May 16, 2018

What of Word Counts?

I was thinking this morning about the whole "write every day" thing so often said to new writers (at a later date, I will write at length about why this is terrible advice), and was thinking about how much of the culture of internet writing, particularly from younger writers, is focused on word count. There is of course NaNoWriMo, but there are also people who have "word wars" with each other to see who can get the most words down in  a given amount time, as well as people who will set daily writing goals of a certain amount of words per day.

This has never sat well with me, been my cup of tea, or been anywhere close to my own writing method. That is, I just don't get it. I can see the use in measuring a piece of writing to describe it--novels are one length, novellas another, and so on--but not to actually write it. Unless it's an essay, of course, and the students are trying estimate how much effort and time they have to save right before the deadline to get it done. I myself can easily get down 2500 words a day when doing academic writing. Creative writing, wether that be prose or poetry, fiction or self-reflection, is something quite different.

So I was musing about why that is. I think it's because I conceive of creative writing in different sized units, rather than as words. If I set a writing goal, it will be to write a certain scene, edit a chapter, or produce a single poem. These are all, of course, going to be variable lengths due to their content. How many words should a chapter be? As many as it takes to tell that chunk of the story. Poems are even more variable, from little haiku and cinquains to things like "Howl" that go on for pages. Some poems are short but complicated, like sestinas, which are around 500 words at their biggest. Writing 500 words of prose is a cinch, but sestinas take all kinds of planning and tweaking and reworking, so much that it can take a whole day to write one.

There's also dialogue. Dialogue tends to be short, with a lot of paragraph breaks and empty space, so several pages worth of dialogue might be a third the word-count of a more description heavy scene, yet convey just as much about the characters or the world or the plot. And again, how many back-and-forth exchanges add up to 600 words? Who cares? The conversation should end when the author thinks of a good and natural transition, and if they haven't decided what happens after said conversation, they can keep writing or step away to do some plotting and come back to the scene another day. 

I was thinking all this because, once Recast Light is finished, I want to start three more WIPs, but all of them are very much in the air, in terms of what kind of word count I'll be looking at. One, by my own design, will be minuscule, and another will be pretty short if I can keep it from ballooning out of all reason. The third is looking to be longer and longer and longer the more I ruminate on it; I really wanted it to be one big book (the first draft of the first chapter I wrote a while ago was 12,570 words, so... yeah), but now I'm contemplating it being another trilogy, or, dare I say it, a series. But all three are still in their embryonic stages, so I don't really care about length right now, or at least I shouldn't. It's still hard, though, seeing everyone talking about word counts, and when big community events like NaNo revolve around such things. I want to be part of all that, but I also know that's not the way I write. Such is life I suppose. I'll forge my own writerly path, for as long as it takes me to get there.

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