I have decidedly mixed feelings about word counts.
At university they caused me no end of grief. The numbers always seemed to go up incredibly slowly at the start of an assignment – painfully slowly, even – and yet as soon as I’d found my stride, BAM! Somehow I’d be over the limit. Yes, word counts tormented me, and as time went on, I became increasingly afraid to look for fear of what I might find.
Working on my novel, however, they’ve definitely had their uses. Over the last few months, setting myself numerical targets has pushed me to find time for my novel and pushed me to actually write – to get the words out of my head and down onto the page. They’ve helped me to become more disciplined and they’ve made it all feel significantly more manageable, too: it’s not nearly so daunting, sitting down to write when you know you’ve got a target that’s within reach.
And yet these past few weeks, I’ve found myself pulling away from the numbers again. My manuscript’s pretty substantial now. It’s approaching 50,000 words, and when I flick through, I feel there’s a decent amount there. But I also know that I’ve still got a huge amount to do, and although there are certainly gaps that need filling, there are also creases to iron out, plotlines to weave together, final bits of planning to do – fiddly tasks that won’t necessarily translate to a rise in words.
If I’m going to finish this book, I know that I need to keep driving forwards, but if I carry on doggedly chasing x number of words a week I suspect that my ‘progress’ will end up being rather superficial. That’s why, for the moment, I’m shifting my focus slightly and adopting a more task-based’ approach. It may be nice, seeing the numbers go up, but ultimately it’s ‘what’ rather than ‘how much’ that matters.