Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 23: Word count counts.

Lots of writers will tell you that you should write every day if you want to be a writer. Some go so far as to assign a daily number—500 words seems to be a popular sum, but certainly not the only one. You hear 1,000 words. Or 750. Or some other figure.
Some writers get downright obsessive about it. They say they’ll sit at the keyboard until they get their 500 words no matter what. If word number 500 happens to arrive in the middle of the night, fine. If word number 500 happens to arrive in the middle of a sentence, they will stop right there and shut it down.
Other writers, if they’re “blocked” (which is a delusion, to my way of thinking) or fresh out of ideas, will tap out 500 completely useless words just so they can say they made their number. It doesn’t much matter what those words are—they can be a detailed description of the desk lamp, some stream-of-consciousness nonsense, a reminiscence of a trip to the grocery store, or a make-believe letter to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
If such writers find this sort of thing helpful, invigorating, inspiring, or whatever that’s fine. It makes no difference to me.
But do you really have to write some magic number of words every day to be a writer?
Some days, I don’t write much. Other days—rare ones—not at all. Some days, I’ll hammer out a few thousand words. I might spend the better part of a day (or several days) sorting out 200-or-so words to make a poem. If there’s a deadline looming, I will write however many words it takes to make the deadline.
The thing is, if you’re a writer you have to figure out what it takes for you to write. The way anyone else does it is irrelevant. Their rules don’t count.
Nor does their daily word count.
At the end of the day—any day—I would much rather have written 173 words that say something, and say it well, than 500 worthless words I wrote just to keep my hand in.


  1. The daily word count counsel never made much sense to me either. As a matter of fact I find formulaic 'How to' writer's advice amusing. I wonder who it helps, other than the purveyor who gets paid to dispense it. If you can write, you write. If you aspire to write; but need to rely on tips, your future may be in finger painting.

    1. I couldn't agree more, Paul. Thanks, as always, for your comment.

  2. Most professional fiction writers--Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Steinbeck, Stephen King, Robert B. Parker work daily and to a word count. (Parker stopped on the exact word.) I keep track of the words I write every day but don't force a limit, just try to average five. Writers who write when they feel inspired won't end up as professionals

    1. Some do, some don't. Some will, some won't. Writers seldom conform to one-size-fits-all pronouncements and we must all find our own way. Always nice to hear from you, Win.