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