I am often bemused at the way we measure writing, these days, on word count.
All of which, to me, stands against what writing is all about.
When I see someone announce – let’s say on Twitter – that they’ve just written 2000 words, I often say to myself ‘great, but were they the right words?’
And how much more time will be needed to get the finished words?
Let me explain.
To me, the goal of writing is to evoke emotion in a reader. That happens not through word count, but through content. The actual number of words is almost irrelevant in this sense – what we have to look for, instead, is the right words. Do they convey the message? Do they do so with proper structure.
So where does word count come in? It has two places. Structurally, word count is important, because the word count tells you the scale of the work – and from that, you can work out the scale of the relevant components. But it is not a goal. Writing isn’t about words; they are simply the vehicle for ideas, concepts and thoughts.
At professional level it is also a standard measure on which everything from books to features can be commissioned and paid for. It means publishers can budget production to known scales, and it means authors can budget time, based on how long it will take to complete a piece with x-number of words.
That’s the other issue. Completing a piece to length is a very different matter from writing that number of words.
If I draft a book of 70,000 words, that’s great – but I know there’s a lot of work yet, even on those 70,000 words, before I can submit the MS to my publishers. Even when a complete manuscript goes to a publisher, there may yet be 100 hours spent going through it on my part, checking editorial changes and publisher proofs, or answering queries. All of which is essential to completing the book – and none of which adds word count.
What are your thoughts on this one?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Coming up this week: more writing tips, ‘write it now’, geekery and more.