Measuring Your Words: The Value of Word Counts

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WIP Word Count
Until recently, I never really considered the value of counting the total words I write each day.  As a writer, I tend to revise as I go.   Since my goal, even while drafting, has never been mainly to get new words on the page, I always suspected if I actually kept a running count I would come away feeling like I wasn’t making an real progress.  Of course, new words do get added, but plenty of other words get changed or moved around along the way.

Instead of counting words, I’ve always measured my writing progress in terms of completed chapters.   When my non-writing friends (the few who I’ve been brave enough to actually tell I’m writing a book) ask me how my writing is coming along saying,   ‘I’ve finished drafting chapter 12′ goes over much better than, ‘I wrote 1,200 words today.  Good ones, too!‘.  The latter typically results in blank stares or a friendly but abrupt observation about the weather.

Nevertheless, I recently started tracking my total word count and have even gone so far as to add a word count widget to my blog.  I’m still not sure how much it will help me in the long run, but here are some of the benefits I can already see for those who do it.

  • Estimating Your Completion Date:  If you set a goal for how long you want your book to be, and you’ve been tracking how may words you write per day, you’ll have a rough idea when you’re initial draft will actually be completed.
  • Setting Goals:  If you want to set a goal goal for when to have your draft completed, you can lay out your writing strategy in measurable chunks to reach your goal (or even to determine if your writing goal is too lofty for you.)
  • Providing Status Updates:  For established writers with a growing fan base, this can be a fun way of bringing eager readers into the process while keeping them updated on your latest project.
  • Staying Motivated:  Seeing the numbers increasing daily or weekly means your novel is growing.  ’Nuff said.
  • Accountability:  Sometimes writers need the accountability a public display of writing progress offers.  This allows your writing friends to either offer their congrats or to bust your chops which ever the case may be.

If you’re interested in setting up your own and your progress bar and you’re using WordPress you can get the plugin I use at http://jasonpenney.net/wordpress-plugins/progpress/.  There are other options which work on all platforms such as http://www.writertopia.com/toolbox/meters.  These don’t require WordPress at all, just simple HTML which can be placed on any blog anywhere.

What about you?  Do you track word counts?  If you do, do you find them to be discouraging or do they actually help?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.