The Word Count: Should It Matter When Writing?

I’ve been reading a lot of ‘advice’ lately on what the appropriate word count per day should be when you start a writing session. Some, like Stephen King, suggest upwards to two thousand words per day. Others will say anywhere from five hundred to one thousand per day. There doesn’t seem to be a concise consensus on this subject as, as I’ve come to realize over the years, every writer is different. Here is a good article on the matter:

As for myself, whereas I believe a writer should always write, I don’t always write EVERY day. There are days I just spend with the family, or clean the house, or play a game, or deal with something else that isn’t necessarily a writing agenda. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. And frankly it doesn’t really matter to me. I still get a lot of writing done during the week. There are some days I write upwards of nearly four thousand words and other days I merely get five hundred on a page. Honestly, I don’t think it really matters so long as you’re determined to get your work done. And, for me, it’s all about when the characters start yattering their loudest and I just can’t tune them out. I have to get their story down. And when I start writing, it doesn’t stop until I’ve reached the end of the current notation of events.

Now, you can get yourself into trouble if you decide not to write for a very long stretch of time as you will inevitably just toss the work to the side because you’re just not ‘feeling it’, or you’re experiencing some serious issues of ‘writer’s block’. And in those cases, it’s always good to just put the work aside and write anything at all even if it’s just some sort of random hodgepodge of inanity that means very little to even yourself. Doing so, though, gets those juices flowing and weird ideas just start popping up, and then you find yourself right back at it. So, I’d recommend not putting writing off for too long.

Which still leaves us with the question: does word count matter?

I’m the sort of guy who just let’s a train of thought pop out and splash down on the page. My first process of writing is always to start my rough draft of any story on a sheet of paper with my words delivered by pen. I write until my wrist is aching and my mind has gotten to the point where I think, ‘Okay, this is good.’ And then I will type it into the computer. And I don’t always get it all transcribed into the good ole CPU in one go, so knowing my word count per day becomes mere speculation on my part. However, I can tell you this, I wrote my rough draft of Red Star Sheriff by hand last year starting April 23rd, 2018 and finished my longhand draft June 3rd, 2018 (Just a case in point, I began work on chapter one of the book June of 2017 and kept writing and rewriting it until I just decided enough was enough and finished my draft! So, don’t edit as you go as you may find yourself spending a year on one chapter, FYI!). My word count for my rough draft after I got it fully transcribed into Word Processor was: 119,773. So, let’s do the math on that and see what my theoretical daily word count is (remember, I don’t write consistently everyday so this is a rough estimate on if I did, this is what it’d look like). I wrote the remainder of the rough draft in approximately 42 days! So, if we divide my rough draft word count by forty two days, we get an approximate word count of: 2,852 words per day. There was some run on numeration but I’m just adding up.

Since June 3rd of 2018, I’ve written up draft one and draft two (on the computer, naturally since I only longhand my rough draft) and netted word counts of 157,565 and 153,847 respectively (all of this by the end of November of last year). Of course, that’s with alterations, moving around of plot structure, general rewrites, and fleshing out of concepts. But if we take the highest number from the ‘draft one’ cut and subtract the count from the rough draft, we’ll get an additional word count added to the initial run as: 37,792. So with that new tally altogether, and we assume another forty two day fine tuning, we’re looking at a daily word count of roughly: 3,752 words per day. And that feels about right because I do a lot of writing. So my daily word count can vary anywhere from an anemic 500 a day to a whopping nearly 4,000 words per day. Depending on my mood.

Therefore, let’s answer our question. How many words per day is appropriate when you’re writing your masterpiece? And my answer is this, it’s up to you. Who cares what the norms are? Just get your work done and stop sidetracking yourself with inane questions like this. For myself, I never really time myself or pay attention to my word count until I manage to get it into the computer. The amazing thing is always that part when you see how much you wrote and you can brag to your wife, ‘Hey, look, honey! I just wrote five thousand words! Man, did I have a productive day.’ And that’s what it boils down to: word count is really just about bragging how much you wrote. And little else. Unless you’re talking about publishing to a magazine like Asimov’s Science Fiction or Fantasy and Science Fiction (because, well, you know, they have word limits to pay attention to). Even then, your first focus should always be finishing your story or article and not concern yourself about a word count. Well, unless you’re having issues coming up with what you want to say. That, of course, is a different issue altogether.

Let me end this with this. I posted a link above about word counts which you should read. And now I’m going to post another one which I think is even more profound and to the point. So, thanks for reading and I’ll have more of my lovely insights later. Keep writing and never give up.

~Timothy S Purvis

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