I admit it: I have an obsession with my word count.
But it’s not exactly about how many words I’ve written at the end of the day.
If you’re a writer, and you spend any amount of time in online writing communities, you are all-too-well acquainted with the all-mighty word count. Whether it’s the precise definition of a drabble (100 words exactly!) or the theory behind writing a set amount of words per day, every day (see 750words.com), it’s really hard to escape word counts.
For the last four or five years, at the beginning of every year, I’ve signed up for a community that focuses on a yearly word count. During the first two weeks of the new year, you pledge to write a set amount of words before December 31 – there’s set pledges ranging from 75,000 words to 500,000 – and then they offer support and cheerleading for you to do just that, with monthly check-ins and Word Wars and the like. There’s no penalty for not making your word count – but you are held accountable for checking in every month with your current word count, and those numbers are posted for all to see.
The first couple of years, I had trouble making my word count. I’d miss it by 20,000 words or so. But then something clicked about three years ago, I figured out the secret to getting those words flowing, and both of the last two years, I nearly doubled my pledge. (Last year, I wrote just over 500,000 words. Half a million words. I’m still astounded.)
So being able to write a ton of words isn’t my problem. Nor is forming a writing habit, which is the other goal of the community. I love writing – I love the process of sitting down and just letting the words flow out, of the discovery in finding out what my characters are going to do next.
What is my problem is keeping on task – and that’s why I tend to focus a bit on word count.
Have you ever gone on a long vacation, and then when you turned on the faucet in the bathroom, the plumbing seemed a bit wonky? The first couple of seconds, the water spat and gurgled and struggled with getting the water to flow – and then it flowed just fine?
For me, that’s writing. Some days, I have to struggle with the first 800 or 900 words before they really start to flow – but once I get those words, I’ll never even notice the three or 4,000 that come after that.
I know this. I’m fully aware of this. But some days… I just don’t want to do it. I write 200 or 300 words and think, It’s not flowing, it’s all terrible, I should do something else! Everything that isn’t writing seems so much more important. Ordering that stuff on Amazon, or checking that I’ve done the dishes, or looking to see where the cat’s napping, or adding things to the grocery list. Who has time to write?
But I have that goal, you know. I have to write a certain number of words every day, and at the end of the month, I have to report how many words I’ve written. Miss three months in a row, I get kicked out of the community. I haven’t written my 822 words today – better keep going.
So I keep writing. And the next thing I know: it’s the end of my writing time and I’ve got 4,000 words to show for it.
Isn’t it fun when you use psychology on yourself to make you do stuff?
Of course, the irony is that I’m not going to make word count this month – the flu hit me hard the second week of January, and it’s only the last couple of days that I haven’t felt like death warmed over. I’ll be lucky if I finish the month with 15,000 words, much less the 25,000 I should have.
But that’s okay. 822 words at a time – and all the words that come after. I’ll get there.