Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Word Counts Are Overrated

There. I said it.

I was reading this post about traits of successful writers, and his comments about daily word counts resonated with me. I often see an abundance of posts on forums and blogs that talk about the importance of writing daily but few that talk about writing in streaks or bursts. In fact, that almost appears to be shunned or frowned upon as if it were an act of laziness or unprofessionalism.

I disagree, and here's why.

For some writers, having a word count goal is a great motivational tool. For others (like me) I tend to work in bursts. I've tried to write on a daily basis and reach word count goals, but for whatever reason they do not work. My writing quickly turns into diatribes about my writing, which is kind of strange really. I find I am much more productive if I take breaks instead. It is NOT indicative of laziness, because if you actually saw how much work I put into an individual book or story, you'd quickly realize the amount of planning and editing I do is sometimes a little ridiculous. Suprisingly enough, for novels I do quite a bit of outlining.

For example, my novel, Theft at the Speed of Light, took fifteen years to write. There are four very different versions of it that all represent efforts to get the story right. Yet I did not work on it every single day during those fifteen years...sometimes I went for months or even years without working on it.

Another upcoming novel that I hope to start and finish next year is Race the Sky, which is about stormchasing. I already have one version of the novel written, but I was unhappy with certain parts of it. The new ideas that I intend to add to it will transform it into a completely different book, but I will also bring the vivid storm chase scenes from the old version with it. I have also sunk several years of research into this book already, mainly by reading chaser diaries online, going through books, and watching every single storm chasing video I could. That's hardly laziness, and I fully expect this book to be written in a big burst that will stretch across several weeks. Leading up to it, I may not write much of anything for days or weeks.

My main point here is that as writers, we all work a bit differently. Word count goals may be a great way to keep you motivated, but for some of us we need breaks because we work so intensely on any given project, and maybe even to the edge of burnout. Word counts on those "burst" days could easily reach into the thousands and when you average all the numbers out over a year, you'll find the same goals are reached: productive writing. In the end, isn't that what counts?

How about you? Do word count goals work for you? Or do you tend to work in streaks?

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