Word Count vs. Productivity

Einstein Quote-Counting

Since Einstein said it, it may just be true.

I used to measure my writing productivity by word count. It seemed the most straightforward way of setting and achieving writing goals (e.g. write 300 words a day, which I almost always surpassed). I even designed an Excel spreadsheet with a multitude of formulas for totalling per month, averaging word count per day/month/quarter, etc.

It worked well for months, until I began revising stories instead of writing new ones. One day, I spent hours reworking a story, taking out entire sections, and writing new ones from scratch. I was in “the zone”, and completely rewrote a story in one intense ten-hour stretch that flew by and felt like no longer than a mere hour. I was also incredibly proud of the end product, where a story had all come together to my complete satisfaction.

Then I looked at the final word count. The net result was exactly minus forty words from where I had started that morning. Minus forty words in ten hours where I felt I had accomplished so much. I dejectedly entered zero in my spreadsheet, and felt like a failure as the pre-programmed formulas spewed the twisted results.

I created another column to note that it was revision/rewrite, and wrote several lines as if to justify that I did indeed write that day. I kept up the database but as I continued spending time on revisions, my averaged stats continued to take a dive, as if all my work counted for nothing.

It reached a point where I made excuses not to write so I didn’t have to open the database. So I put a stop to it and I archived the database, and stopped counting.

I sometimes miss the spreadsheet, especially on days when I write explosively, thousands upon thousands of words. Even if I want to somehow track that successful production, I don’t as the alternative is just not worth it.

Whether it’s new words, revisions, rewrites, or even research, it’s all part of the writing process, MY writing process.

I alone know the work I put in and can only report to myself. I won’t—and can’t—let hard statistics affect what I know I have accomplished, and impact me to a degree that makes me stop doing what I love to do.

So without reporting, recording, or word count tracking, I just keep writing.




    • I love math and stats, and to me it’s an exact science that can’t properly capture and measure writing productivity. Hard statistics didn’t reveal the true picture, which I why I had to get rid of them because it was too discouraging. The event I referred to was a full short story rewrite, so I suppose I could have added the entire word count, even if it didn’t feel like pure new work. The revisions that followed were partial only so I probably would have spent more time calculating words than writing if I had tried to figure out which parts of revisions were new. Some writers I know are stuck on word counts and it’s all that matters to them, I have discovered that my time is better spent writing rather than counting. It’s not a perfect “system” since I’m not tracking anymore, but axing the calculations from my process has freed me from the added pressure created by relying on net word counts to tell me I’m still producing.

      • New work or not, it counts. I mean, revision isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s harder then the actual writing.

        I have a word count excel sheet for the WiP and this is the first time I’ve used one. I have averages and goals – daily, weekly, monthly. And a couple other cool things. Its motivation for me. But this is a first draft.

        For when I’m revising? I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I don’t think it will word count based. Maybe number of scenes instead and how much of the scene. Something like that. Which is not to say I won’t keep track of word count. But usually word count goes down during revisions so I don’t really know useful a metric it will be.

  1. That’s great: I support anything that works! My spreadsheet worked fine for new work, but revisions and rewrites were indeed the biggest challenge to track – as well as research, which is also part of my writing process. Too many things couldn’t easily be tracked in a spreadsheet to be worthwhile for me in terms of pure metrics. I am convinced I am more productive now that I have stopped counting.

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