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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2008-01-17 07:05
Subject: [process] Counting words
Security: Public
Location:Nuevo Rancho Lake
Mood:thoughtful
Music:morning sounds
Tags:process, writing
As many of you know, I track word counts pretty carefully. This more of a work diary and productivity management thing than a creative process thing, but obviously the two areas have a very high degree of intersection. As discussed previously here and elsewhere, accounting for revisions is a challenge for me. This in turn causes some of my basic productivity metrics to hiccup. Obviously I could go to a time accounting of hands-on-keyboard, but given the highly variable nature of my personal life and my writing conditions, this seems ultimately less reflective of productivity.

I've made an essentially arbitrary decision that for productivity tracking purposes, I'm going to count words as follows:
  • Light line editing, minor or single-scene revisions: Credit as 25% of total word count
  • Moderate line editing or multi-scene revisions: Credit as 50% of total word count
  • Word-by-word editing of whole manuscript or wholesale revisions: Credit as 75% of total word count


Arbitrary? Yes. Unsatisfactory? Yes. But less unsatisfactory than doing no tracking at all, which is my current situation. Trying not to let perfect get in the way of good here.

Your thoughts? Your system?
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Kerry aka Trouble
User: controuble
Date: 2008-01-17 15:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Does the word processor you are using have any kind of a diff tool? Sorry, diff is a UNIX term - delta tracking? You could assign different word count percentages based on the type of delta (change) the tool finds when comparing the before and after versions of each daily editing session.
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S. Boyd Taylor
User: sboydtaylor
Date: 2008-01-17 15:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hah. Not that I'm published or anything, but I track words to measure productivity just like you do.

Recently I've started timing my writing as well, so I can figure out a WPM rate (which during late weeknights is a pitiful 10 wpm). The idea is to figure out how I can increase the rate and keep/improve quality.

As for tracking rewrite progress, your system seems valid and better than anything I've put together -- except you seem to be missing the type of rewrite where you actually have to type the words all over again because you are changing the voice and the characters and even small bits of plot drastically. I'm doing one of those right now, and I'm counting it like new writing, because it's just as hard -- if not harder -- than writing from scratch.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-01-17 15:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, that last would be 100% wordage, I suppose.
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S. Boyd Taylor
User: sboydtaylor
Date: 2008-01-17 15:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That's how I'm counting it, anyway :)
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S. Boyd Taylor
User: sboydtaylor
Date: 2008-01-17 15:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, and may you never have to do one :) (I'm sure you won't.)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-01-17 15:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I did one entire novel as a ground up rewrite from blank sheet.
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S. Boyd Taylor
User: sboydtaylor
Date: 2008-01-17 17:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That's encouraging, knowing I'm not alone. Thanks!
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tim_pratt
User: tim_pratt
Date: 2008-01-17 17:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, I'm probably doing that later this year. The first novel I ever wrote, which is irreparably broken, but which still has characters and a plot I love (and really needs to be recast as a YA book, for thematic and length reasons).
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magicalbookworm
User: magicalbookworm
Date: 2008-01-17 21:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've always wondered how to rewrite a novel. It seems differnet the just editing. But I don't understand were to even start on a rewriting of a novel.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-01-17 21:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, there's a difference between rewriting and redrafting. Rewriting is going through at a scene level, a line level, a character level, etc., and making changes. Redrafting is starting over with a blank sheet.

As for where to start...do you have access to a good, well established writers workshop? That's where I learned -- in years of critique circles.
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magicalbookworm
User: magicalbookworm
Date: 2008-01-17 21:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I belong to www.fmwriters.com Trying to get into a good group of critters (hard though) Might have to try starting over from a blank sheet on some of my novels. They're good, just missing something that I might be able to add in with a total rewrite.
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User: lonfiction
Date: 2008-01-17 15:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
for productivity, I just track new pages created in SMF, rounded to nearest half.

For revisions/editing, I do not count it as word count unless I insert more than a page of new copy in any one place. Instead, I just annotate "Line edited/Revised 25 pages of I Have No Title and I Must Scream " into my work diary and call it good...
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Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2008-01-17 15:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is something I have been thinking about recently, as well, since it annoys the hell out of me when I spend several sessions wrestling with rewrites and discover that, in fact, my word-count spreadsheet now tells me I have written -2000 words.

I suspect, however, that my sense of precision will not let me count revision activity as "word-count". It's possible I need to actually look at hours sepnt, as well as words, per story. But hen, I do a lot of thinking time when not at the PC, while I also have downtime at the PC (using solitaire or some such as a breather while I ponder) with a document open, so actual records fo "editing time" are woefully inaccurate.

I will continue to ponder. It may well be that I don't actually need to bother. Writers can get overly obsessive about word-count, sometimes - ultimately, it's quality, not quantity, that REALLY counts.

(Or is it?)
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tim_pratt
User: tim_pratt
Date: 2008-01-17 16:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I just write "revision" in my work diary for that day...
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-01-17 16:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, but I'm more anal than you... :p
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tim_pratt
User: tim_pratt
Date: 2008-01-17 17:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I do try to optimize for laziness. :)
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David D. Levine
User: davidlevine
Date: 2008-01-17 16:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have the same issue, and my solution has been to count hours rather than words when revising. Microsoft Word has a feature that helps a lot: File / Properties / Statistics / Total editing time -- if you do a Save As and re-save the document over itself at the beginning of each editing session it resets this value to zero. But I'm always looking for a better solution.

I don't quite see how "Light line editing, minor or single-scene revisions: Credit as 25% of total word count" will give a useful number. If you revise a single scene in your 200,000 word novel, that shouldn't count as 50,000 words of work. Or are you talking word count of the scene in question?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-01-17 16:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If you revise a single scene in your 200,000 word novel, that shouldn't count as 50,000 words of work. Or are you talking word count of the scene in question?

I dunno, I'm still working this one out. I think it must mean word count of scene (or chapter or short story), rather than the larger body of work.
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The Green Knight: Middles
User: green_knight
Date: 2008-01-17 18:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Middles
For me, chasing wordcounts led to worse writing, so I've tried to give it up. (Like all addictions, sometimes I fail). I've taken to writing in scenes, which helps me to keep the plot in my head, and so my goals tend to be 'write one scene a day' or 'revise x scenes' however much work they actually need.

If I do count words, I count them once a scene is finished, not obsessively inbetween, both in writing and (after reset to zero) in revised material.

On the other hand, I often use wordcounts as a rough guideline of where I ought to be in terms of the narrative - beginning of the middle, a suitable distance away from the last plotpoint, that sort of thing. If I've just devoted 8K to a minor point and 3K to a major battle, then I've either gone wrong somewhere or I've misunderstood the importance of a seemingly trivial event and need to look again.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-01-17 18:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
See, I don't count words while I'm writing, and I've never tried to analyze word count within a piece, by scene for example. I just note total word count at the end of a story or a novel writing session (I don't bother with intermediate word counts on shorter work). This provides me with a rough view of productivity, since words are, after all, the raw materials of our trade.
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User: marksiegal
Date: 2008-01-17 18:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In the context of your New Model Process, with its additional read throughs for different levels of craft, this plan sounds like most scenes will get credited repeatedly. Maybe that's intentional and your idea is that, for example, light line editing will typically require twice as many passes as moderate line editing, and so on.

Another thought: For each major draft, credit each scene only once (at its full original word count). The tracking goal then becomes to revise the entire manuscript to the next full iteration, such as sending it to your editor or beta readers. That means some days of revision could get no new words credited, if you've already revised all of those scenes. But the overall revision word count becomes a potentially more meaningful and comparable number. And it gives you an average daily word count over the course of that draft's revision.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-01-17 18:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yah. Very good points. Thank you.

:: still thinking ::
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jenntheamazon
User: jenntheamazon
Date: 2008-01-17 19:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hey, its always good to track how your coming along in anything you do. I love word counting in MS word. It was the only way I could get my essays even close to where they needed to be for word counts.
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A large duck
User: burger_eater
Date: 2008-01-17 20:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I track my revisions by page. Not carefully, but it's a simple method for a lazy person.
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pxc
User: pxcampbell
Date: 2008-01-17 22:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've been on the lookout for a revision-productivity method for a while now.

As a former "operations" expert, measuring productivity is near and dear to my heart.

Your method sounds interesting, and worth exploring. Thanks for sharing.

Right now, I measure pages plus time spent. I usually revise on hard copy, so pages work better than words for me. The time I spend editting on screen doesn't count one way or the other as I usually do those kinds of tweaks when I clocking new wordage.

If I end up tossing a whole section and rewriting it from scratch, I count only the new words in my productivity log. Otherwise, it seems like double-counting.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-01-17 22:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My problem exactly It seems like double-counting, but if you don't count it, you're omitting meaningful productivity. (Or task time, if you prefer.)
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dandyfunk: Rocket 1
User: dandyfunk
Date: 2008-01-18 03:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Rocket 1
One method I have used (not often) is to count words for the first draft. Then edit a hard copy. Then start a new file and count words again.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2008-01-18 04:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
On my Excel spreadsheet, what I'll do is track the changes in word count by chapter. That proves to be useful, for example, if I need to revise to expand or revise to cut back. Roughly, what I will do is that I will post the original chapter count in one column. The next column is the new chapter count. The difference plus or minus is what I did on that chapter.

I do the same thing for short stories, only it's per draft.

Sometimes I end up minusing word count for the month, especially if I've been verbose on one story or chapter. I try not to sweat it too badly, though. Otherwise I'll awake my inner sped geek...and I don't want that in my fiction, otherwise I'll start charting and drawing decision lines on charts and so on and so forth.

I do enough of that at work.
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pxc
User: pxcampbell
Date: 2008-01-18 16:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The purpose of any measure of productivity is to determine if you are on track to meet your major objectives given how the work is done.

I'm not an outline/notecards/ducks-in-formation kind of writer. In fact, I rarely write sequentially. I consider myself a better editor than writer, so I write a lot of material quickly and edit the crap out of it (usually, literally, editing the crappy bits out). Sometimes the crap has to be replaced with new, shiney stuff. Sometimes it's just excess marble.

The number of words I tap out overall is probably something close to four times the number in the final version. In this regard, there will be lots and lots of *that* kind of double-counting. Quadruple counting, in fact.

So, if I cut a section that's 1,000 words, and replace it with a section of 750 words, then my word-productivity total will be 1,750. But I'm okay with that because I understand that it's part of my creative process.

Later on, when my craft is better-refined, I might consider improving my ability to get it right sooner. Write only three times as many words, for example. Therefore, tracking it this way has the added benefit of logging historical productivity that can help me set future targets.

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