Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Word count

I often see my Facebook friends mention how many words they have written on a particular day. These are mostly creative writing friends, but this morning an academic friend wondered how many words per day or week should be considered adequate for good research. This started me thinking, and following up my yesterday's post, here is some further sharing of experience.

We all write in different ways. I remember a writer friend was furious when I mentioned that I had finished a novel in three weeks. Obviously the reason for his rage was that no decent writing could go that fast. However, the three weeks of actual writing had been preceded by months of thinking and researching. The process of transferring words from my mind onto the computer screen was a matter of my typing skills. However, I know, or know of, writers who proudly say that they are happy if they can write a hundred words a day. Or twenty. Or ten.

Similarly, I can write a 6,000-word scholarly article in a day, but it means that I have been thinking about it for a long time and just need to write it down. I think best when I weed the garden or, as I have started doing recently, walking at fast pace in the park. After that, I rush to my desk to record all the clever things that came to my mind during the walk.I could never sit down to write a hundred words from scratch. I just don't function this way. But some people do. Some fellow scholars set goals for themselves: a thousand words per week? That adds up to six weeks for a 6,000-word essay. Sounds reasonable, but it includes thinking and researching. If you intend to publish two articles a year, what are you doing the rest of the time?

Sometimes, however, producing 6,000 words is not enough. Right now I am writing a paper on a new and difficult topic where I don't feel as secure as in my more usual fields. I wrote the first 5,000 words very quickly, but since then I have fluctuated on 5-6,000 level for quite a while, cutting and pasting, but also deleting and adding. I will present this paper to an audience that does not know me and does not know my subject. I need to be persuasive. I need to be very clear. I haven't counted the number of hours, days or weeks I have spent actually writing, but, as the story goes, "I have been learning all my life how to do it in a day".

3 comments:

Maria Nikolajeva said...

Philip Nel's related post today: http://www.philnel.com/2011/01/12/how-to-publish-article/

Clémentine B said...

In France people tend to count characters, including spaces, rather than words. It's very gratifying to see these huge numbers. At least until you get used to it...

Maria Nikolajeva said...

In Sweden they also count characters, so it was hard for me to change to words first, but fortunately computers tell you both (imagine, I am so old that I remember when we actually counted characters and words). In Russia, they count in typescript pages, and that can be tricky.