To Count Or Not To Count

Word counts are both a bane and a boon for a writer. People living under a rock for the last sixteen days may not have a clue about Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). Simply put, it is an exercise undertaken by a collection of people who consider themselves to be writers to pen a fifty thousand word novel in a month or less. I am not currently participating in this interesting practise.  I have tried a few times over the years and “won” once or twice. If I’m honest though, the fifty thousand word splurges (or thereabouts) that have come out of my attempts at Nano, have been generally unworthy of ever showing to the humanoid world and not worth putting the effort into fixing up. One thing that I did take from this exercise is the practise and discipline of tracking word counts.

Some people refuse to count the words they write, opting to just wing-it instead. I am not one of these people. Working in accountancy, I have an odd affinity for numbers. I like certain number patterns, or any number containing a 2 (which is my favourite number incidentally… yes, it’s perfectly normal for someone to have a ‘favourite’ number – don’t judge). I don’t much care for the number 7, although I can’t fathom why. What I can tell you is that I obsess over word count. I have a spreadsheet that tracks progress of each book (as I usually work on several at the same time), over an annual period. So far this year I have written 225,741 words. Bearing in mind that these are tracked words for my bigger novels and exclude things like blog posts, shorter stories and anything that I’m not planning on either submitting to publishers or releasing into the stratosphere of self-publishing, the actual number of keyed utterances is probably far larger (possibly double).

What is the point of this weird obsession I hear you ask?

It’s all about progress. I’m an antsy and anxious person. I need to know that I’m achieving something, otherwise I’ll sit around worrying about how little I’ve achieved. If I can look at a document and quantify exactly how much (or on occasion – how little) I’ve achieved, then I can use the satisfaction of a growing word count to bolster my determination, or contrariwise, use the dissatisfaction of a waning growth rate to kick myself in the backside – proverbially of course. I’m not a contortionist.

I can’t fully explain or articulate the joy of seeing the word count at the bottom of my document hit 1,000. It’s a very satisfying milestone. I actually race towards the number 2,222, which gives me an unseemly and possibly inappropriate endorphin boost. Other numbers give short little bursts of happiness as I see them float across my screen. 5,000 – 10,000 – 22,222. I’ll never forget the first time I managed 10,000 words in one day, I was buzzing on a high for a long while afterward. I could probably go back to my old spreadsheet and tell you the precise date on which that occurred, but I know not many people besides myself would be genuinely interested in such minutia, so I’ll rein it in a little.

The point is, that for me, I cannot function anywhere near as well without a detailed tracking of just how many words I can manage to write on a daily basis. I therefore feel deeply connected to any of my fellow writer friends who insist upon sharing their word count updates with the world. I know it must be tiresome to anyone who doesn’t write, or who doesn’t track their word counts, so I can only apologise if you’re rolling your eyes as you read this. But to the rest of you who find themselves consumed with numbers almost as much as the words themselves, I say BRAVO! Count every one of those suckers you manage to squeeze out of your mind and shout it out loud when you hit an awesome number in your total count and feel free to let me know if you're a fellow obsessive counter. There’s no shame in that.


Write on


Start by doing what’s necessary,

then what’s possible;

and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

Saint Francis


(Technically NANOWRIMO - National Novel Writing Month)

What a novel concept (laboured pun intended). Tell everyone who considers themselves to be a writer on any level to write a fifty thousand word book in the space of a month. Simple.

Right now there are thousands of people obsessing over word counts every day. They do short ‘sprints’ – five minute writing sessions where the aim is to just get words written. They pat each other on the back for every day they manage to write 1,666 words or more, and commiserate when the target is missed. The goal is quantity over quality and it is neither a right nor a wrong approach to writing, but it is quite unique.

The main goal is to get into the habit of writing every day. It’s a tricky thing to do, even harder than you realise. Writing should be a habit, like picking your nose or biting your nails. It should be something you do without thinking about doing it and the only way something becomes a habit is by repetition.

Am I participating in nano? No. I’ve tried several times and “won” once or twice but it just doesn’t work for me. I’m trying to make a career of writing, therefore my goal is to write as many words as possible, every day, all year round. I don’t work well to arbitrary deadlines. I like to edit as I go, I also like to write something of reasonable quality on the first draft and that’s hard to do when you’re focussing on just bashing out the words as quickly as possible.

But I don’t deny that it is beneficial for some. Cathartic even.

When you think about the idea of writing an entire book, start to finish in the space of a month, it seems impossible.

Is it necessary for a writer to participate in Nano? No. Is it possible? Of course. If you try and fail, you’ll at least have something, every word written is a step closer to an actual book, and a publishing contract and success. Ultimately that is a secret dream for most of us.

So to all you nano’ers, I say good luck, write on.

To all fellow non-nano’ers, I say good luck, write on!