Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

Counting words

Had a long workday of day job stuff today, which is very unusual. My job is normally M-F, and my weekends are generally my own. I enjoy my work, and I'm good at it. Every once in a while it crawls out of the vat, though. As a consequence, several sets of plans got cancelled, and I am also rather burnt out, to the degree where I can neither write nor read.

So instead I've been watching videos with the_child and thinking in a desultory fashion. In the last few days, I've been in a couple of conversations about writerly productivity and the measurement thereof. As some of you know, I talk a lot about word count here, and I have a very detailed productivity and submission tracker which looks at word count.

That is incredibly important to me, but it's also incredibly deceptive.

Word count is not an unreasonable baseline measurement of productivity. When you look at writing as a business -- "I have contracted to deliver a 120,000 novel by June" -- it's very useful to be able to accurately predict your throughput so you can schedule your effort. But focusing on word count can drive a writer to overlook craft and quality transitions.

Consider this: what if I slow down in my per hour throughput because I've acquired a new subtlety of craft which requires more attention on my part? My net productivity, as measured by word count, would drop, even though my output would improve.

Obviously (or perhaps not obviously) I don't focus on word count. I take a much more holistic view of my work, and spend a fair amount of effort thinking about what I've written and trying to understand how my first readers respond. But I talk about word count a lot, both to myself and here in public.

I've worked a lot as a marketer, a business analyst and project manager. Finding quantifiable metrics is one of the things I do in life. Word count is easy to quantify. So much else of what a writer does is qualitative, not quantitative. Heck, I don't even known how to account for revisions.

I count words because I can. It's not how I write or why.
Tags: personal, process, writing

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