So more than a dozen years ago now, I participated in a weekly writer's workshop hosted by a small college and led by an academic writer who claimed to know what he was talking about. He didn't, but he introduced me to the practice of counting words.
This fellar had some goofy ideas, and one of those was his insistence on stream of consciousness writing as the be-all and end-all of creative endeavors. Then he coupled it with the goal of a specific word count. Two-thousand words per day. Stream of conscious ---GO!
What might have been a fun one-time (or even once-in-while) way to keep things fresh...rapidly got old. And he demanded to see our journals. He had to confirm that 2000 words per day. It didn't matter what you wrote, he said, so long as you moved your wrist. Everybody is a writer he said, no matter if you jot down a grocery list or pen the great American novel.
I suggested that, in that case, I wanted to be more than just a writer. I wanted to be a storyteller.
He said that if I kept up with 2000 words per day of streaming stuff, I would find stories just sort of emerging out of the detritus.
Except they didn't. And somewhere between 700 and 2000, the word count always sorta lost its steam. Most of my entries ended up looking like that manuscript written by the possessed guy in Stephen King's book, The Shining. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Naturally, all writers are different. I know some writers like the stream of consciousness thing the same way a potter might like to throw down a hunk of clay just to have something to start whittling away on. It never really worked that way for me.
And I always thought the goal of a specific word count was a good one. It's at the content level where Mr. Academic and I parted company. A couple thousand words of good work every day makes a fine goal.
But here's the good that came out of it.
By the end of the workshop I had a real knack for just how much writing constituted 2000 words. Or 1000. Or 500.
I got so in tune with keyboard clicks and time spent in the chair that I could guess my word number blind, and come pretty close.
Me did not learn how to write gud.
But I got a feel for word count.
As I've worked to sneak up on longer works of fiction, it's been valuable.
The last few stories I wrote were 10,000 words plus. Holt County Iron is a novella somewhere around 17,000 words. And that feels a little bit different than writing 5,000 word stories.
Writing a 30,000 word stories feels different again.
I've long admired genre writers who, under contract, can peg the story's beginning, middle, and end, within a set of assigned parameters.
In my case, I learned there's no such thing as a bad experience when learning the craft --not if you can sift the good from the ill.
After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. Read more at www.RichardProsch.com