For as much as I love NaNoWriMo as a writing event and motivator, it has created a few bad habits in me. The worst of these is my obsession over word counts. NaNoWriMo encourages writers to scribe a 50k work novel over the course of a month. It’s a very achievable goal, and even though in recent years the program has become more flexible and allows participants to create their own goals with different objectives outside word count… word count still gets stuck in my head.
The industry I work in obsesses over numbers. Quality is important, but you are judged most heavily on quantity. The higher your numbers, the more you have achieved. As long as your error rate remains reasonable, higher numbers merit greater rewards. This happens in a lot of injuries – the whole sales model of commission-based positions is based on more = better. In writing, obsessing over word counts instead of story progress is an easy way to get lost in the details without actually making any story progress. For me, that’s a problem.
While I technically wrote “The End” on A Star Danced in 2018, I don’t feel as though I’ve successfully finished a NaNo draft since 2013 with Beyond the Silver Screen. In fact, I am not happy with any manuscript work. Because of the way I have trained myself to work and focus on “x words per day”, I am capable of writing a lot of words, but that absolutely does not mean I’m making any progress.
Even though it’s difficult for me to follow the rule, I think that plot progression should be the most important thing on a first draft. Expanding the world and character growth (outside of how it relates to the story itself) can be added in later drafts. Physical word count should never be on the radar, not until the late drafts when you are trying to make sure your story is within certain accepted limits. But that is the only time word count should matter.
For myself, when I write, I’m going to try and focus more on the story and not the stats.
Do you also get stuck on word count when writing? I’d love to hear how you all navigate between story progression and statistics! Share your experiences in the comments. <3