Word count is the only measure of productivity a writer has. Page counts are variable because of the manuscript formatting (are you double spacing the text?) the margins on the page (1″ or 1.5″), or the font choice and size. Using Courier at 12pt size will place far fewer words on the page than a 14 point Arial Narrow font.
Plus page count in publishing can be deceiving. Large print books have the same content as the regular size print, but far more pages to accomodate the weak eyes of the reader. Book formating might also play a role. The manuscript you submit that is 200 double-paged pages, might be spread out to 250 or 300 pages in a trade paperback with a modern format that uses a lot of white space with room for you to take notes in the margin. Or maybe that epic paperback squeezes 300 or 400 words on a page in a microscopic font size to reduce printing cost.
Word count is a raw figure. Especially for first drafts. You crank out words and do it fast. Writing fast engages the mind in a race with itself and (hopefully) as a result, leaves your Inner Critic in the dust gasping for breath. I want to write faster in this session than in the one yesterday. I want to prove that my touch typing skills are getting better and better, and don’t require me to go back and fix my errors so often. It doesn’t happen, but I like to think that I’m getting better. Plus knowing that I’m working against a time limit (15 minutes) and a daily word count goal (of 500 words or more) pushes me onward. I would love to be able to write 1000 words every 15 minutes. That would be almost inhuman to me. But if I can get up to 500 words, I’m halfway to being inhuman.
Tracking the daily word count on a project is essential because it helps you see the big picture, especially on large or book-length projects. If you are slogging away, adding 500 or 1000 words to the book each day, it is hard to remember that you are building onto something. Especially if you write chapters in separate files. Track that project word count so you can see the progress.
I have been tracking my project word count for CT4CW each time I add content to the file. My word count has steadily grown from about 20,000 words (the rough manuscript word count before I started tracking the word count daily) back in November of 2012, to the almost 94,000 words that the first draft is now. Do I work on this every day? No. I work on other side projects (such as blog posts) when I know that I’m not ready to write a section of the book. I like to keep a consistent flow of new words even when I’m heavily involved in edits or research, so I work on smaller projects or other ongoing projects to keep my daily word count up.
The important thing here is to set a daily word count goal. It doesn’t matter what it is 100 words, 250, 500 or 1000. Make it a reasonable number, one that you feel you can easily beat each day, and then keep that writing streak going. If you don’t meet that goal one day, do the best that you can, even if you only write a paragraph or two, and track it. Keep moving forward. According to Newton’s First Law (loosely paraphrased here), an object at rest, stays at rest, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, so keep moving, even if you are moving slowly.
Make word count a competition with yourself, by comparing today’s word count from yesterday, or to the word count on the same day a week ago. Compete in a word war with other writing friends and see who produce the most words in a writing session, a day or a week. Gamify the process (check out this article from Lifehacker for details: Gamify Your Life: A Guide to Incentivizing Everything) or whatever you have to do to keep motivated and keep your word count up.
Think quantity, not quality right now, because it will never be quality if you don’t get that quantity down on the page.