On Writing Stress and Silver Linings: Why Daily Word Counting Isn’t a Good Strategy for Everyone

How many of you writers find yourselves obsessing about word counts while writing?
 Word counts, word counts, word counts.
(Current blog post word count: 24. Make that 27. 28….)
I’ve been working on the last book of my YA trilogy since last summer. Before I started, my projected word count was 100K (based on my other books in the series). Since last summer, I struggled with the process of drafting for the following reason: 

When I started writing this book, I had a basic synopsis and an outline (a rough outline because I’m actually a pantser writer at heart). I had a plan. I had a daily word count goal. I was ready to go. I planned to be done by December.

I wasn’t where I wanted to be in November, so I joined National Novel Writing Month to help motivate me to write more every day. But I struggled to get those daily word counts. I did wind up writing about 28K, which was decent considering that November is one of the busiest months for me at work. But I stressed over word counts the entire time when I saw I was “below the curve.” Every day I got a little report of my progress and how much I needed to write to “win,” and the number of words I had to write each day kept increasing as the month went on.

(BTW, if you don’t know what I mean by being “below the curve, it looks a lot like this:)

(my actual sucky word count graph from Nov. 2014)

I joined a FB writing challenge in January and did something similar. I set a monthly goal of writing another 30K and was given a lovely spreadsheet to keep track of my daily word counts. I continued to struggle to make my daily goals (I think I reached it once). I joined sprints and reported word counts after 30 minutes averaging 200-300 when others were reporting 800+.

At this point, I was staring at my deadlines in the eye and approaching official panic mode…

…until I decided to stop keeping track of daily word counts.


Because I don’t write that way.

My writing style is not amenable to these sorts of daily word count challenges. Don’t get me wrong. I love to cheer on my friends as they report their counts. I’m happy that this works for them. However, it doesn’t always work for me. I tend to write and revise simultaneously (something the NaNoWriMo experts specifically advise against). But as I mentioned above, I am really a pantser at heart and so I often discover new twists in my story that I didn’t know about when I wrote my “outline.” I often go back and layer in shiny new things as I draft. I often go back and do what some of my friends describe as “tinkering” with various elements of the story. As a result, I am a very pokey writer.

There’s a silver lining to all of this.

Last weekend, I reached the point where I felt like I could finally start getting my MS ready for beta readers. In preparation for revisions, I cracked my knuckles, put on my revision hat, and started on chapter one. By the end of one weekend, I had flown through revisions on over 20 chapters (approximately 63K words). I had revised so much while drafting that I only needed to change minor things during my revisions. I was ecstatic, and even more than that, I was relieved. I’ve had editors tell me in the past that my “first drafts” are more equivalent to fourth or fifth drafts because I revise and polish as I go. I knew this, but after seeing myself beneath the curve for so many months, I’d forgotten.

So here’s the take-home message from all of this:

Embrace the unique type of writer that you are.

You have your own style and process as a writer, and this process may even change for you from MS to MS. This was my story, and yours may be different. No matter what, don’t feel like you have to compare yourself (or your word counts) to others. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy looking at a graph of projected word counts and seeing myself be under the curve. I like progress as much as any other writer, and I believe in being accountable for my progress. But from now on, it will be on my own terms.

Update: My MS is currently sitting at 107K words, and I arrived at that word count in my own way.

Happy writing! Here’s to silver linings for all of you! 



Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL (coming 2015) and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She is also one of the authors of the YA/NA crossover anthology LOSING IT.

3 thoughts on “On Writing Stress and Silver Linings: Why Daily Word Counting Isn’t a Good Strategy for Everyone

  1. Great post Helen. As I am such a huge procrastinator, I find the structure of a daily word count keeps me on track. NaNoWriMo is a great motivational tool for me in this respect – it's like having a personal trainer! You are absolutely right when you say to do it 'your own' way though. Life would be so boring if we were all the same. p.s: no pressure but HURRY UP with book 3!!!! 😉


  2. I revise as I write, too. I was going to try to leave the crap words on my new MS just to get the magical number, but I found by going back and actually exploring what happened in that scene I know my characters so much better than if I just typed word vomit. The subsequent words will need less rearranging. That being said, I do have a goal for new words each day, but it's a number I know I can hit comfortably.


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