Ignoring The Numbers

Photo Credit: Edges of a thick encyclopedia taken in macro taken on December 15, 2008 by Horia Varlan: Horia Varlan/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

It’s not uncommon to see writers, especially new writers, getting caught up in how many words they wrote that day or, more frequently, how many they didn’t write. It’s not unlike people’s obsession with weight. When someone is trying to lose weight, it’s easy to get obsessed with the number on the scale. They weigh themselves every morning and their mood for the day is determined by whether they lost or gained weight. The scale dictates how their day will go. These writers have a similar obsession – they gauge their success as writers by the number of words they write or don’t write on a given day.

When I taught freshman college essay courses, word count was a major worry of most of my students. The colleges where I taught always required me to set a word count for each essay students wrote and many were focused on meeting the word count more than they were on the ideas they were writing about and how they were proving their points. It was tough to steer them towards content rather than words but many realized by the end of the course that the word count was there to guide their ideas but it was really what they were saying that was the important thing, not how much.

Some writers are fast writers. There are self-published writers out there who publish a book every three or four months. Many self-publishing books claim this is the only way to make a living from self-publishing.

And some writers, like myself, are slow writers. They can only write in spurts throughout the day. I have concentration issues and I can’t write for hours at a time. I can only write for forty-five minutes or an hour at most. I accept I will never be one of those writers who publishes four books a year and I’m OK with that.

The problem comes when writers see others posting about their new releases or bragging about how they hit 20,000 words in one day and they start to feel guilty about not writing that day or not getting even one book out that year. Speed seems to be the only important thing in the publishing process.

But I’ve always argued for quality over quantity. Every writer must find his or her own pace. Some find they can only really write at a certain time of day and only for a short period of time. Some, like me, limit their time but schedule in their writing every day. And some prefer to go by word count per day because they feel that’s the only way they can get the book written.

Each writer has to find what works for him or her. There is no one right way to get a book written from beginning to end. It’s all about what works for you.

About the Author

Tam May was born in Israel but grew up in the United States. She earned her B.A in English before returning to the States. She also has a Master's degree and worked as an English instructor and EFL teacher before she became a full-time writer. She started writing when she was 14 and writing became her voice. She writes psychological fiction, exploring emotional realities informed by past experiences, dreams, feelings, fantasies, nightmares, imagination, and self-analysis. She currently lives in Texas but calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. When she’s not writing, she’s reading classic literature and watching classic films.

Connect with Tam May

Gnarled Bones and Other Stories explores five tales of loss, fear, and guilt where strange and spooky events impact people’s lives in ways that are profound and unchangeable.

In “Mother of Mischief”, a newly divorced woman goes back to school to begin a new chapter in her life only to find herself circling back to where she started. In “Bracelets”, childhood nostalgia mingles with brutal fear during a circus outing for a mailroom secretary and her friends. In “A First Saturday Outing”*, a lonely woman ventures out of her isolated apartment one quiet Saturday afternoon to an art exhibit that leaves an eerie impression on her psyche*. In “Broken Bows”, a middle-aged violinist reveals the mystery behind his declining artistic powers to a lonely woman on a train. And the title story, “Gnarled Bones”, paints a portrait of the complex bond between an orphaned sister and brother through journal entries and first-person narrative. For these characters, the past leaves its shadow on the present and future.

* This story was featured on Whimsy Gardener’s Storytime With Whimsey and can be found here.

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