To Word Count or Not to Word Count

So, after last Thursday’s post I got to thinking. And I realized that word count is a major indicator of progress to me.

And I also realized that this is probably because I didn’t start finishing novel drafts until I started Nanowrimo, and, of course, Nanowrimo is all about quantity over quality, not spending too much time thinking, just doing.

And it made me a little uncomfortable, honestly. I got to wondering whether “real” authors keep track of their progress in word counts. Like, say, does John Scalzi sit down when he starts a draft and calculate how many words he thinks it’ll be? Does he keep track of how many words he’s written in a day, and how many days he will need to write to get to that proscribed number? Does Brandon Sanderson? Did Anne McCaffrey? Isaac Asimov?

Part of me wonders if my writing process has been infected with this concentration on word count, and whether I am a lesser writer because of it.

Of course, most of me realizes it doesn’t really matter, and if keeping track by word count works for me, what do I care what other people do?

But there’s a little bit that whispers, “Maybe you’re so focused on your word count that you don’t let the story flow naturally. Maybe you add too much in, or leave too much out. Maybe your stories would be better if you focused on the progression whether than what your word count is versus where you think it should be.”

And the rest of me worries that that little bit is right.

And if it is? I don’t know how to judge progress without word count. Do I outline the whole thing, and then just judge progress against that?

I feel all befuddled. I mean, I’ve never forced a story to a word count if it wasn’t going to go, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve lost something of the craft in the way I work.

Do you also write, Squiders? How do you judge your progress in a draft? If you don’t use word count, what do you do? How does it work for you?

One response to this post.

  1. I write but I have never kept track of my word count unless I was writing for academic reasons. I generally write to appease my creative energy. Typically that means I stop when my idea has been recorded and I feel like I have done it justice. However, this method also opens me up to frequent bouts of writer’s block. I say, if keeping track of your word count works for you then do it.


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