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Why count words?

Yesterday’s post brought this interesting comment from David Rory:

Sorry if this is one of those daft obvious questions – but why?
I see lots of writers getting involved in this kind of exercise and I’ve always wondered what are they are meant to achieve?
I guess I just can’t get my head round the idea of writing as an exercise in maths or strength building, like lifting weights.
I genuinely don’t get the motivation.
Once I’m ready to write I just do it and go on to the end. The word count per day is just not an issue for consideration. When I’m in the flow it can be anything from 800 to 4000+ per day.
I’m not meaning to be critical at all. I am truly interested to know what benefit you see in this kind of exercise.

I decided my reply needed a new post – this one.

If you can write like that, without any extra motivation, that’s wonderful. Carry on doing what you do. I wrote my first novel in that way. I knew my characters, I planned the whole story and even divided it up into chapters. Then I just wrote whenever I had time. I had a message I wanted to get out and I was keen to do it as fast as possible.

After writing my novel, I sent it to friends who liked it and made a few cautious comments. Then I joined my writing group, where I received many less cautious comments and learned a lot about writing. I rewrote the novel and attempted to find a publisher but eventually realised that my story, despite being enjoyed especially by those who could empathise with the characters, wouldn’t appeal to a publisher.

Now, I have more of an idea of what works and less confidence. I wonder if there’s any point to all this writing. Will I ever be able to get my message out?

Also, I like to write short stories. I’ve had more success with them, at the writing group and in the wide world. But short story writing isn’t the same as novel writing. There’s nothing pushing you to continue. Once you finish a story, that’s it. You can start a new one or you can chat on Twitter, have your goes in ongoing Scrabble games, tidy the kitchen.

Exercises like 100k in 100 days provide the motivation. Participants can post their achievements. And they can discuss any difficulties they might have with others who are attempting to do the same thing and will provide support.

That’s my reply. Would anyone else like to comment?

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life.

5 replies on “Why count words?”

I don’t think anyone could have said it better than you have, Miriam. I am fairly well motivated, but that hasn’t always been the case. It was getting involved with challenges like NaNoWriMo that helped me to become more motivated. Your correspondent said that when they start writing they just carry on until they’re finished. I’m pretty much the same. But a lot of people aren’t. They get disheartened so a challenge that helps them to keep going is a good thing.

I accept they’re not for everyone and that’s fine. It would be boring if we were all the same.

Miriam and Quillers, thank you both for your response. I really meant it when I said I didn’t understand the purpose. Your response explains it well and I begin to see how an exercise in self discipline can help oil the wheels, so to speak.
The confidence thing I also see. After ten novels in four years without a block, I stumbled recently and I now see it was a confidence issue. I was not confident and prepared enough with my material and so got blocked. I escaped by blogging and writing other stuff and reading vastly more on the subject. The confidence is returning.
Perhaps I may explore a challenge like this in future but right now I’ve got one novel in progress another being bubbled in the back ground and major rewrites/edits of all the others in preparation for publishing as paperbacks – so no time for now. Thank you again for taking the time to shed light on your motivation.
davidrory.

I cannot write like that – but my daily life does not allow it. I did a blog post this morning but no more writing today. (I am just catching up on a new avalanche of e-mail that must be answered and should not have taken time out to read this but I always want to know what you have been up to.)
While it does not work for me though I can understand it might work for some people. There are disciplined writers who sit down and work set hours. There are othes who burn midnight oil.
I do not think it matters which way you do it – as long as you do it!

I wish more people paid attention to word counts. Editing would make their words matter more, tighten up the prose, and make reading a pleasure. Authors that use too many words muddy the story.

I find a certain reckless joy in writing for word count. It may make my revision process a bit tougher, (sigh,) but as they say – you can polish imperfect writing. You can’t revise a blank page.

Good luck with 100k in 100 days!

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