TMM: Word Count

word_count

Many have been told and honestly believe that writing a certain number of words each day is the surest way to becoming a successful writer. Even though I don’t deny it, sometimes I feel it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I think that if you try to keep true to a certain word count, let’s say 1000 words a day, at a certain point you’ll find yourself artificially creating words — writing just to write, or even worse, you’ll find yourself not being able to write a damn thing. I think that a certain number of words is a rather mechanic and cold goal for a writer.

The idea is that you can’t do something that you can’t control. A word count, sometimes, is just that. For various reasons, it can seem unreasonable. Let’s say you’ve set 2000 words as a goal — that’s 4-5 pages in MS Word. It might not seem much, but sometimes it might seem as an impossible task. And you can become frustrated and depressed, just because you simply can’t write those words that day.

Take me, for instance. The most I’ve written in a day is 5400 words. From 9 PM until 5 AM, at which point I started listening to jazz and dancing around the living room. Yeah, I got lucky. Another day I wrote 3000 words, which is still a lot. And one day I worked for 9 hours on a single sentence (it was a rather long sentence, but still…)

So after these experiences I’ve decided to set my writing goals differently. In time. That’s something, after all, that depends on me. I can choose not to go out, I can abandon my social life, and I can write. I try to write 2 hours each day — this translates into 500-1000 words sometimes, other times it amounts to just 2-3 sentences that don’t even make sense.

I’m just not trying to pressure myself into writing a number of words, just ’cause I said so. No, I’m writing as much as I feel like it. Sometimes it’s an entire chapter, other times just a few phrases. Writing is a creative process, and sometimes the creative part abandons us.

Also, what I believe to be very important is the fact that you set aside a few hours to write. You try to find the muse, not the other way around. Even if all you do is sit at that desk and stare around your room, you know you’ve got one, two hours each day that you dedicate to doing what you love doing most. When the kids are gone, when the house is empty and quiet.

One of the most important parts of writing is to set aside enough time for you to write. Sounds simple enough, but probably is more complicated than it seems. After all, it’s a lot easier, especially if you self-publish, to do all sorts of things that are related to writing (anything) than actually write. Marketing, blogging, cover design.

On a similar note, I try to end my writing sessions mid-chapter– that way I know at least a part of what I’m supposed to write the following day. I found this technique to be very helpful with the dreaded writer’s block.

But what about you? Do you keep a daily word count?

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14 thoughts on “TMM: Word Count

  1. I try to set a time,after tea. I find if I extend the time – like in the morning – I end up not being able to do it. The time spent not doing it is important as the time doing it.

  2. I do try to write every day. Usually in the morning. I feel that as long as I get everything out that I can in the time I have I don’t keep track of words. I only keep track when I’m writing a book, …like that one book I wrote 🙂 It wasn’t until it was completely finished that I stopped counting, that includes revisions.

  3. I do not keep a word count though I have a passing awareness of my numbers.

    I believe it is more important to convey your message than to ache over how many words you use or how much time it took you to say it.

    Why use 10,000 words when 1000 would suffice? Why use 1000 when 100 is even better?

    Some of the most powerful words ever wrote or spoken have been but a few sentences. Sometimes all it takes is the right few sentences!

    How do you define ‘better’ or what are the ‘right’ words?

    The rule ‘use as few words as necessary’ would indicate that if your meaning is conveyed then that is the ‘minimum’ you can say and be understood. Then its about managing expectations and personal style.

    You might believe that you have conveyed your message in 100 words but if for example you use a colloquialism or reference “insider” information that would seem apparent to you that is not apparent to a reader then you didn’t actually use the fewest words possible. However, assuming you are addressing an audience who should otherwise be expected to posses the prerequisite knowledge it is acceptable to make this assumption.

    For example, a doctor writing to other doctors need not explain the intricacies of intubating a patient in preparation of a procedure and may simply rely on the shared understanding of the medical practice. Whereas, if the doctor were addressing a lay audience they might also skip over those details simply to convey the details the audience cares about.

    In each case the results might be the same but the motivation was different.

    Your motivation will change not only what you say but how you say it.

    Regaling a close friend in private about a night on the town would pretty much cover all of the same events as if you were telling your boss, a judge or police officer the same story.

    But… almost certainly the way you craft your sentences will be different, more careful. You would evaluate your statements in your head longer before saying them.

    Ask yourself: What do I want to say & Who am I talking to? then… just tell that person everything they need to know, to know what you are trying to say. No word counts or time frames are required. Sometimes, you won’t have anything to say… that’s okay because those are the moments in life where we listen and learn.

    Soon there after we think, and what usually follows is something to say.

  4. Word count? No, for all the reasons given above (unless of course it’s a commission of a non-fiction piece). Time? Not for me either. I just write when I feel like it then, generally, it flows. The allocated time spot works well for learning something though; I just began to try to learn Japanese and allocating 5 minutes over my morning tea has worked well so far.
    The idea of leaving off mid chapter, or even mid sentence, sounds an excellent idea; I suppose I sometimes do something similar – I write the final paragraph of a story and that gives me an urge to begin and complete it.

  5. I have discovered in the writing of my book(s), that it is best not to push it. Every time I try to, I can’t get it down. I average a thousand words a day but found that word count, doesn’t count. I would rather craft one tight sentence than one shitty paragraph. I would recommend to any writer to let it come when it’s ready. Quality over quantity. Sometimes the emotions run too hot to even allow flow. Your perfect sentence didn’t exist five minutes ago and it doesn’t have to exist five minutes from now. I agree it’s good to stop where you know where you’re going. For me, that means stopping in the middle of a sentence or paragraph. Often that is just a hint, as my characters lead the way and I never know what they’re going to get into. Let your words speak to you, don’t speak to your words.

  6. For me, I need to stick to a word count. It’s the only way (now, at least) that I’m able to make a living from my writing. I’m a ghost writer and the key to success in that field is a constant out flux of about 10K words a day. But, let me tell you, I could only really accomplish this with romance which I think is the most cookie-cutter genre. At this point, I could do it in my sleep but that doesn’t mean it’s good writing. When I write for myself, I take my time. Hell, I use a pen and paper!

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