Monday, May 2, 2011

Why I Don’t Count – Julie Chibbaro

I often see authors posting their working word or page counts, and it mystifies me. Are they some sort of machines, producing words in their backyard factories? Are they very logic-brained, able to create brilliant novels in single, unrevised drafts?

For me, writing a novel doesn’t work that way. Maybe that’s why I don’t have so many novels to my name. I’m slow. I delete a lot as I learn about my characters and story (oh, she’s got a sister, let me go back and write that in. Oh, if I write that in, all this other stuff has to change. Oh, maybe I should just rip out this whole section, because here I can show how she is with her sister, and that’s important, not this other stuff.) That’s what my writing day looks like. How the heck would I even begin to count that?

I’m not denigrating fast writers. I struggle with professional jealousy (which looks like this: Whine – “Why can’t I be like ____(fill in name)?”) I do think that some books would be better if they percolated a little longer. And I accept my slowness, though I tend to feel like a tortoise with some very hareish friends. But it is my PROCESS, and the brain is a MYSTERY, and for me to figure out why I am the way I am would be like figuring out why I was born (I could produce a few answers, but who knows which is right?)

This is why I don’t count. I don’t count words, or pages. I assess my productivity by time, how many hours I devote daily to sitting and thinking and writing and editing words in a novel of my own creation. I keep a log. I write down every day that I work, and if I don’t work a day, the reason. I do have a sort of accountability to myself – a self-employed person needs that. But for me, the numbers just aren’t so clear.

What about you? What is your process like? Even if you’re not a writer, do you keep track of your creativity in some way? I’d love to know.


  1. I'm not as fast as I'd like. I keep count more to keep up momentum. I try to write at least 1,000 words a day because I know that if I don't have some structure the book just won't get written. I'm naturally lazy, and if I don't have a goal I just won't do anything.

  2. Commenting from my hubs computer because it doesn't work from mine . . .
    Question, Christine: Do you write straight for 1000 words? Or do you write a few words, delete, etc., then count at the end of your work day? I'm really curious about this, if you could take a moment to explain your process a little.
    Thanks, Julie

  3. By the way, Christine, I struggle with fibromyalgia too, which is the biggest time suck in a writer's world (write, rest, write a little, rest a little, repeat.)

  4. To each his own in this regard I guess.. I do post my word count / progress, for a few reasons. For one thing, I know that for the most part novels in my genre range from around 70,000 words and up - so I think to myself, okay, if I get to around 70K I need to start thinking of cutting things down, wrapping them up, or declaring this the first in a series. It's also a big motivator to me to see my progress - I've set a goal for myself, and I'm on my way to reaching it. I also do it for potential readers, so if anyone cares or wonders when my book is coming out, they will have an idea of where I am in the process. And finally, I don't edit as I write. In fact, I try as hard as possible not to go back and change things while I'm writing, because it just slows me down, distracts or discourages me from reaching my goal: finishing! That's my two cents.. or two dollars, since I tend to ramble.

  5. I am totally one of those people keeping track of her numbers!! I just read a great interview with Robert Gottlieb (renowned editor/reviewer/writer) and he said his advice to writers was, "Don't think about writing. Think about typing."

    The idea being that forcing yourself to sit down and actually type can be harder than the "writing" or story crafting we do all the time (like when you're trying to get to sleep and you have the perfect dialog in your head and you think, 'ugh, do I really have to get up or will I remember this in the morning?').

    That's kinda why I keep count. There are days where my count goes down because I obliterate entire scenes, but there are days it goes up and it keeps me typing.

    It's just a trick to keep me typing instead of crafting the perfect story in my head, which sometimes feels so much easier than banging at a keyboard!

  6. I used to be a really fast writer. Now I get sidetracked way to easily. I think it's hard not to compare ourselves but writing books is really an individual thing and what works for one person doesn't always work for another. Keep doing what you're doing dude. S'all good ;)

  7. I love this: "Don't think about writing. Think about typing."

    I have to keep track of my word count because it motivates me. My word processor runs the word count at the bottom of the document, and watching the words accumulate as I write is paramount to keeping myself motivated. This probably comes from NaNoWriMo, which I love. I don't edit as I go - I barely even glance back at the previous pages as I've written them - so I have to keep going, going, going on my first drafts so I can go back and revise. First drafts have to be a marathon for me :)

  8. Thanks, guys! It's great to hear other perspectives!

  9. Could I make a suggestion as to why word counts count so much? As Becca mentioned, thanks to whichever brand of software is doing the counting, the word count is available and therefore has attributable value. Did people typing away on typewriters count their words? Or the ones who wrote with pen and ink? I'm guessing probably not.

  10. I do keep track of my word count...but every now and then I do the same thing as you Julie, I decide to change something in my story and end up having to change ten chapters or so. So I see word count and productivity as relative. Sure, it feels great when I've written 2K or so on a single day, but it also feels mighty fine to have changed something that will make the whole novel a lot better.