IWSG: The Perils of Word Counts

InsecureWritersSupportGroupToday’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.  It’s a way for insecure writers like myself give each other advice and encouragement.  Click here to see a full list of participating blogs.

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Here’s a piece of advice attributed to one of my role models: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”  These words are often attributed to Albert Einstein, although there is some scholarly debate as to whether or not Einstein actually said this.  But that’s not important right now.  The words themselves have weighed heavily on my mind of late, regardless of their historical origin.

I’m the kind of writer who keeps scrupulous records of everything: deadlines, word counts, the number of hours I spend writing…  I even make pie charts about this stuff.  In short, I do a lot of counting, and that usually serves me well.  Counting keeps me on schedule and forces me to work a little harder to get that extra thousand words done.  Also, because of my scrupulous record keeping, I can flip back through old calendars and see how my writing discipline has increased over the years.  Where once I struggled to complete 3,000 words in a week, I now routinely write that much in a day.

The down side is that on days when I don’t write, or for reasons beyond my control I can’t write, I see this unmarked day in my records, and that makes me feel like a failure.  It’s exponentially worse when I see a series of unmarked days in a row.

Due to a recent family emergency, I now have over a week of zero writing.  Despite the circumstances, I feel guilty.  Yes, a close relative was hospitalized, and yes, I had to travel a long distance to see her, and yes, my presence seemed to make a difference, BUT WHAT ABOUT MY WRITING QUOTA!!!

It’s only because of that quote from Einstein (or whoever) that I am able to keep things in perspective and remember that some things are more important than word counts.

10 thoughts on “IWSG: The Perils of Word Counts

  1. Some things and people are definitely worth more than word counts. I do know what you mean. I used to keep track day by day of what I accomplished when it came to writing/editing. The days I didn’t do anything weighed heavily on me. This year I’ve decided to do a monthly total instead of daily, and I find I do like it better, even though I still don’t feel like I’m working hard enough.


    1. With a monthly total, I’d be afraid of slacking off toward the beginning of the month and rushing to get everything done in the final week, but so long as that’s working for you, keep doing it!


  2. You shouldn’t beat yourself up – Stephen King writes 2,000 a day, so you’re already doing better than him!

    I think it’s unrealistic to keep to a high standard every single day, so maybe if you reach 4,000 one day, it’s okay to only write 2,000 the next? (Obviously the precise maths depends on what works for you.)

    Don’t beat yourself up for putting your family first!


  3. I am totally a graphs and charts and counting geek, too, though I find if I don’t give myself a break from it–a periodic chance to wipe the slate clean–I get too hard on myself. Some of my goals are in counts, but I try more often to have them be in time or project… rotate what you are counting, and if any count is under when the time is up, give yourself permission to change tactics.

    I am doing something called March Madness this month… In a dream world, I am editing about 600 pages and writing 40K words… I won’t do all that, but MOSTLY I want to be super productive this month, so am diligently working on PROJECTS… three novellas to edit first (first 300 pages), one novella to write, book to edit, second novella to write. The first four are mandatory, the next two can fall into April if they must…No harm no foul… Counting, but FLEXIBLE.


    1. Sounds like you have a lot on your plate and a really good system to handle it. I have a little bit of flexibility built into my counting system too, but not enough for this kind of crisis. Still, now that things are getting back to normal, I think it’s safe to go back to my old habits.


  4. Hopefully the time off will make you even more productive. My father died during Nanowrimo this year and I didn’t write for 2 weeks. I ended up writing 20,000 words over 2 days to finish on time and the writing was decent. Now I want to go check out that pie chart. Wow.


    1. Sorry about your father. I’m sure he’d be proud of the writing you’re doing. At the very least, I’m impressed. 20,000 in two days… I couldn’t do that without causing a nosebleed.


  5. Sorry about the family emergency.
    You measure your value by the amount you can produce. While keeping track of that is good, it stresses you out when you aren’t measuring anything. But you are valuable and productive way beyond what you can measure.
    And I really envy how much you can write in a day.


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