As a general rule, I try not to worry too much about word count. Word count is the kind of thing that fluctuates from work to work and from author and author: both the number itself, and the amount of attention given to that number. I’m not saying that certain people can’t find paying attention to the word count to be motivating, useful, and a workable strategy; but personally, I try to ignore it, and not to set daily word count goals when I’m writing a first draft because:
- it adds unneeded stress to my already anxiety-prone personality
- I feel like I failed if I don’t reach the daily goal, even though that’s ludicrous.
- it pulls attention away from the story and the characters and things that matter, making me focus on the mechanics and numbers instead. To me, that inhibits creativity.
I guess you could say the time I most cared about word count was last year, during NaNoWriMo, just because I was determined to get my 50,000 words and as many more as possible during the month of November. But excluding that, I don’t have a daily goal in mind. I just reap the benefits of writing every day, and as long as I get at least a page down or something close to that, I’m generally happy. If I get only half a page but it’s a really difficult and really important half a page that takes a big weight off my chest because it’s a section I knew would be tough to figure out how to get down, I leave happy. So I guess you could say, I put quality over quantity. And for me, that works, because I’ve written enough at this point that I don’t feel tempted or feel discouraged enough to give up on a project that I know has potential, no matter what kind of problems it’s giving me.
In my case, excluding the NaNoWriMo challenge, I feel like focusing on word count makes me focus too much on the trees, not allowing me to see the forest. Sorry for the cliché, but it’s pretty apt here to describe the situation. While a focus on word count, a la NaNoWriMo, can be a really fantastic way to push through anxieties and fears and doubts that are keeping you from getting any words down, I’m terrified to try to edit my NaNoWriMo novel. Yes, I got it written faster than any novel before. But it’s a huge, horrible, unsightly, eye-tearing, “out damn spot” kind of mess right now. I haven’t dared to pen it since I finished it in December. I will, after I publish “The King’s Sons.” But I’m terrified. I kind of wish I hadn’t rushed so much and taken some time to smooth things out a bit more in the first draft. On the other hand, if I’d done that, I wouldn’t be able to say I wrote two novels in 2012. I guess you can’t have everything!
So, what are your thoughts about this? Do you write with daily word goals? Do you care about “getting words down” during a first draft, or is your focus more on developing the plot, the setting, and the characters?