Word-counts. Meh

I get that for some people, word-counts are a Jedi mind trick. They’re a way of disciplining yourself to write 3,000 words a week (or whatever) whether you want to or not. They’re a way to get the damn book written.

Or they’re a way to feel a sense of progress. To revel in that feeling that your book is 1,652 words closer to being finished.

If you’re one of those people who uses word-counts as a motivational trick – STOP READING NOW.

Here’s a picture of a couple of griffins ripping a horse to shreds. That’s what I’m about to do with your motivational word-count mind-trick. So, honestly, if word-counts make you productive or help you feel good about your writing: read no further.


Grrrr! Word-counts!


Right. Have they gone?

Good, it’s just you and me, so I can tell you: In my opinion, word-count is no way to measure progress with a novel.

Nope. None.

And yet I know people who see those ‘I wrote 1,652 words today’ tweets and feel stink about their own process. Well, you can stop feeling stink. Because lots of words does not equal a job well done. It doesn’t even indicate how much effort you put in. It’s not a measure of anything that matters.

You can spend a day writing and write 50 words. But if they’re the right words, you’ve done great.

You can spend a day thinking and write no words. I don’t think that means you’ve done a bad day’s work. In fact, it was probably essential. You may have worked harder and more effectively than that person saying ‘I wrote 1,652 words today!’ on Twitter.

You can write 10,000 words and have to delete them all again because they took you in the wrong direction. Not that they were wasted – it’s all good practice – but I don’t often see people tweeting about how many words they deleted.

I’ve read books of 150,000 words (or longer) that would have been WAY better if they’d been 80,000 words. Length is no indicator of quality. In fact, if your sweet romance is 200,000 words long I can almost guarantee, without reading it, that that sucker needs editing.

The only times I think word-counts are worth considering are:

  1. When submitting to a competition or publisher that gives a word limit. Because, obviously, they won’t consider your submission if you’re over.
  2. When writing a love story that switches viewpoints. Because I think it’s nice for the reader to get roughly equal time with the leads. But that’s just a rule of thumb.

Apart from that, I think, when you sit down to write, do your best for the whole time you’re sitting there. Whether that means no words, 100 words, or 10,000, if you did your best, it’s all good.

So, don’t sweat word-counts because, ultimately, they’re meaningless.

What do you think? Do you know how many words you wrote today? (I have zero idea. It never crosses my mind to look). Do you think there’s something to be said for measuring your work in this way?


  1. Good advice, Lee. As for myself, I feel good whether I write 50 words or 500 per day … don’t think I could ever manage 5000! The good thing is that I won’t stress over it. I don’t aim to get a set word-count done – I feel fulfilled if I get any amount of words written because I feel secure in knowing that I’m managing a daily habit. As you say though, a day or two off does no harm, as long as we don’t let it go on for much longer. Often, I’ve spent a morning having written just a dozen or so words and the rest of the time getting lost in thought about my novel and characters, and that can be productive too, as new ideas come to mind that I never thought of before. I think the important thing I have found is to be immersed in our novel, whether in thought or writing, and that way we move forward.


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