“Write 10,000 Words Everyday is Terrible Advice” so says @virajpatel24 on Medium.com and I agree with him. I’ve seen a lot of posts lately here and on Medium.com about word counts mixed in with advice about how to write. These posts came up during a search for editing/revising advice and curiosity made me read them. Who doesn’t like free advice?
Write 10,000 words in one day. I’ve actually blown past that limit in one twenty-four hour period but I couldn’t uncurl the fingers on my right hand at the end of that session. My hand had locked up from too much abuse. I had worked nonstop without a pee break. Since I had the house to myself, no one interrupted me. I hadn’t opened the blinds that morning, so no reminders of the passage of time bothered me either. I fell into a black hole in my imagination and
I blame my characters. They had surrounded me at some point in the night and they wanted their story told right then and there. No excuses, no bathroom breaks, I didn’t even get breakfast, just an ultimatum. I, their faithful scribe, pulled out my pc and set to typing. My fingers flew over the keys and word managed to keep up without dropping letters or skipping words.
They relented when darkness fell and my bladder informed me that I had five seconds before it released a flood. I staggered to the toilet to resolve that problem and almost passed out from low blood sugar. After fixing the blood sugar situation, I checked the time, then double and triple checked it.
A whole day had passed while I had sat typing. Every part of me ached from all that sitting but I had to reread the fruit of my labor. I propped my laptop on a stack of books and pulled up the doc.
I don’t remember the exact word count, since this happened awhile ago, but I do recall that it was well beyond 10,000 words. The total count made my eyes bulge and called into question the accuracy of MS Word’s word count function. I’ve never allowed myself to get that sucked into a story again. It’s just not healthy.
Besides, the minute I started revising that draft, I whittled away at the word count. You can’t write at great speed and put down only the words that really need to be there. You need to take breaks. Your body needs fuel and care. Trust me, you write better with a full stomach and an empty bladder. Besides, taking breaks gives you an opportunity to to the draft with a different perspective.
So yes, I take breaks. I don’t write 10,000 words in a day. Most days I don’t even write 1000 words. And I’m okay with that because I spend part of the time I allotted for writing on revision. I want to improve as a writer. Word count is not as important to me as ensuring that only the words needed to tell the story appear on the page. You can’t put a number on that because every story is different.
@virajpatel24 says it best:
You have to constantly critique and deconstruct and rectify your own work. That’s the only way forward. Whether this means you have to write 50 words or 5 paragraphs before you have to pause to critique your progress, then so be it. If this entails you writing 1,000 words and then rigorously proofreading what you’ve written over the next few days, then that’s also fine. But until you actively begin undergoing deliberate practice as a writer, you will not improve to the stratospheric levels of great writing. And, if you don’t improve significantly, you don’t stand a chance of being the next Andy Weir or George R.R. Martin.
I recommend you check out his article critiquing #SWLH article by Michael Shreeve that went viral, “How To Write 10,000 Words Per Day. Viraj Patel‘s rebuttal is not only thoroughly researched, but it’s also packed with advice, videos, excerpts, links and even a twitter convo he started with tradition authors on the subject of quality versus quantity. Quality here refers to revision. Quantity to just churning out a word count every day.
Patel digs into the genesis for the 10,000 word article, a Malcolm Gladwell book called Outliers. Outliers discussed psychologist K. Anders Ericsson’s research into how one can go from knowing nothing about a topic of interest to an expert. Outliers is on my list of books to read and this debate just catapult it to the top of my wish list.