When I was a teenager and writing in my room late at night, door closed and some alternative band playing in the background, I was never concerned with word counts.  In fact, I don’t think I was even aware of my word count.  I wrote by pages, specifically what my Microsoft Word program constituted as a page.  Typically, one of my chapters would be around 10 pages and I could easily whip that amount out in a single night.  Looking back on it now, I’m not sure how I managed that, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was because the ‘Enter’ button was my best friend and I had a lot of one-liners.

As a reader–before the self-publishing craze–I never knew much about word counts.  It seemed like some foreign currency, where the amount of pages in a book was the only reference point I had and I was hopelessly lost.  (“Oh, my novel is…54,000 words?  Is that…long??  How many pages is that?”)  But ever since I started self-publishing, word counts have become a particular obsession of mine.  Instead of looking at how many pages a book has, I look for word count.  I know–roughly–how word counts translate into pages on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  I know when I start a new novel how many words I’d ideally like it to be.  I know, on average, how many words I can produce in an hour.  Word count, word count, word count.

But, late at night when I’m struggling to find words, I wish that I was still oblivious to them.  Sometimes I wish I was still that teenager, typing away, one-liners and all.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the craziness of self-publishing.  I love writing.  But now that the ‘I must reach this word count’ mentality has been plugged into my brain, it becomes increasingly difficult to write.  It creates pressure, which can block creativity.

I’ve been facing some writer’s block this past month because of this.  Every time I think of writing, I dread it because I know that I’ll be compulsively checking my word count, mentally subtracting and adding how many words until I reach my daily goal.  But tonight, I finally made some progress because, before my writing session, I said, ‘Screw it.  I’m going to write because I want to, dammit.’

It was freeing.  And it reminded me why I started writing to begin with.  I’m going to try and go into all my writing sessions with this mentality to rewire my brain.  Obviously, it will be difficult on occasion, especially with deadlines approaching.  But overall it is a very healthy approach to long-term writing.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Does anyone else have a bizarre obsession with word counts?

3 Comments on Word Count Woes

  1. Mary
    August 6, 2014 at 12:54 pm (3 years ago)

    I know this same addiction all too well! I mentioned it in our Camp cabin I think…that I tried to write 1 million words last year so I was obsessively tracking every little thing I wrote. Now when I compare this year’s progress to where I was last year at this time, I feel like I’ve failed a little (even though this year is mostly about editing the things I wrote last year).

    It’s hard not to get stuck in that mindset but I think changing up your thinking before you sit down to write, like you mentioned, is a good way to do just that. And also looking at every writing session as time that you’re improving your craft, whether you keep those words later or no matter how much (or little) you write.

    Keep at it! Sometimes you need to let stories brew until they are ready 🙂

  2. winters.emilia@gmail.com
    August 6, 2014 at 4:03 pm (3 years ago)

    So true, Mary! And wow, a million words? I can imagine tracking every single word for that!

    That’s also a good way to think about it, about improving your craft. I find that my writing gets better once I make the effort to write everyday, no matter what I’m writing. It certainly helps!

  3. Deelyn
    November 26, 2015 at 5:07 am (2 years ago)

    Yes, I can understand the concern over word count. I, however, am not writing because of enjoyment, but for grad school. I have to write papers that have either 250-500 words or 500-750. I finally just started writing on the topic and let the words flow, then I go back and check word count. Sometimes, I have to edit it down 200 words and other times, I have to push to find more words, without repeating what I already wrote. The lucky part of what you do is not having to cite refrences.
    I have written poems on the past and I have considered trying to write romance and erotica, but haven’t taken the plunge! Maybe I’ll start after grad school….?

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