Stop counting words

I would like to offer an unsolicited, probably unwanted piece of advice to many of the writers who I meet in real life and especially on Twitter: Stop counting words.

Stop setting word count goals.

Pay no attention to those numbers at the bottom of your screen.

word count

Please don’t get me wrong. There is no one in the world who believes in goal setting more than I do.

I post my New Year’s resolutions on this blog for all to see.

I work as a life coach to help others set and achieve goals for themselves.

The very first assignment that my students are given each school year is to establish a list of short, intermediate and long term goals.

I am writing a memoir that focuses specifically on goal attainment.

Goals are my thing. I set realistic goals and impossible goals. I modify, expand, and clarify them constantly. Most of my day is spent in the attempt to achieve a goal.

That said, the fixation of many writers on a daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute word count (which I see on Twitter all the time) seems highly counterproductive and leads me to ask:

Okay, you wrote 500 words in the last 30 minutes.

How many of those words are good?

How many of those sentences were good?

Why did you stop writing to post the result online?

Why were you even watching the clock or the word count while you were writing?

Wouldn’t it be better to simple get lost in the story and forget about words and clocks?

Why would you ever want to leave your story to post a word count on Twitter?

Will that somehow make it a better story?

Do you think Dickens or Twain or Austin were counting words?

Most important of all, is word counting making you a better writer?

I don’t think it is.

What I would like to propose instead is this:

Sit down and write for as much time as you have. Write from the very first second until the very last second. Use all of that time to work on your manuscript. Instead of focusing on the number of words and the time it takes to write them, just focus on the story. The quality of the sentences. The development of plot and character.

No one cares how long it took Twain to write Huckleberry Finn or Shakespeare to write Hamlet or Toni Morrison to write Beloved.

Write a great book in the time it takes to write a great book, whether that be one year, five years or ten years.

Stop looking at those numbers on the bottom of your screen. Cover them with tape if necessary.

Pay more attention to the words above.

Pay all your attention to the words above.