word count works for me during NaNo, when I attack that first draft with the energy, focus, and intensity of a tortoise hunting a banana. In my normal writing life, though, I am much slower, more deliberate. I delve into characters' backstories, layer subplots, travel back and forth in time, move from notebook to computer. Some days, the only words I write are scrawled on my mind's notepad with invisible ink. 

So, instead of feeling bad that word count goals don't work for me, I'm going to remember the following:

"In short, strive for quality, not quantity. Rather than tracking word count, make sure every word counts and create work you can be proud of and that will entertain and impact readers for years to come."


*****

Do you use word count goals to keep your writing on track? Or do you use some other method? Does it depend on the project? Do you usually feel productive or do you constantly think you're not doing enough?

25 comments:

Annalisa Crawford said...

I make a note of my word counts, but I don't aim for a particular number - I tend to binge write my first draft, so it wouldn't make sense for me.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I tend to ask myself how I feel about my writing day - do I feel like I did good work, made progress on the story, delved deeper into characters, etc? Not very scientific, I know. Hmm, maybe that's why my progress is...so...slow....

Chrys Fey said...

Funny that my post today is about goals and word counts. Haha. My word count goals reflect what I know I can do. I usually aim for 1,000 but can pass that easily. If it’s a 500 kind of word day, I don’t beat myself up. Each day is different. I do like to keep track of how many words I write (when I’m writing). Tracking my word count, for me, is more about seeing what I did and patting myself on the shoulder for that, whether the count is big or small. It’s all about perspective.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I find the creative/writing process so interesting! Especially how it varies from writer to writer, even project to project.

Denise D. Young said...

I did, for a long time, use word count goals. And then I realized that I was forcing my writing process into this narrow space--write 1,000 words, or 1,500 words per day--and the writing often felt forced. I am trying to create more organically these days.

In short, I'm learning to let go of word count goals. As long as I make progress on a story, and I try to do a little every day, I'm happy with that. There's this idea floating around that if we don't write X words a day, we can't make it, and I think that idea is poisoning the creative well. As long as you're writing and making progress, I don't think word count is that important. Some days I write a couple thousand words. Other days, it's 300. Some days I'm just unraveling a plot problem or working on back story, and that's okay too.

I'll have to head over to Writer Unboxed and check out this post!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I'm with you on creating more organically and making progress the goal. I do need some sort of routine though, need to show up at the page so the Muse knows when and where to find me. :)

Writer Unboxed is a great blog!

Tara said...

Word count goals have never worked for me. When I'm feeling it, I'm feeling it, if not then no words will come no matter how long I stare at the blank page.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

If I stare at the blank page for long enough, the words will come. They'll stink, but they'll come. And sometimes, just maybe, I can make them less stinky. :)

Anonymous said...

I've liked to have those little bars you can put up showing your progress toward word count, but I never know how long something will be.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I like when I have that for NaNo. I'm always relieved when I pass the 50,000 words mark. :)

Lee Lowery said...

I have one of those word counter bars on my website, but mostly because it's a cool techie thing. It's about as accurate as the weather. I rely on the word count in Word when I'm actually working on a piece with a defined word requirement.

J.H. Moncrieff said...

I do use word count goals, but these days, any new words on the page are a win. All writers need to find out what works for them, and it's so easy to be swayed by the loudest voices.

Be true to yourself, and you can't go wrong.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

This made me laugh - "It's about as accurate as the weather." :)

And I use the word count thingy on Word, too - that and the NaNo counter - when I do keep an eye on that kind of thing.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Words on the page for the Win! :)

It still amazes me how artists/writers have such varied creative processes. Love it!

Christine Rains said...

I love that last quote! Some days I write a little, and some days I write a lot. I try to go with the flow and not be hard on myself when I only manage 500 words. Because if they're good words, then it was a good day.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I like your attitude! I am often very hard on myself when it comes to writing and other things, too. I think it's my default setting. :)

emaginette said...

I do. But my aim is usually off by hundreds of words. Sometimes I ramble. I'll go back afterward and cut back, or expand as I inch forward. I don't know too many that edit as they go, but that is where I live right now.

I say follow your heart. It always knows. :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

The problem is that sometimes my heart wants me to take a nap. Or eat chocolate. Or have some wine. Words? Eh, sometimes not so much/many. :)

Melissa said...

I set word-count goals, but I don't always make them. Then again, I'm a slow(er) writer. I stop to do research often (I write historicals mostly). On the flip side, my first draft is more polished than most, and I don't cut nearly as much as prolific writers when I edit.

I used to get discouraged about not writing huge amounts of words per day, but I finally let it go and accepted that--with the exception of occasional creative bursts--I'm not that kind of writer. Whether it's measurable by word count or not, I know when I'm making progress and when I'm blocked or simply procrastinating. I don't need numbers to tell me that.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Accepting your writing process and recognizing what progress looks like for you is huge. Once you can do that, you worry less about comparing yourself to others and are able to go with YOUR creative flow. :)

Julie Flanders said...

I used to love word count goals but now they are my enemy LOL. I needed to read this today! Thank you for sharing.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

You're very welcome!

J.H. Moncrieff said...

Exactly. That's why I don't get it that so many persist in saying, "There can be only one."

Loni Townsend said...

I use word count goals, but I'm a verbose writer by nature, so it's pretty easy for me to hit rather than it being a struggle. But I typically spill everything that's in my brain out onto the page and then go back and make it better, rather than making it good before moving on.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Whatever works for you, Loni! It's funny, because with my shorter works, I tend to have to cut words, but with longer works I have to add.