Word count and National Novel Writing Month

I’ve written a lot on this blog about writing, and some it deserves re-airing – especially with National Novel Writing Month around the corner. One of the big issues is what word count means for authors.

What ‘word count’ really means for writers

I have often railed about the misuse of ‘word count’ as a single measure of result for writers. I see the misconception all the time in word-o-meters on blog sites, on Facebook posts where people ask each other how much they’ve written, and so on.

Wright_Typewriter2To me it’s like actors going around comparing the number of lines they’ve learned that day. See what I mean?

The thing is, yes, word count is important – but it’s a tool, not a target. It’s used by editors as a device to scale the work they commission. It’s used by professional authors as a mechanism to plan structure.

The real skill when it comes to word count isn’t an ability to blurt out words – it’s being able to write specific content to a specific target length, usually in a specific time. That’s what editors are getting at when they issue a job by word-length, for instance.

It’s also what NaNoWriMo is all about – a contest to write 50,000 ‘first draft’ words in 30 days, which implies a target-to-time. That’s just like the real world of professional writing. And believe me, that sort of figure is tough even for experienced writers, particularly when you realise that the process of first-draft word assembly is usually only about half the total time and effort, or less, required to bring any piece of writing from idea to reader.

Just to give you a quick handle on that, before you start there’s the pre-planning (which also counts as writing), then there’s that draft assembly (x-words in y-time) which gives the basic material to work with, and then there’s working that draft into something that closely approximates the idea you had in your head – a process that is certainly writing even though it probably won’t add or subtract much in the way of word count.

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The implication is that the author has to have full control over what they are doing. Being able to assemble the words is part of the skill, but it’s not the sole definition of result.

If you want a quick-start into this and other writing skills, check out my short guide How to Get Writing …Fast, available now on Kindle.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016 and 2017

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