Word count: The true measure of progress?

How exactly can you measure the progress you’ve made in your novel? Some authors choose to do so by seeing how far ahead in their plot they’ve gotten, some do so by writing out random scenes that go into the final draft at a later point, and others do so by word count.

Word count – that number of words by which your manuscript has increased. To be really honest, it’s a pretty good way of checking progress. If you’ve gone from 22000 words to 25000 words in one day, that’s really impressive. To make sure that you’re not whiling your time away and actually getting work done, you can set a word count deadline for every day or every week. And for the most part, it’s an accurate marker of progress made towards finishing your novel.

So what, then, is the problem?

From what I’ve noticed, mainly from my own work, is the dependency that authors tend to develop on meeting their daily word count as the only measure of progress. Sure, you can write 10000 words in one day, and you can walk away from your laptop feeling really accomplished. But what is the point if you’re going to come back to those very words the next day and erase half of them because they’re not really as great as you thought? And what about the other end of the spectrum? What if you manage to write only 1000 words because you were busy polishing the parts you’d written earlier, or you were occupied for half the day in research? Are you supposed to end the day feeling miserable because you didn’t meet the minimum word count that you’d set for the day?

I’m guilty of doing both those things. And after a few pretty lousy days where I couldn’t write the number of words I’d thought I would, I took a step back and decided to just assess my work. What I saw was that I may have written few words, but I’d written a pretty great scene, and that too one that I’d never attempted before.

Sure, that scene and those chapters will go through edits, but they’re still the mark of something new that I’d achieved. And that, in my opinion, was the true measure of progress.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that measuring your word count is a good way to keep yourself working on a schedule and even acts as a good measure to mark the progress of your work. But there are moments and days when you just have to toss the word count aspect of your work out the window and look at what you’ve accomplished other than a bunch of words. Maybe you’ve successfully written a short scene in spite of having writer’s block, maybe you’ve written your first ever romance/war scene, or maybe you’ve managed to iron out those wrinkles from your outline that had been bothering you forever. Whatever it may be, you’ve definitely achieved something. And that should be satisfaction enough to stop you from ending your work day on the feeling that you just didn’t do enough. I’ve had that feeling a lot of times – and all it succeeds in doing, is making my night restless and leaving me too tired to work the next day!

So don’t let bad seeming days get you down. As long as you have a novel or story in the making, you’re going to be working on it. You may do that on paper, on the laptop, through research, or even just in your head. But you will always be compelled to work on it and you will always make progress, even if you don’t realize it. Just look closely and you’ll discover what you achieved.

How do you mark your progress? And how much importance would you give to word count? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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2 Comments

Filed under Being a writer, My life!

2 responses to “Word count: The true measure of progress?

  1. I find that breaking the story in to sections gives me an ongoing sense of accomplishment. Like one day i set out to write up to the point where the main character gets arrested, and when I get there I feel as good as if I’d finished the whole story. I also give the story to someone in installments so that I get feedback as I go. It really keeps me motivated knowing someone is waiting to read the next chapter.

    • That is definitely a great away to go about it, and one that I’ve ended up doing unintentionally. I always think that I need to write until a particular scene is completed, and that can be within or above my set word count. And in such cases, only completion matters, not the count. So I think that can work as a great marker and even better motivator! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for stopping by! ☺

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