I am an overwriter. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, as far as the question of overwriter vs. underwriter goes, I’d much rather face the challenge of cutting words than adding them. Putting too much information into a story is a far easier thing to combat than trying to add information into a final product. But either way, I’m definitely an overwriter.
And for overwriters, word count goals can be very good and they can be very bad.
It’s my understanding that most writers aim for word count goals over the course of their writing time because we need to have those tangible, definitive posts along the writing process road. Word count is far more reliable than page count since matters of dialogue vs. prose can seriously alter how many pages you complete. Counting words is a solid and easy way to measure progress, and all creatives need to feel like they’ve put down a full work day, even if there’s no finished product for several months.
As an overwriter, I love word count goals. My very best writing day in recent memory, I reached twenty thousand words. I used to participate in National Novel Writing Month and often squeezed ten or fifteen thousand words into the final weekend of the month, desperate to reach word count. When it comes to getting words on a page, I’m your gal.
Depending on the goal of the draft, that can be a great thing! Because when I’m trying to get my first draft just written, no frills, no lace, no charm, then overwriting at absurd speeds is the way to go. There is safety in the knowledge that I have way too much content to work with, so when I hit the editing process, I can really go to town.
I recently completed a draft for a short story submission in about two weeks, but when I took my pen to it, I ended up rewriting a lot of lines, cutting many more and revising character, plot, and setting. That’s fine! The first draft gave me a bare bones to work with and I was able to flesh the manuscript out and make it more of the final product I had visualized.
That’s when the process goes right.
The process goes a little awry when I don’t have an outline or roadmap of the book. I’ve written one single book without an outline and it turned out to be one of my best final products, but that’s the exception, not the rule. I can’t speak for other authors, but when I have a word count to reach and don’t feel like tackling a sticky plot problem or character development confusion, I’ll fill the book so full of fluff you could sleep on it.
In instances where I’m not working with a completed plot, or where there are matters that need to be addressed as they arise, I’ll focus my efforts less on word count and more on signposts within the story – a place I really need to end up before I consider my work done for the day. Get through the balcony scene, have him confess, interrupt their first kiss, onward and upward. This helps focus my writing where it might otherwise wander, integrating the outline into the writing process, instead of a final guide before I begin draft one.
There’s no trick to word count. Over the years, I’ve discovered that the best way to set goals and determine your success for the day varies book by book. Word count is a great tool when your book needs to be a specific length, or when you know exactly how the next few scenes are going to play out and you’re just running the rally at a comfortable speed.
Certainly, I’d never throw away the idea of counting words. For me, it’s been the most effective tool to measure my goals. But there are definitely instances where another way works better, and the author has to figure that out for themselves. Each book you or I write will be a different process, maybe subtly different, maybe drastically different, but what works for one might not work for another. That’s okay, we experiment until we get it right.
Because when it comes right down to it, whether we’re measuring words, pages, scenes or hours, we’re writing and that’s all that matters. ♦