The Value of “Negative Word Count”

Dont' worry about word count. Worry about making your word's count.

Image: Writer’s Alley

One of the first tips I picked up as I learned to become a professional writer was to set and track word count. It’s a great tip, but I experienced days when, despite my hard work, my final word count would seem pathetic in comparison to other writers.

You know the ones who say “I only wrote 10,000 words today.” Only? Yikes! I’m happy to get 10,000 words down on the page in a week.

But that’s not the worst feeling, because even on those days when everything lines up just right and you crank out 2,000 or 5,000 or even (gasp!) 10,000 words, you know that you’re going to have to go back and edit them.

Editing is hard work, and it’s valuable work, but it can’t be measured by word count. So expect some of your days to wind up like this.

(Please follow Laura if you’re on Twitter. Her feed is excellent.)

Her tweet inspired this response.

And it inspired this post.

My manuscript—in its current (and hopefully final) version—is about 84,000 words long. The previous draft was 90,000. But before that, between earlier cuts and false starts, I easily wrote another 10,000 to 15,000 words never seen by a set of eyes besides my own.

So that’s a word count of 84,000 and a negative word count of about 15,000 to 20,000 more.

There were days when I was editing that my total word count for the day was less than zero. But I was still working and it was valuable work.

And for all the emphasis on word count, and all the emphasis on editing, no one else to my knowledge has mentioned negative word count.

It seems like an important concept to me and I hope it catches on.

Now I’m off to edit.


Snip snip


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