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Fiery Hatred of Word Counts

("Flames" via Flickr, by steve_case)

I used to be very anti word count. I still am, in theory. I’ve never cared about the number of words written in a day—or a week or a month. It’s about the words themselves and the story formed out of them. Patting yourself on the back for writing an arbitrary amount of words in one day is all well and good, but you could have just typed “I am writing words these are words look at all the words” all day and you would have reached your goal just as well. That’s why NaNoWriMo is not my thing—tried it, “failed,” won’t likely try again. That’s why I’ve given myself chapter goals—i.e., must reach Chapter 9 by this date—but never word count goals.

Until now.

Yep. While writing my new novel 17 and Gone, I’ve starting giving myself a daily word count.

What made me change my mind? Besides a great desire to complete my first draft manuscript by deadline and needing a whole bunch of words to do it? I was inspired by another writer I witnessed working with a daily word count when I was away this winter. I liked his “method”—how calm he seemed as he moved forward, how he did reach his goal and made it seem so easy, and how he allowed himself to revise as he went and use those words toward the daily word count, too. I never liked the idea of slapping down words and not being able to work backward. I need to revise as I go. And I need to feel like I’m making progress—as feeling less panicked today only helps the words come out tomorrow.

So I started trying it. And some days I meet great success:

And other days, I stutter:

(Those screenshots are taken from Scrivener… which has a great Project Target thingie that is very satisfying to use. The bar starts out red… turns orange and yellow as you get out more words… and turns a happy green at the end. I love it.)

I’m still trying to find that Magic Number of words I should try to reach each day. As you can see, I recently upped my word count from 1,600 to 2,100. But this makes me fail more often than succeed, so I wonder if I should knock it back down to 1,600?

Tell me: Do you work with a word count? Or do you have a fiery hatred of putting a numerical value on your writing?

If you have a magic number, do tell.

Before I go and try to hit today’s magic number, one last thing:

• Tomorrow, I’ll be holding a giveaway here on the blog for my very last ARC of Imaginary Girls as well as bookmarks. Many Imaginary Girls bookmarks! I think I’ll give away bookmarks in three places: here, on Twitter, and on this Facebook page—you’ll need to “like” it first. But I’ll only be giving away the ARC here on the blog.

17 thoughts on “Fiery Hatred of Word Counts

  1. Wow. I’ve been using Scrivener for years, and didn’t realize there was a project word count target thingie. I love Scrivener even more, now! I think for the first draft, it’s important for me put down a word count target–this way, I work towards getting the words down, instead of towards perfection, which is really just impossible in a novel first draft.

  2. I do work with word counts. Otherwise, I feel like I never get anything done. My word count is very low (500) for those days when it just doesn’t seem like I can write a single word. It’s easy to say to myself, just 500 words. You can do that writing a quick e-mail.

    I tend to always surpass my goal and will sometimes sit down with the intention of finishing a chapter so I’m not strict when it comes to over shooting my goal.

    Plus, I love the idea of accomplishing goals. The idea for me is to make myself feel good about writing and that’s what my word count goal does for me.

  3. I use word counts if I know how long my project is going to be – and that doesn’t happen often. But in my head I sort of a have a measure that I hold myself to. 2,000 words is just okay; anything below that is unacceptable. 3,000+ is good. 5,000+ and I get a pat on the back🙂

    Since starting school, though, I let myself get away with 1500 words or so a day. Sometimes I work just by saying “write/edit this chapter today” or “just fix this scene.”

    Still, I love that happy feeling that comes with reaching even a small word count goal!

  4. I’ve had success with word count goals, but it’s not something I do all the time. Last year, while writing the first draft of my current novel in progress, I wrote 2,000 words a day. (Blogged about that here.) My rule was that I had to use those words to push the story forward — typing “I don’t know what to write, how about I just keep typing like this” wasn’t going to cut it.

    While that goal definitely helped me and pushed me to keep writing, I also found it very stressful. I’m too goal-oriented and I’ll sacrifice sleep or food or sanity to make my word goal. That’s not to say that I won’t pick up the habit again in the future — it just can’t be a constant thing. Mostly because of the stress crying. So much stress crying.

  5. I don’t pay any attention to word count (but I don’t have a “fiery hatred” either🙂 ).

    I tend to be verbose, and I’m always striving for concision. I think setting word counts would cause more harm than good.

  6. I use word count goals, they help me work towards something. That said I’ve also learned when I don’t reach a word count goal to ask myself, “Did you put good work on the page?”

  7. ABSOLUTELY I use a word count! It keeps my butt in the chair. Keeps me focused. Not all of it is great material, but that’s true when I don’t set a goal as well. I always go back the next day and revise what I’ve written. But at least I’m chipping off the chunks a bit at a time as well. An average day for me that won’t send me into despair is 1,000. I will amend that as time allows. Happy writing!

  8. Word counts work for me because, as some other commenters have pointed out, it helps me to feel accomplished even during the times when writing feels so nebulous. I agree that slapping words down and never looking back isn’t very useful, so I do let myself backtrack and revise as I go along (and I do count revisions into a new day’s word count). As for targets, I usually aim for 1,000, with an eye to 2,000 if I’m more under the gun. 1,000 words is shockingly doable. But I know authors who aim lower, closer to 4-500 words, because it’s less intimidating, and almost always surpass that goal. That said, word counts didn’t work as targets for “family” because of the vignette style – at the time that I was working on that, I’d head out to a cafe with my computer fully charged, and work until it gave out – usually about 3 hours, or 2-3 vignettes.🙂

  9. I don’t usually have a daily word count goal in mind — just want to write as much as I possibly can before “other things” get in the way — but I’m intrigued by this Scrivener program and now I’m off to search for more info! 🙂

  10. I recently started posting my progress once a week. I write in a notebook first before typing. I’m not going to sit there and count every word, plus–it’s not that important. If I wrote an entire chapter in a day, I feel super-accomplished. I’ve been posting by page count, and I know it’s not as much as I think it is once I type it all up🙂

  11. Bonnie, that happens to me. I have big handwriting, so I write and write, page after page, and I think I have got a lot done, but then I type it up and it fits on a couple of screens on the computer. ::sigh::

  12. I think if I was a full tiem writer I woudl set myself a target for fear of being distracted by the internet or daytime TV. Right now, I’m just happy to squeeze in some words around my full time job🙂

  13. At the moment I aim for 1000 words a day, so I’m very impressed with 1600 (and don’t even get me started on how impressed I am with 2100!).

    I should probably admit that I haven’t got anywhere close to 1000 words in the last few days. Sigh.

  14. I am still wading in the waters with Scrivener. I tend to second-guess myself as I’m writing, then when I get something I really like, I go back and revise it. Then I never get forward. So I started writing a targeted word count in my planner. But still have 1500 of the “real” words (the ones I want in the novel that are in order..) and then a good chunk of “other” words. So I don’t feel I have a true word count. Eh, I press on.

    I love that word count bar. I need to use that!

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