Why Word Count Isn’t Always the Best Method

As you may have noticed, I use a nifty (read: simple) little bit of html in my posts to provide a graphic that shows my word count progress. However, word count isn’t always the best way to keep track of your progress.

For short stories–or works without chapters–word count is a perfect way to keep track of your progress. Say you’re writing a short story for submission and the publisher/zine/whatever only accepts stories up to 4,000 words. You might not want to write exactly 4,000 words, but keeping track of your word count is a hassle-free way to keep yourself on track.

As I’ve found out working on this second novel, word count doesn’t always work. I set a total word count goal for myself: 80,000. A fairly standard novel length, maybe a little longer than standard. Some people like 75,000. Anyway, I just hit 61,000 today (and I’m still going). According to my spreadsheet I’m a little over 76% complete with my novel. Wow! I’m over 3/4 of the way there! Not quite.

I may be 3/4 of the way to my arbitrarily chosen goal, but when it comes to completing the actual story, I’m not at that point yet. I’ve started keeping track of my chapter progress along with my word count. Right now I’m on chapter 19 out of an outlined 28–or 67% completion. Not quite as impressive isn’t it?

Both keeping track of chapters and word counts are useful tools in measuring progress. I just have to remember that word count isn’t everything. I’ll keep posting my little graphic though, because I like seeing it go up. And even if it is a little inflated, it still represents progress. Honestly, I’ll be happy as long as the first draft of this novel is shorter than the first draft of my previous one. If I can keep it under 100,000 words, I’ll be ecstatic.

To all of you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day: have fun, stay safe, make sure to stay hydrated to avoid hangovers. As for me, I’ll be staying in and plugging away on The Exile’s Violin 2. Here’s today’s word count. (I’ll update it again later tonight.)

Oh yeah! Before I forget: There’s a reading/launch event for Growing Dread: Biopunk Visions at Neptune Coffee (85th and Greenwood, Seattle) from 8-10 pm. Go if you can! I can’t ’cause I’m in the wrong state. Right coast, wrong state. You can pre-order the anthology here. You can also read an excerpt from one of the stories, “Necrosis,” here.

Project: The Exile’s Violin 2 (working title)

Deadline: N/A (maybe 5/1/11)

Daily word count: 3,399 (as of 6 PM PST)