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?