Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Saturday 3 March 2012

Words, Words, Words...

I despair.

No, that’s not quite true... Despair is a bit strong.
Tell me, though... Explain to me the reason why writers are so obsessed with word counts?
I understand that it’s good to have goals; I have them too. I understand that a novel is a pretty big chunk of work and that it’s nice to keep tabs on how things are going, after all, I’ve written five of them. I just don’t understand people posting up their word counts all day, every day, some of them down to the very last word, rather than rounded up (or down). I see word counts on FaceBook and Twitter ad infinitum.
My biggest quibble is that Writer X will bang on about the abcd number of words he’s written today, and he’ll do it every day for weeks, and then he’ll change tack and start banging on about first drafts, and edits and rewrites. My answer to that is, ‘You didn’t write abcd number of words then, did you? Because now you’re going to change them all’.
Word counts are not a badge of honour. Some days I write a lot, some days a little, some days nothing at all, and once in a while I write a word count that could reasonably be considered impossible (and would be if I couldn’t type 100 words a minute). I have deadlines, just like everyone else, some imposed on me, some self-imposed. I wouldn’t dream of missing one, but why should word counts be my milestones?
I spend whole days reading back through what I’ve done, getting a good handle on where things are going in a story. I spend days going back over the work, seeding in ideas to exploit later, and I’m inclined to think that these days are just as important as the others; they are writing days, too. For me, the book I’m working on isn’t about adding together lots of discrete chunks that can be spat out at will, it’s about building something entire.
Twice recently, I’ve seen writers opting to write a book a month during 2012, and it’s extraordinary to me. Even if the books are modest in proportion, said writers will still have to knock out 2,000 words a day, every day of the year to achieve their goals, ‘knock out’ being the operative words.
Do they understand how much they are devaluing what everyone else is trying to do? Technically, Many professionals should be able to achieve this feat, but I can’t think of a single one who could produce a dozen books that I’d want to read. I don’t want to read every word a writer puts to paper, I want to read the very best words in the very best combinations. For my sins, that’s what I want to write, too. I’m not a counter of words, I do not keep a tally, but I have written five novels in three years, and I’m proud of them all.


  1. Different writers have different goals in life and different work methods. I don't think it devalues what you or anyone else writes if others want to hammer out quick'n'dirty Kickstarter novels for their existing readership - those readers presumably know what they're likely to get from a "Writer X" novel already.

    Also, as a "discovery writer", I take issue with the idea that first draft word-counts aren't a valid measure of progress. Some writers hone their words by sitting and thinking about them, but some of us have to be right there in the middle of the story, letting the words flow out so that we can edit them later. I know that some of my best lines come not by careful thought but by losing myself in the act of creation.

    In no field of art should you measure yourself by others' standards. Ignore the word-counters and enjoy your writing!

    1. You see... The perfect antidote. Thanks, Anne.

    2. I do love those moments when I'm so at the centre of things that there's no need to change a thought or word; that's when the process is at its best, time flies, and I want nothing but to be with my story. More of that is more than welcome.