Why I’ve Quit Tracking Word Count

On 1 January, 2017, I built a spreadsheet to help me keep track of my word count. At the end of the day I would enter how many words I’ve written. The sheet would then calculate how many words I’d written both month-to-date and year-to-date, and let me know the average number of words that I’d written per day over the course of the year. I have faithfully updated it every day. As of today, however, I’m abandoning it. I’m not even going to both finishing out the next couple of weeks out of a sense of completion.

At the time it seemed like the spreadsheet could be a useful tool, and it was. It helped me to figure out how productive I can be, comfortable, on a daily basis. The problem was, rather than allowing me to find my daily output organically, I set a goal of 3,500 words. That number was randomly selected because it felt plausible. By the end of October, the data suggested that on a good day I can bang out 5,000 words without breaking a sweat. On a bad day — one where chronic pain sets in, or depression and anxiety, or just a day where I have errants and social interactions and other normal things that pull me away from writing — I can do about 2,200 words.

Focusing on the word count was the wrong goal. It’s not how much I’m writing that counts, but what I’m writing. Going forward I will be more project-focused. It’s not about the day-to-day, it’s about the deadlines. I’m doing this blog, which is 500 words per day, give or take. That needs to happen because this is both my primary communication with the world, my more-or-less real time outlet, and a warm-up exercise I perform to get me arthritic hand and under-caffeinated brain ready for bigger projects. If each post is approximately equal to one printed page, that’s around 20 pages per month.

I’m releasing a Foragers Guild Guide every two weeks, at around 75 pages per guide, because that’s how I pay the rent. The game stuff is, for me, where the money is. Which is a sentence that will make most writers working in the industry laugh out loud. I enjoy it, though, and how many people can say they can squeak out a subsistence-level living doing something they enjoy?

HUBRIS: The Journal of Cultural Horror is released monthly. That’s a minimum of 48 pages, which we’ll round to 50. It’s a passion project that allows me to write long-form pieces about things that I care about. It also keeps me sharp because it requires me to do research. Like this blog, it’s something that I need to write, even if no one was reading it.

That means that producing between 220 pages per month. Stephen King, a person who knows what he’s talking about, thinks that writing 6 pages a day is reasonable, comfortable, and attainable. That’s 180 pages per month, writing every day. So I’m still pushing the envelope, but not unreasonably so, by doing a little over 7 pages per day. Maybe when I’m making Stephen King money I can cut back to 6.

The takeaway is that there are different way of looking at things. You need to find the approach to your goals that gets you the right results. For me, completing whole projects over the span of weeks is more important than micro-managing the day-to-day. Page count is a better benchmark than word count. The goal is to get to done in the easiest-to-track, least complicated way possible.

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