Wednesday, 25 April 2018

How Do You Count The Words? by Jo Franklin

Authors are obsessed with word count. Firstly they obsess over how many words they should aim for when writing a book. Then they obsess over how many words they have written to reach that target.

Luckily these days word processing packages count our words for us so we can easily keep track of the length of our current document.

Word count for my current document is 8,443, thanks for asking. That feels pretty good as I have been in a fallow writing period recently. But counting how many words I have written today is a little harder. I used to keep a spreadsheet of each days word count. (Yep, this author likes spreadsheets!) but I don't bother with that any more. Any way counting the words I have written today isn't as simple as glancing down at the screen. I have to highlight the text first. What a chore!

These days I calculate my productivity a different way. When I am actively writing, I write a chapter a day. That's about 1,200 -1,500 words, or 5-6 pages double line spaced for my middle grade fiction. I've got a terrible psychological block about writing more than that in a single day. In fact if I push myself and write another chapter I tend to dry up for a week afterwards so I don't bother trying any more. Just like Stephen King, there are days when my chapter is written before 11am. I feel liberated and free to spend the rest of the day in whatever way I chose. Other days getting the words down on paper is excruciatingly hard work. Like yesterday, the words were wooden and had to be revised again and again to make them intelligible. Imagine my horror when I came to print out that chapter and there were only three pages. I can only have written about 800 words! That chapter is going to need some serious work come the second draft.

Another way I count my productivity is to assess my waste paper output. As I write long hand with a pen in a spiral bound A5 notebook, I have pages covered in my scrawl to get rid of at the end of every day. I don't edit as I write but I have many aborted attempts at completing a decent sentence and I write in a very scruffy, for-my-eyes-only handwriting so I produce a lot of waste paper.

Top tip : although authors obsess about their word count, it is probably best not to ask them about it as sometimes the answer is zero. And that is a very big number.


Lynne Benton said...

Good post, Jo. I also like to keep track of my word count, though it's not always straightforward, even with a word count on my computer. I often find I've written a satisfying number of words in one day, only to find when I go over the story/chapter again that I have to delete several (words/chunks) because they're not quite right yet. And I know I can improve on them - only the right words almost inevitably turn out to be fewer, and although they make the whole thing better, it means I have to admit (to myself, or to anyone who asks) that I wrote 1500 words but had to delete 500 of them. So that makes - what? Only 1000? Which sounds pretty pathetic for a whole morning's work. So frustrating! However, I shall continue to count my words, so thank you for this post.

Penny Dolan said...

Some days I can hardly bear to do the sums, but thank you.