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


As a writer I love to mark my progress. It seems a silly and almost juvenile thing to throw a parade for every thousand words written, but that is how I know I’m getting somewhere. When you hit that first thousand words it’s a magical thing, and every thousand word increase after that represents a step closer to a completed first draft.

Some writers might like to look at smaller goals, and feel a sense of achievement for one hundred words completed. Others might go for really big goals and throw up a cheer for every ten thousand words. Maybe some don’t look at their word count at all and just feel happy whenever they finish a certain chunk of writing. Whatever works for each person we all do it in some way.

As an accountant I’m obsessed with numbers… oooh look I just hit the one hundred word mark on this blog, nice. Anyway, as I was saying I crave the completion of small steps and sometimes I even chart progress on a spreadsheet (I have a spreadsheet fetish – odd I know). It helps to ground the work as well as showing you how and when your peak writing times occur.

If I were able to write full-time, I would be aiming to hit the big numbers on a daily basis, 10k is a good goal so I’ve read. I think the most I’ve ever managed in one day was around 8k, which is phenomenal. It helped that I had a really clear vision of that section of the book on that day. Other days it comes in fits and starts, but every day that the word count goes up represents progress in some measure.

I’m currently on track to complete 3… maybe even 4 novels in one year. Considering I’ve never manage to complete anything of significant length in the past 32 years, I’d say this represents some kind of turn-around.  I can only hope my determination holds out indefinitely, and if you’re a writer too then I hope you can achieve the same (if not more!)

Happy writing.