Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Word Counts: Don’t Believe the Hype

with 13 comments

Folks, lately every time I’ve turned around, I’ve seen writers bragging about how many words they’ve written in a day. And while telling people once in a while is just fine–or telling ’em every day when your readership knows full well you have a book due for turn-in Really Soon Now (TM)–some of these counts seem, well, excessive.

I tend to believe the following maxim, which I’ve already stated above: Don’t believe the hype.

Yes, some writers can and do write thousands of words a day when they’re on a roll. And there are a few who can do this for week after week, month after month, maybe even year after year until there’s some sort of major crisis in their life where they can’t. (Because we’re all human, and we all face various difficulties and crises, I can’t help but say that.)

But  here’s the thing. If someone is pushing how many words she’s written, and does so constantly, you have to ask why. (Unless it’s the issue of your book is due in, and readers are clamoring to know what the hold-up is, of course.)

Is it to reinforce their own self-image of a hard-working writer?

Is it to let their publisher and/or readership know they’re working as hard and fast as they can?

Or is it just to brag, because no one can say you’re wrong because writing is an individual activity?

Look. I know there are writers–many of them, in fact–who write faster than I do. But it’s not a competition. Or, rather, it’s a competition only with myself, as to what I can do creatively despite the obstacles in my path.

Someone else may have different things going on. He or she may have a supportive spouse. (Or not.) He or she may not have any bill problems. (At least, for now.) He or she may be in robust health, and has never missed a day at work, whether it’s at the keyboard or at a day job…

And none of that, not any of it, applies to me as a writer.

I can only do what I can do. My best is my best. And while I’m glad to see my friends happy and fulfilled with their word counts when they’re on a roll, I usually can tell by other means that they’re on a roll other than the “4800 words completed today” cryptic little posts on their Facebook or Twitter or Instagram pages.

They may well be telling the truth. But they may have other reasons to say what they’re saying, too–see above reasons for a starting point.

And again: None of it applies to me, so I don’t have to believe the hype.

The most important thing to take away from this blog is this: Do what you can do. Not what anyone else can do, or worse, what anyone else is saying they’re doing (without any proof at all, most of the time).

Anything else is time-wasting persiflage, at best.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2019 at 6:49 pm

13 Responses

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  1. c4c

    Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    January 22, 2019 at 6:55 pm

  2. I agree Barb.
    Whereas there is a saying that ‘Quantity has a quality all of its own’ it does not apply universally.
    The danger of writing a set number of words per day is that words for the sake of it do appear. Yes a writer can get on a roll and let the words flow which is fine.
    Another danger with recording how many words were written is this can have its own toxicity making other new and unsure writers feel they are doing something wrong by not reaching this target.
    Recording how many words are written is only acceptable when a rider is added to the effect that the writer knows they will have to go back and sort out the mess they have put down on paper in the first flush of inspiration….Re-write, re-write etc, etc.

    Woebegone but Hopeful

    January 23, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    • That’s exactly it, Roger. And it’s frustrating, too, because we all write at different rates, with different levels of facility…I don’t like to compare what I do with someone else becasue they’re not me, and I’m not them. But I can cheer them on, as I hope they’ll cheer me on, too…even if the best I can do on any given day is a few hundred words and they’re on a major roll.

      Barb Caffrey

      January 24, 2019 at 5:07 am

      • As I see it there are as many different ways of writing as there are writers (Unless you count the folk who write in different ways for different situations then the numbers tend to get astronomical)

        Woebegone but Hopeful

        January 25, 2019 at 3:48 am

      • I agree, Roger.

        I am split between the idea of “word counts: good” and “word counts: completely unnecessary and a waste of time.” The first part is because it’s good to say you’re writing when you are. But the second part is for those who say every day how much they write, because that seems more like bragging than anything else. And as you said before, that doesn’t take into account revision, editorial changes, the quality of the words written in the first place…

        All I know is, writer Anne Lamott wrote a book called BIRD BY BIRD where she says her first drafts are terrible. But she has to start somewhere, and that terrible first draft leads her to the second, the third, etc. And every time she adds/changes/revises, the story gets stronger.

        The main reason I wrote this in the first place is that I get tired of people bragging. Really. It annoys me. And while I am very happy when my friends are on a roll, writing-wise, I’d rather see short snippets than “I wrote 4K words today, beat that, sucka!”

        Barb Caffrey

        January 28, 2019 at 7:44 am

      • Agreed Barb, all the way.
        I could write 4k words a day. All I need to do is type out ‘Blah Blah Blah Blah’ then copy and paste it 1,000 times.
        Come to think of it, that just might work, with the right title.
        What do you think?

        Woebegone but Hopeful

        January 28, 2019 at 12:42 pm

      • How about “Welcome to Shakespeare, as composed by monkeys” as a title? 😉

        Barb Caffrey

        January 29, 2019 at 1:19 am

      • 😄; might be the next project 😄

        Woebegone but Hopeful

        January 29, 2019 at 4:34 am

      • We could have a field day with this, methinks. 😉

        Barb Caffrey

        January 29, 2019 at 5:23 am

      • I feel a parody coming on…..🤔

        Woebegone but Hopeful

        January 29, 2019 at 10:29 am

      • Why not? 🙂

        Barb Caffrey

        January 30, 2019 at 12:59 am

      • Placed in my pending tray for a mischievous post….😉

        Woebegone but Hopeful

        January 30, 2019 at 4:11 am

      • LOL! I will have to go check it out later.

        Barb Caffrey

        January 30, 2019 at 9:57 am


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