What Qualifies as Word Count?

In 2017 I wrote over a million words. I know this because I meticulously tracked my word count. There was a spreadsheet that I put together, filled with formulas, that kept track of how many words I put down each week, each month, and year to day. It was even programmed with a daily word count goal, which rolled up into a running cumulative goal. If I hit that goal, entries would display in green. When I fell behind, the totals would turn red.

Realizing that the endeavor was a tad over the top, I stopped tracking word count in 2018. Why bother? It seemed better to just concentrate on project deadlines. I know what needed to be written, and when it had to be completed. Clearly, I had demonstrated my capacity to be prolific. So the pendulum swung deeply into the opposite direction.

Writing is my core work. Everything else I do springs from that. Editing is just polishing the writing. Layout is packaging it. Marketing and publicity tasks are selling it. Without the writing, those other functions would go away. When I stopped tracking it based on the assumption that it would just get done, I found myself writing less. The other work took precedence. Now, truth be told, there are times when the business end of things has to be front and center. That doesn’t mean I can’t still do some bare minimum of writing.

What Qualifies as Word Count?

What I’ve found is that when I’m not writing daily, I feel bad about myself. It doesn’t matter what else I may have accomplished that day. If I haven’t added to the word count on a current project, guilt and depression start to creep in.

One of the reasons I’ve started blogging regularly again is that this acts as a warm-up exercise. It gets me to the keyboard, stringing words together. This doesn’t qualify as word count, though. Neither does journaling, even though that also helps to get me into the proper frame of mind to write. The only thing that gets counted is what goes into a current work in progress.

In my business bullet journal, on my monthly spread, I’ve added a column for work count. In the evening I add the day’s total. There is no specific numeric goal. I just have to write. It’s the Jerry Seinfeld “don’t break the chain” method. Rather than just putting an X, I put a number to keep me a bit more honest. While opening the file and adding words counts, I know that only writing 200 words in an otherwise uneventful day isn’t a great accomplishment. I can, and should, do better. The chain is unbroken because I made the effort, but the bare minimum doesn’t cut it.

The Middle Path

Somewhere between spreadsheets and simply checking a box lies a happy medium. I need to keep myself accountable, as well as act as my own cheerleader. Tracking things needs to serve a purpose, but not become a whole project unto itself. For now, this process seems to scratch the itch. I have the motivation to not break the chain. I also know whether or not I’m satisfied with the amount of work I’ve done on any given day. It works, and I’m going to continue this into 2019.

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  1. I started doing a similar thing with my monthly spread, but for now X is good. I track Work, Write, Blog, Edit, and it allows me to see at a color-coded glance what I’ve accomplished. I know I’ll be changing it for 2019 though I’m still figuring out how. I want to track writing a little more closely without getting into minutiae. Consistency is more important for me and my situation than large amounts of words.

    “What I’ve found is that when I’m not writing daily, I feel bad about myself. It doesn’t matter what else I may have accomplished that day. If I haven’t added to the word count on a current project, guilt and depression start to creep in.”
    Yes, this. It took me a while to adjust that frame of mind for my life circumstances, which helped me achieve more realistic expectations of myself and my work. But yes, I go a day or two without writing, and I get antsy and tetchy.

  2. Hey, thanks for the posts about your process, and journals, and Magna Cartas. I struggle with motivation, but I have SO many things that need attention. The Bullet Journal method looks very promising to me to installing some sense of control and mindfulness into my chaotic worlds. (More writing doesn’t seem to be on my map right now, but maybe after a half-year or year of this, I’ll have a better sense of places I can grow into.)

  3. If I don’t write, it’s like a sort of mental constipation. I get clogged and nothing else happens either. So I go write a review or something at lunchtime, then find the rest of the day works as well. Be that planning lectures or doing research or whatever. It’s not just creative writing, it’s being creative in whatever area you operate in. Computer science is creative too 🙂

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