Why I Like Word Counts

Recently, a fellow blogger “pingbacked” to one of my Weekly Writing Wrap-Ups in a blog post. (You can read his post here: Word waterboarding! Less may be more (garyheilbronnauthor.wordpress.com) In the post, Mr. Heilbronn said he believes authors tend to obsess over word count instead of focusing on how they write and what they write. Authors are more concerned with slapping something down to increase their word count rather than on the quality of their work. Let me start by saying that I’m writing this post simply because I thought it would be interesting to discuss the other side of the issue. Even though I’m not in agreement with Mr. Heilbronn, I’m going to say thank you to him right now for including a link to my blog. I always appreciate the extra exposure and enjoy seeing who reads or has visited my blog before. I also enjoy reading other people’s views and ideas on writing because I am still fairly inexperienced as a writer and always willing to learn. With that being said, here are 5 reasons why I like word counts:

1. They keep me motivated.

There have been plenty of times when I haven’t felt like writing, but having a looming word count sent me back to the computer. I started doing “Weekly Writing Wrap-Ups” every Friday as a method of personal writing accountability, and those have been so motivating. Knowing I have X amount of words to write helps me to keep writing, whether or not I really want to. If I didn’t have a word count, I doubt I’d be writing as much as I do now.

2. They keep me on track.

I don’t have time to get distracted if I have a couple hundred more words to write that night. I’ve found that having a word count keeps the pressure on me and keeps me from getting distracted by the internet (my main temptation) or anything else since I have a goal to make.

3. They help to prevent writer’s block.

Since I’ve started my word counts, the evil writer’s block hasn’t visited. Since I have a goal to make and words to write, I can’t afford to waste time worrying if my idea is good enough or debating tiny details that can lock me up. I really need that pressure to help restrain my writer’s block from attacking.

4. They help me finish a story.

This is more about NaNoWriMo (completing a single 50,000 word novel in a month). I’ve read a lot about it and have wanted to attempt it for a while now. I’m super excited to participate for the first time this year. Because of the crazy amount of words I will have to write in a month’s time, there will be no chasing after the bright, new shiny idea that suddenly looks so much cooler than the one I’m currently working on. I’m so bad about this. I’ll be writing and writing about a certain idea and in love with it, and then a new idea presents itself, and I’m off to the races with that one and never finish the first. If I have a constant word count pressure on me, I won’t be able to do that. If I quit my current idea, I’ll never make my word count. It forces me to finish the idea I started with.

5. They are AWESOME for rough drafts.

Word counts are meant for rough drafts. For me, rough drafts are all about getting it down, getting it done and getting it written. I’m not thinking about if this is the right word or the best word, or any of that. I have an idea, I have characters, and I have to write it. Word counts help keep me moving with the story, help me to not get tangled up with picking out the best word, or stuck on researching every little sentence. Those details come in the editing stage. Once I reach the editing stage, then I wouldn’t worry about word count at that point; I’d be focused on the right words and not how many of them there are.

So, which side of the issue do you fall on? Do you like word counts or not?

~ Kayla

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7 thoughts on “Why I Like Word Counts

  1. I agree. I really like wordcounts. For me, I have a tendency to ramble in my writing without them – I get too wordy, or too descriptive. But if I have the overall wordcount I’m shooting for for a given project, it keeps me on track. If I know I want about 15000 words or 20-25 pages finished length, then I can better judge how far along in the plotline I should be by page five or ten. I can judge how much detail I can go in to by how much I have written and how much I still have left to go.
    Of course, this doesn’t help if I don’t have a set narrative arc that I am aiming for. Like my NaNo novel last year…*cough* I didn’t have a full plot when I started, just a beginning idea…I only got an idea for the rest of the plot about halfway through. So I ended up with 50,000 words but only about a quarter of my plot written. XD Wups.

    • I usually use word counts to keep track of how much I write in one day, but that’s a really good idea to use them as individual goals within your novel. Of course, my problem is opposite of yours. I almost always end up rushing my plot so fast I have to add more to my draft. 😛
      Sounds like last year’s NaNo novel had the makings of being the next great (and very long) epic story. XD

  2. Hi Kayla, I’m all for whatever helps to motivate a writer. I think your point about it being useful for a rough draft is “spot on”. It’s just that I had the impression from a number of the posts I had been reading that people whizz off 50K words, spend an hour editing and then upload it to Amazon….. I was making a plea for more attention to achieving the “best possible writing” one is capable of ……. All the best .. Gary

    • Thank you for your response. I definitely agree that as authors we should always strive to write the best we can, and making sure that the work is edited is a huge part of that. I love writing and hate editing, but I also realize that I can’t have one (successfully) without the other. And even though editing work is hard and time consuming, I’m always glad I put in the effort and have produced, as you said, the “best possible writing” I could (even if I started with word counts ;)). Thanks for the great discussion!

  3. I understand where you’re coming from. But for me, as an author, I couldn’t care less about word counts. I’m sure there are many people who would have something to say about that, but I wholly believe in letting the story tell itself, and thus, why should I cut it down because it’s “too long” or “too wordy”? Of course, there has to be an element of control throughout, but if it is quality work, why should it matter? But it’s certainly interesting how everyone differs with regards to how they write.

    • Thanks for the comment! For me, word counts are less about the final amount of words in a novel, and more about giving me a goal every day to keep my writing on track. If I didn’t have a goal, I’d probably never get any productive writing done! I love writing, but I tend to be easily distracted. 🙂

      • Yeah, that’s fair enough (: It’s whatever works for the individual. But personally, keeping track of the word count completely throws me for some reason!

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