A Novel Observed #20 – Word Count is King

The Writing Stage

The Writing Stage

No it isn’t.

But it’s easy to make word count king. And while writing draft chapter 14 of No Time To Stand And Stare, I had a major tussle – one might call it an uprising or even a revolution.

After reading about it somewhere – maybe on another blog or in a book on writing – I fell into the trap of believing I should write at least a thousand words a day. Every day. No breaks. No holidays. 365,000 words a year minimum, plus an extra thousand if it happened to be a leap year.

Now, I tried this, I really did, but it’s simply not sustainable… for me, anyway. I have heard of some authors pumping out over a million words a year and clearly they either have no life whatsoever or they must write a decent amount of rubbish.

I changed my goal to 500 words every day instead, but even that was unsustainable. There are some days where I simply don’t have 500 words in me. Or even five.

Word Count is a Tyrant King

“If you don’t write, you can’t call yourself a writer”, is a fair comment. But I’m not sure it can be stretched to: “If you don’t write at least a certain amount of words every day without fail, you can’t call yourself a writer” or even “If you don’t write every day, you can’t call yourself a writer”. If J K Rowling takes a month or two off writing, does that mean she’s not a writer? If Terry Pratchett is ill for a week and can’t write, does that mean he’s not a writer? Of course not. They are writers, but that doesn’t mean they have to churn out a minimum quota of words on a daily basis.

I too am a writer, but I don’t write every day. I read a blog post recently that suggested you aim for 1 word every day, because that way you are no longer a slave to the tyrant word count king – not only that, but you will constantly exceed that daily goal. But what about those days when you don’t write – either because you can’t or because you don’t want to? On those days you (by which mean ‘me’) inevitably end up feeling guilty. Why? Because even at one word a day, you’re making word count your tyrant king.

The bottom-line, for me at least, is to aim to write regularly. That’s it. Adding anything else to this, such as ‘get my book finished within the year’ or ‘write at least one day this week’, is giving too much power to the word count.

So, I revolted against that tyrant, and promised I’d never serve him again. Which is probably (aka undoubtedly) going to prove to be a lie… but not today!

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