On Wordcount, and Snitty Entitlement

Paul Keheler / Foter

I’m not a writer because it’s easy; screw those who think it is. I’m not a writer because I want to live some sort of privileged life, or because I want to be rich, or even because it’s the only thing I can do.

I’m a writer because it’s challenging and I’m good at it. I’m a writer because I want to make things, as Doris Egan has said.

So let’s stop the faux blue collar anti-elitism, and let’s stop talking about the number of words a writer creates a day as some sort of measure of how hard they work. (Harry Connolly)

He’s got a point.

I actually do measure most writing days by wordcount, for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that it works for me; it short-circuits a number of nasty little voices in my head. Wordcount goals, for me, say “They don’t have to be good words. You can go back and chop and slice and make them pretty later. Get them out now, worry about the quality later.” (No doubt a number of people would snarkily remark that such a view is most likely what’s wrong with my hack work, but oh well.) The wordcount goals get me sitting down, nailed to the chair until I get past “priming the pump” and get into the state that is most conducive to creation. It’s a skill, not magic, and the more I cultivate the habit of writing every day the more magic actually happens. I got (and still get) a lot of flak for saying “writers write, do it every day“, but so what? I truly believe the consistent habit is what will get your writing where it needs to be, and it is your best friend if you want to get published–or just get better. Wordcount goals are a tool, and they may not work for some writers. They may work, but not well enough, for others. The critical thing is to do the goddamn work, and do it consistently.

Connolly’s post is more about the snideness directed at creatives lately, but I’m not going to talk about that. Because frothing at the mouth is tres unattractive on me, and it’s all I would be capable of doing if I started talking about how snitty people get sometimes when a writer is not giving exactly what said snitty person thinks they’re entitled to receive. Instead, I’m just going to wander over into the corner and set up my wordcount for the day.

Over and out.

Comments

  1. cheryl chimes in

    I admit, I haven’t been writing regularly. But when I was, I found word count very helpful, both in terms of framing a manageable goal for the day and in helping me see progress. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by how much is left to do, and also to use that looming enormity to fool myself into thinking I’ve barely done squat. Being able to see a nice word/page total at the end of each week was a great way to reassure myself that I really was getting somewhere.

    The one downside (for me) of word count is that it encouraged me to keep putting out words and got me engrained into seeing constant progress — which in turn kept me from sitting down and analyzing the plot holes and problems and then finding solutions. I’m doing a writer’s retreat in July and I’ve told myself that I’m absolutely not going to fall into that trap — that I’m going to take the time to step back and ruminate and problem-solve while I have the luxury of five whole days to do it. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get to do some writing also, and figure out how to achieve some balance between the two.

  2. BassoonBob chimes in

    Sounds like getting to Carnegie Hall for a musician.
    First you have to practice lots (daily word count goal), then you have to analyze your playing and correct the problem areas (review and fix drafts).

  3. Serena chimes in

    I still use word count as a measurement but I find that if I focus solely on that I’ll spend all my writing time just putting words on the page that don’t move the story forward, at all. This happened on one of my first short stories where I had almost 5k words down on just the introduction part.
    A method I find works good for me is to think of a major scene or point in my story, invision it in my head and then write up to that point.
    Also I love the quote :D

  4. Nina Richardson chimes in

    I’m also in favor of what he said, especially the part where it says word count doesn’t prove a person’s intensity in effort and hard work. It isn’t easy to be a writer; it’s a challenging occupation to have something that involves write ups. It’s not at all times that you are able to write about something and get satisfied of your work.