Word Count Tyranny

You’ve all seen it before on Facebook: the jaunty post from a writer of some kind who says, “Guess what, dudes?  Today I wrote 7500 words!  How did y’all do?”

There’ll be a chorus of praise: “Wow!”  “I’m impressed! “Awesome!”  “You rock!”

And a few people will admit to feeling inferior: “I only wrote 500.”  Only?  Why is that something to apologize for?  What’s wrong with that?  It’s only “inferior” when compared to 7500 words, which is suddenly the new Gold Standard for daily production.  Why should anyone apologize for writing any amount?

You can be sure that there are other people who won’t post at all in response to the Word Count Wiz because they feel really embarrassed.  Maybe they weren’t able to eke out much of anything that day, and a total of 7500 words feels like mockery.  But they shouldn’t be embarrassed or put off.

Crowing about how many words you’ve written may feel super in the moment (and Facebook is often about moments), but think about it.  A post like that could have the unintentional effect of shaming people who are blocked, or write slowly, or who don’t write every day.  These might be writers who’re just starting out, or who’ve suffered traumatic rejections of their work, or were dropped by their publishers, or who for any number of reasons just don’t produce a lot, or write fast–or both.

But even if if doesn’t, and even if you did write those 7500 words in a day, so what?

Who says writing fast and copiously is a guarantee of anything?  Those 7500 words could be 100% crap.  Writing that much and that quickly only proves you can type fast, nothing more. Remember Cold Mountain?  Its National Book Award?  The millions of copies sold?  The movie?

slow writerWhy is the on-line writing world so obsessed with churning out words every single day, day after day–and tons of them? Why should it matter unless you have a contract and you’re under deadline? Why should you measure yourself as a writer by the number of words you write per day?  And seriously, why should other writers care?

What about revision?  Experienced authors know how important revision is to a finished work.  But revision isn’t necessarily about how much you get done–it”s more about what you get done, how you re-shape your project, whatever it is.  A major revision could ultimately involve very few words but make a huge difference.

Why don’t people post more about that or about the work itself? Whatever happened to caring about substance?  Like honing dialogue in a scene?  Deepening a character’s motivation?  Or building the arc of your narrative?  What happened to caring about anything other than how many words you spew out in a day–and then posting the total in some kind of victory lap?

scowell-smug-ross-kingsland-how-to-deal-with-hatersLev Raphael is the author of Assault With a Deadly Lie, a novel about militarized police.  You can find it and his other books on Amazon.

4 thoughts on “Word Count Tyranny”

  1. I think a lot of that comes from self-published authors who push themselves to put out four or more books a year. Also, Kameron Hurley, who seems to get a lot done under incredible deadlines (while holding down a full-time job). About a decade (or two?) ago I heard James Lee Burke say you have to write a book a year to make a living. Now self-published writers say they’d never go traditional, because a publisher would hold them to one book a year. And readers will say, “X is a slow writer, she only writes a book a year.” No wonder people are so pissed at G.R.R. Martin!

    • Martin’s writing is too good to be rushed. People recommend other fantasy series to me and they just aren’t comparable. I won’t spend that much time with an author whose prose isn’t as fine as the story, characters and world.

      • 5 to 7 years between books is still way too long. Even for Martin. I love his writing but the last two felt a bit over stuffed for some reason.
        My personal favorite author is Glen Cook. An amazing wordsmith.

  2. I might add that so many people think every book should contain 100,000 words. Some stories would read better if they are shorter. I don’t worry about daily (or weekly) word count, and I am fine with a story that plays out in 48,000 words. There is enough emotional output in writing the story without adding stress to the process.


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