Word count schmord count

Is it Christmas yet?! I just got home from Thanksgiving on Sunday, but things with work and preparing for my next marathon have me quite frazzled. I’ll be back to posting once or twice a day soon, and I surely can’t wait. But in the mean time, while carrots are roasting in the oven and I multi-task sautéing squash and zucchini, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on something that’s been on my mind of late.

As I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, I’ve had a passion for creative writing for about as long as I can remember. Last year, I found a wonderful community of writers on Instagram. The people I met there gave me so much knowledge and motivation to write.

That being said, day after day most of the writers I followed would post photos of their laptops (with an ultra cool, unassuming filter like Nashville, of course!) with the hashtag #5Kadaychallenge. That’s an unofficial challenge to write a minimum of 5,000 words a day.

And of course there’s also the formidable NaNoWriMo, in which writers log their word counts over the course of November, aiming for at least 50,000 words — about the length of a short novel.

Now don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way, but I’m against the whole word count per day/month goal. I agree with the spirit behind it, which is to force oneself to write, since it is widely agreed upon that writing and writing and writing and still writing is the only way to get better. To paraphrase an awesome quote I read on the topic once, “you have to write out all the $&!# before the good stuff will come out.”

And it goes without saying that traditional agents and publishers will virtually all impose certain word count limitations on submissions they accept. But that’s not what I mean when I say I’m against word count goals.

Even if I’m for the intent behind such goals, I’m against the drone-like, widget-producing, assembly line mindset they foster. In me, at least. I am sure there are better, more talented writers out there who are able to harness the word count goals for their true intention, to create meaningful words even if they all end up in the dustbin at the end of the day. But if getting those forced 5,000 words a day out leads some writers to write better and better content, then (non-sarcastically, I swear) good for them!

But for me, it just doesn’t work that way. I tried NaNoWriMo, and I tried the 5K a day challenge, but over time I realized that I was spending all of my “writing time” churning out words I knew were complete crap, just so that I could snap a dramatic square photo of my blurred out words and soy latte and caption it “#5Kadaychallenge.”

To me, in order to write to get better, I have to actually believe in the merit of the words I’m writing — even if most of them end up being pretty meh. Looking back on the novella I wrote last year, at the time of writing it, I felt like it was brilliant. I loved it, I loved the characters, and I believed in it. After time and hindsight (and, *ahem*, a scathing reality check during a science fiction writing conference), I realized that it belonged in the proverbial desk drawer.

Sure, it wasn’t complete crap, but the plot was riddled with more holes than a block of Swiss cheese, and the world building just wasn’t all there. But it was truly productive writing nonetheless, because it provided invaluable practice and a lot of hard lessons.

I believe the spirit behind word count goals is to write things like my crappy novella, knowing that they will pave the way to better works. But I just hated being on the word count hamster wheel, chasing the hashtag but really getting nowhere.

On the Thanksgiving flight the other day, I got a lot of good writing done. How much writing? I have no clue. I scribbled by hand in a worn black and white composition notebook and didn’t count the words. And ya know what? I don’t think I’m ever going to religiously do word counts again. I want to focus on telling a story, not meeting a forced measurement goal.

Ha! And I just realized WP puts a word count at the bottom of the page. I never noticed that before. 757 isn’t even close to 5,000, but I really don’t care. 🙂


  1. I like hearing your thoughts. All this tends to resonate quite well with me – and I think I’ve read countless times that the significance and potential for growth and further passion in anything, writing included, lays in showing up.
    We show up, we do our duty, in whatever way seems right for us- goddamn word count always was a pair of rusty handcuffs to my wrists, while to others it pushed them forward.
    Process of elimination, at least we can rule that one out, right? 😉
    I find coffee and a cigarette and feeling like total ass help for me, give a little spark to what’s already there. Perhaps a little less productive and definitely less healthy than a word count, but hey, to each their own, right?


  2. I did NaNoWriMo last year and got my 50 k words before the end of the month, I actually continued with the piece and am currently re-writing it, but it burned me out. I finished my 50,000 and then took a two week break, followed by finishing the novel then sitting on it for a year. I wrote only short stories after that, the word count broke me for a while haha. It’s like marathon training, I got to 43km in 6 weeks but my body was broken at the end of it and now all I do is lift and run 5k’s.

    I’m not a fan of word count goals for this reason, they are more discouraging to new writers then helpful. I went into NanoWriMo with an average of 1000 words a day on my earlier novels, the jump to 2000+ words a day took its toll on me. I could only imagine a newer writer trying that (or the 5k a day challenge) and how tough that would be.

    Word counts are easy, quality is what matters in the end. I see that my word count here is getting a little long so I’ll stop, but good post I couldn’t agree more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Craig! It’s definitely helpful to hear other NaNoWriMo participants’ perspectives. Congratulations on finishing NaNo, though! I totally agree that cultivating quality is what matters.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Firstly, I’m pretty sure that on most social media sites nowadays you can literally purchase follows from bot accounts, so follows are kinda hollow goals. And heck, even if they are real people, I view anyone who does “follow for follow” with suspicion, because you know they’re probably not actually reading your content. This reminds me of my recent post about misguided writing goals. […]


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