keeping track of wordcount

September 8, 2011

Last week, Jay Lake posted about how fast he writes, and how none of us should compare ourselves and our processes to anyone else’s.  He’s right.

It’s easier said than done, of course.  I’m one of those people who reads other writers’ blogs and other writers’ daily word counts, which often seem to stretch into the mid-four figures.  This makes me feel deeply inadequate.

My daily wordcounts?  800 – 1000 words on average.  1200 makes me pretty happy.  2000, I’m ecstatic.  I only have a handful of 2000 word days a year.  So you can imagine how I feel when I read the blog of someone who’s in the middle of a big novel drafting push and posts 3000 – 4500 words a day.  I feel so lame.  If I were a better writer, a more productive human being, I’d be able to write that much, too, right?

Well, no.  Because daily word count means nothing.  NOTHING.  You know what has meaning?  Finished product.  I average about 800 words a day, which is close to 300,000 words a year, and that ends up being 2 novels and half a dozen short stories.  Which is what I’ve done every year for the last 5-6 years.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with my process and I’ve got the publication credits to show it.  800 words a day works for me, obviously.

Daily word count isn’t important (unless there’s something about your process that gets off on knowing what that daily word count is).  Steady progress and finishing, those are the important things.

22 Responses to “keeping track of wordcount”

  1. WanabePBwriter Says:

    Having a daily word count would be the most important thing.

  2. Andrew Says:

    I just finished Big Trouble, and I’m looking forward to more. From my POV, your process seems to work pretty darn well.🙂


  3. Thank. You. Carrie.

    If you ever need a partner to feel inadequate with, and one who also Gets It Done, call me.

  4. Nicholas Says:

    I read an interview with Philip Pullman a while ago, where he said he makes a point of writing three (handwritten, A4) pages a day – sometimes it takes him an hour, sometimes all day. I’m not sure how many words that would be – probably somewhere in the 800-1200 range, I’d guess, depending on how big his handwriting is. It seems to work for him too.

  5. carriev Says:

    Vicki, we’ll start a club.

    I tell myself that writers who don’t post their daily word counts are like me — too embarrassed to do so.


  6. Some words are better than others.

    On the last day of NaNoWriMo last year I wrote over 10k words — but they were all (well, mostly) crap. Just means I can (if pressed) type fast, it wasn’t really writing. And my brain (to say nothing of my hands) was numb for a week afterwards.

    Nothing at all wrong with your pace, Carrie, and you write good words.

  7. Re WIlliams Says:

    If one writes 5,000 words a day and only 800 of them are useable, how much time did one waste? Quality means more than quanity when it comes to words.

    When you consistantly, year after year, writing two books and make a living as a writer, you are amazing!

    Currently I’m trying to learn 10 new words a day. *sigh* oh the joys of moving to another country.


  8. […] Keeping Track of Wordcount — Carrie Vaughn Is Sensible. And given that her sales numbers are 50X mine or something like that, maybe she knows a thing or two. […]


  9. You’re awesome. And this is true. I average between 750-1000 words a day. And that’s enough for most purposes.

    Even if I do often get down on myself for not doing more.

  10. Katrina Says:

    You just made my day. Thank you so much for this. I’ve been a bit down on myself since someone told me I needed to get my word count up. It’s nice to see success at word counts more like mine.

  11. Miss Bliss Says:

    Thanks for this Carrie.


  12. […] Jay Lake: Fantastic author Carrie Vaughn talks about why word count doesn’t matter, and also 25 things you should know about queries, synopses, and treatment. Highly useful, and […]

  13. carriev Says:

    I’ve also been grappling with the issue of “woolgathering.” How there’s a certain amount of sitting around daydreaming, which doesn’t look like work but actually is, that has to go into a book.

    I wonder if people who are able to write a lot in each session do a lot of their woolgathering before they start, while those of us with slower paces do our woolgathering *while* we write.

  14. Michael Redbendad Says:

    Publishing word count is like a beauty contest where the contestants wear sheets over themselves. It gives you no insight into value.

  15. Lionus Says:

    I am not a writer, but keeping track of word counts seems rather amateurish. Some writers chase their literary targets around for several pages and only come close, while other writers can hit their intended targets within the boundaries of a single page.

  16. DebraJess Says:

    I had to forward a link to this post to my writers’ group because I know all of us have had angst over daily word counts at one point or another. I tend to write in spurts: thousands of words or none at all. I’ll chalk up those days when the blinking cursor mocks me as my woolgathering days.

  17. carriev Says:

    Daily wordcounts can be useful. You you have a deadline on X date, for a piece that’s Y number of words, you know you need you write Y/X words per day to finish the piece.

    But as a generic metric of success, it’s less useful. For example, I want to smack the person who told Katrina she needs to increase her wordcount. If her process is X words per day, forcing them to X+whatever isn’t going to help.

  18. musicalmom Says:

    Oh come on, how come no one has said, it’s Quality not quantity! And, as you said, forcing more words doesn’t help. Say you do write x+ words in a day, but then end up having to edit out every single one? Oh yeah, slow and steady wins the race. OK, so Aesop wasn’t working on a deadline, I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. I’m going to sign off and go to bed. (I really enjoy reading what you’ve written.) 😉

  19. Dustin Says:

    On Woolgathering – a bit of background first. Back in school and college I hit very impressive word counts(apparently, I didn’t keep track) as well as maintaining quality work(at least the teachers/professors/classmates thought so). Personally I didn’t understand the ‘amazement’. It was just as easy as breathing. In retrospect it is easy to see that the reason I could pump out several pages of essay/shortstory/whatever in half the time if not 1 quater of the time was because my ideas were already in order by the time I sat down to write.

    Basically as I went through the day cleaning, attending classes, going to work, etc. . . my mind was constantly running around the topic bouncing ideas off and basically daydreaming. So of course I could ‘write’ faster than my peers. They didn’t start thinking until they sat down to write. If you included my time spent brainstorming into my writing speed it would go down considerably!


  20. […] my personal blog, I wrote about word count, in response to Jay Lake’s post about word count.  Namely, many writers post their daily […]


  21. […] I will replace half of them with new, even better words. My good days (like this past weekend) and Carrie Vaughn’s good days don’t line up – but  like she says, its the end product that matters, not how many […]


  22. […] Jay Lake: Fantastic author Carrie Vaughn talks about why word count doesn’t matter, and also 25 things you should know about queries, synopses, and treatment. Highly useful, and […]


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