To count or not to count? How do you measure a successful day of writing? (Or the good, the bad and the ugly of word counts…)

Word-count

Do you keep track of how many words you write each day?

Does it matter to you how many words you write?

And if it does, how many words constitute a good day of writing?

The answer to these questions depends a lot on what sort of writer you are, but I think for most of us, a sort of Nirvana would be to be ‘in the zone’ or having a flow of ideas that transforms seamlessly into clear, creative and well-conceived prose. If that is true for you, then managing to write several pages a day would feel as though you were making real progress, and being able to measure that progress with a word-count may prove even more addictive.

Personally, I love keeping track of my word-counts. Of course I am aware that it is not just about the quantity of words, but also about the quality, but if at the end of a full day of writing I can see 4, 5 or even 8,000 words added to my story, then it gives me a buzz. I know I have achieved something that is rare but always exhilarating – a really ‘good day’ of writing. I plan to think a bit more about some of the tricks I use to achieve a ‘good day’ of writing and share that with you soon, but in the meantime here are some of the brass tacks of word-counts from the perspective of a romance novelist.

For me, my stories are character-driven and sometimes rollick along as the characters move from one scene and experience to another. Sometimes the flow of scenes and ideas flow far faster than I can ever write. And so I try to capture it all as quickly as I can, avoiding interruptions and typing (or dictating into my voice-recognition software) until I finally need a break. When things are really flowing, 1,000 words an hour is easy – sometimes more. The best I have ever achieved is 12,000 words in one day – that involved a marathon overnight effort. And almost unbelievably, I hardly had to change a word of it before it was ready for professional editing and publishing.

But that was the exception, not the rule. If you are writing in shorter bursts, having to pick up where you are up to, get back into the characters, etc, then it might only be around 400 or 800 words an hour that is written. It depends on so many things!

I often prefer to count averages over a week, working on the assumption that I might have some good days, and some days full of interruptions, other activities, working on promotion, family stuff, everything else… And so in a week, I might set a goal of 15 or 16,000 words – whatever I think is realistic. And this is another reason why I like to keep count of my words. I can see what I am capable of and set realistic goals. Sometimes, it is the only way I know I am getting closer to the final goal – to finish the book!

As for knowing how many words your book may need to have – that is another question entirely (something I will research and think about for a future blogpost).

Getting back to this topic of tracking word-counts, once you have ‘finished’ the story, that’s when the bits that I find much more difficult begin…The editing and re-writing and re-working. There might be agonising, frustrating days when the word-count goes backwards. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. When you are writing, you are using the eye of the author, but when you edit you need to consider the needs of the reader. So much to think about!

All I can say is, I much prefer the days when the word-count goes up instead of down, as they are the days I am creating and weaving the stories that so often dominate my mind.

I would love to know how often you count your words, and the sorts of writing achievements that give you a buzz. Feel free to leave a comment!

If you want to read some more about word counts, check out this blogpost: http://blog.bookbaby.com/2015/01/the-prolific-author-how-many-words-per-hour-can-you-write/

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4 thoughts on “To count or not to count? How do you measure a successful day of writing? (Or the good, the bad and the ugly of word counts…)

  1. I consider something accomplished if I finish or start a new scene. Obviously there needs to be days where I really get a move on and write 5000 words in one burst, otherwise it would take months to finish a single draft, but as long as I move the story along, I’m usually happy with myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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