To Count or Not to Count? Keeping Daily Word Counts

Abacus Seller, photographed by William Carrick

Lots of writers keep a daily word count, logging or tweeting about it as a personal or public way of tracking their efforts. Many writers find this useful and inspiring. I’ve tried it off and on, and it’s not for me.
Many people write quite a bit faster than I do and others write slower. Others have a much longer or shorter process from first to finished draft. Noting a simple number, even if it’s just supposed to be proof of ass-in-chair, naturally invites comparison in a way that feels counter-productive to me. Don’t get me wrong; daily word counts work for a lot of writers. They can be an excellent way to track effort and inspire consistency.
And I do want to track my writing, so I decided to design something that will work for me. Essentially, I want a metric that can:
  • Help me understand my process better, so that I can improve it.
  • Help me better estimate how long it will take to finish a particular project.
  • Inspire me by reminding me of how much I’ve accomplished each day, and showing me how far I’ve progressed on a particular project.

My Process: My Metric
My process continues to evolve. In my quest to balance spontaneity and plotting, I have been spending more time outlining. My outlines have become a weird hybrid of brainstorming, outlining, and drafting. They include scene fragments and dialogue along with the plot points. Then there’s also all the noodling I do in my journal. These words are often meta thoughts about theme and tone of the piece I’m working on, nothing that will make it into the draft. The above represents a lot of story work and a lot of words. Recording the number of words spent on this doesn’t feel meaningful to me, and counting them – especially the handwritten material in my journal – can be onerous.
After the outline is built with it’s thumbnail sketches of scenes, the first draft may only take a couple days, then it’s time for revision. In the first revision I’ll hack out whole scenes and rework parts of the outline. I’ll write new words and rework many more. Often on revision days my net “new” word count is 0. Unacceptable!
So, I’ve decided to try using the Pomodoro Technique, not only to accomplish my writing, but to track it. I started keeping track in a paper journal, but have moved to a table in Word. It’s an informal list of my Pomodoros for the day and short description of what I accomplished in each 25 minutes.
I’ve written about the Pomodoro method before and why I like it so much for writing (by breaking everything into manageable chunks, it allows me to make an end run around the natural resistance I feel when tackling big projects)
I can always fit in at least three Pomodoros into my day and I’ve had a couple days where I’ve managed seven and eight (albeit scattered throughout the day). Marking these down on my tally sheet with a note about what I accomplished is proving rewarding, and I hope, before too long, the information will help me improve my process.
I wrote this blog in 4 Pomodoros (100 minutes):
  1. Free write and drafting: finding the idea (budded off two potential ideas for other blogs cut and pasted into separate doc),
  2. Organize and overlay a kind of outline, plus more writing and beginning to revise,
  3. More revising, read it aloud and clean it up,
  4. Add Links and pictures, proofread.

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