Counting Words

The novel I’m writing (my sixth) is proving to be a bit of a struggle. In my memory, writing the other five was a silky-smooth process, in which I effortlessly spun out an endless stream of words whenever I sat down at the desk.

Well, it probably wasn’t like that. When I concentrate, I remember plenty of occasions when I sat there, staring at the giant rubber plant (now in a better world), trying to shape another scene.

But this time around, “flow” simply isn’t the word. Scraping, beating, cobbling, hewing — those are the words that come to mind. I’m getting blisters on my imagination.

Part of the problem is that this time, I’m fixated on wordcount. I’ve decided I want to end up with a first draft of 90,000 to 100,000 words, of which I may delete 10,000 to 20,000. Having too many words feels better than too few. It’s as though writing is a weird kind of sculpture — first I hew out a block of stone, and then I reduce it to its final shape. I don’t want to limit myself with a block that’s too small to start with.

I wondered if this warped the process. Instead of letting the plot unfurl organically, I set myself a goal to crank out a minimum of 6,000 words to present at the monthly meetings of my longtime critique group. Before that, I wasn’t writing at all, letting days go by while I played the procrastination game of waiting for the perfect day or moment. Now, with this self-imposed deadline, I’ve been diligently beavering away for five months, and technically am one third of the way through the first draft.

While this approach is getting me to produce, I’m wondering if I’m just churning out crap of which 98 per cent will have to be rewritten. In other words, if I’m just faking it. Okay, the critiquers seem to think the work has potential, but I haven’t reached a point where they can really see the shape of the finished novel. Which is a problem in itself. Or, maybe not — at least the plot isn’t predictable.

This leads to the question of whether it’s better to write too much and cut out a lot in rewrites, or too little and have to flesh out and add stuff. I’ve always taken the more is better approach, and now that the thing is finally coming to life, I intend to press on and test that idea later.

So, back to the quarry…


Images courtesy of Pixabay




  1. Congrats on your progress on your sixth novel. I’m on my fourth and can certainly relate to your struggles wih word count and the too much, too little dilemma. In some scenes I need to flesh out or add more detail, in others I was too wordy or add too much and need to kill a few darlings.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You have to forget about word count until after you complete the first draft, then you can worry! Honestly, nothing will drive you insane faster and reduce your brain to a shrivelled walnut. After the first draft is done, all things will become possible, plus you will have the best basis to work on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, but I’d hate to find myself at the end too soon, with the story arc too short and lacking important kinks and wriggles. Then I’d have to fire up the imagination again, to create additional scenes. I think I use different parts of my brain to make stuff up and edit the stuff. I like to give the editor part lots to work with. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the universe may be at work here… I seem to be reading a lot of posts today on the subject of ‘churning out crap.’ I’ve got that bit down, but it’s good to know it’s not just me that feels that way, and more importantly that it’s ok to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I return to the first (or preliminary, since I write it longhand) draft and type it up with Word, it seems less crappy. Any parts that are get left out or improved. If I weren’t sending freshly written chunks to the crit group, I would just work on the longhand draft and barely look at the parts I’ve already written until I was finished. But this process does seem to be working so far.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You can do it! Just keep writing! Nothing happens until you get the words on the page, but then you have something to work with. Don’t worry how pretty the first draft looks. That’s what revisions are for. (…as I revise this comment 😉 )

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting post. I think every book comes out different and demands a unique approach. I’ve done Nano twice, which is all about word count and I felt exactly like you – as if I was churning out crap! But I wasn’t (for the most part!) It was just a different process that I wasn’t used to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true. The important thing is to find whatever will get one to keep on writing. Thanks for the comment (and the follow!)
      Your post on mailing lists was reassuring, since I’ve as yet not managed to convince myself to build one.


Comments are closed.