I was at a poetry reading a while ago when one of the poets said that he didn’t like being friends with novelists because all they ever talk about down the pub is word counts. A few people laughed, a few people looked offended and he quickly moved on but I was thinking about it afterwards and he kind of had a point. I mean, I don’t necessarily talk about word counts, but I do constantly think about them.
For example, with NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I know that when I’m doing that my head is full of numbers – words left until 50,000, words left until daily target, number of words that I’m behind by, number of words I can realistically catch up by. At other times Stephen King’s rule of 1,000 words a day is lurking at the back of my mind letting me know that my novel is definitely not going to be written in three months. And I’ve always got a target, everything I start I want to hit at least 80,000 words. I’ve managed that just once.
I’m counting down to 80,000 because that’s round about the average size of general fiction, between 80,000 and 100,000 words. It probably isn’t actually that accurate, books are much longer and books are way shorter, but it was kind the rule of thumb when I was at uni and now it’s stuck in my head. Must reach 80,000. I made a chart at the beginning of summer, if I wrote 1,000 words on all of my days off I should have finished my current project by the end of the month. I’m 1,822 words behind.
Whenever I’m at my computer and procrastinating I don’t think I should really be writing right now, I think Still 978 words to write today. Just because it is possible to write 1,000 words a day, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
A friend of mine sticks post-it notes to the wall behind her computer screen with all of the plot points that she has left to write. Whenever she finishes one the post-it comes down and she knows that she’s that much closer to the end. She doesn’t measure in words, she measures in events, but she still measures. She still counts.
So maybe that poet was right. Maybe it’s because word counts and little goals along the way are the things that make the project seem manageable. You don’t have to run a marathon, you just have to run the first mile. And then the second. And then the third. I don’t have to write a book, I just need to finish this paragraph and then I can have a biscuit, or finish the chapter and I can have lunch. (Yes I do make a lot of food related goals).
Do you have any other goals that you constantly strive towards when you’re writing? Any little targets that you set yourself as you write? Does anyone else obsess over word counts or is it just me?