Archive for December 15th, 2011

Count Them Words

One of the major knocks against Nanowrimo, and one that I’ve agreed with in the past, is its focus on word count to define a novel.  But note: that complaint, at least when I make it, isn’t about the general practice of counting words, it’s more about the particular choice of calling 50,000 words a novel, when most modern novels are closer to twice that.  The issue is the number, not counting.

Because you know what?  Word counting fucking rocks.

Seriously, if there’s a better motivational tool for my process, I’ve yet to find it.  There’s something about watching that number gradually rise (now that I’ve switched to Scrivener, it’s always at the bottom of the screen), having hundreds pass by barely noticed, seeing that number tick up into four digits, approaching triple zeroes for the second time in a writing session.  It’s all about those numbers, those beautiful, beautiful numbers.

I’ll admit to being a bit of a numbers geek.  Alright, a lot of a numbers geek.  I follow two different site hit tracking programs, not because I distrust either one or have any desire to monetize viewership, but because they show me numbers.  Real, tangible numbers I can track and chart and affect in some slight way every day.  I love my Prius not just because it’s fun to drive and has a shockingly roomy interior, but because in the dashboard just to my right as I drive is a graph.  A graph!  It tracks my MPG in five minute increments, and while I don’t get into hypermiling, there is a sense of accomplishment to see a nice tall bar.  Do you understand how exciting it is to drive along and see a graph?  Of course you don’t, because you’re probably not as crippling obsessed with numbers as I am.

I do long division for fun.

I try to determine whether the numbers in license plates in front of me are divisible by three.

I’m not kidding.

I’m just a little nutty, and I realize this.  I accept and embrace it.  Few people are probably nearly as numbers obsessed or motivated as I am, but you don’t need even one tenth my crazy to find word counts motivating.  It’s something seated deep down in our psyche, our love of round numbers, crossing arbitrary benchmarks.  There’s just as much liklihood of your purchase at the store ending in twenty-three cents as being a rounded dollar, but isn’t the latter so much more interesting when it happens?  Just think how damnable is it to hit that word count button and see a milestone so close and yet so bloody far.  That pushes me, it gets me wanting to write one more paragraph, one more scene, just to get that count up.  But then I get close to another milestone.  And another.

Scrivener is just fueling the obsession.  I can track word counts for a writing session, a day, a scene, a chapter, and the book.  And while there’s typically some overlap (yesterday my day and chapter numbers were the same), I’ve still got enough different word counts I’m tracking that one of them is close enough to push me forward.  Do you know just how much it killed me last night to walk away from my manuscript when it was at 14,864 words?  I can smell 15,000, my fingers are twitching to get back to it, and that’s probably going to drive me to do some writing tonight, which is unusual as I typically don’t write the nights my writers’ group meets.  Is that irony?  I’ll admit I suck at irony.

I suppose one of my favorite features of Scrivener is how passive it’s made this obsession of mine.  In Word it always required an active choice to check word count.  There was a button to hit, a disruptive window would pop up with far too much information.  If I wanted a partial word count, I had to find a starting point, highlight, then hit that button.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it was something that pulled me out of writing, especially on those nights that I was feeling particularly numeric, when I knew I was getting close to a BIG milestone.  Something with 4 consecutive zeros in it.  Thanks to Scrivener I’ve always got scene count, and can get chapter and manuscript counts with one click, then back to writing.  It feeds me.  It stokes the fires of my insanity, but in this case that’s a good thing.  Because it keeps me motivated, keeps me pushing forward, and keeps me driven.  And it makes my obsession less disruptive to my process.  Which frees me so much to keep writing.

So count those words!  Just like WordPress is counting the 790 in this post.

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