A few years ago I wrote about how long it took me to write a typical short story. Long story short (I know, bad joke) I'm a slow writer, taking around 20 hours to create a 5,000-word short story. I continually write and rewrite and edit, these different creative aspects of fiction writing merging and mingling until I often do all three within seconds of each other. But as that post also makes clear, other writers have different processes. For example, John Scalzi stated that with "20 hours of butt in chair, I wrote and did the initial edit of 'The God Engines,' which is 30,000 words."
Since that post, my glacial pace has not increased or slowed. But compared to other writers, I might as well be literally turning into a giant hunk of ice. I mean, it sometimes seems like every author I know tweets or posts Facebook updates about how many words they wrote today. 1000 words. 2000. 5000. The other day my Facebook news feed even proclaimed that someone wrote 10,000 words in a single afternoon, which is astounding (or a big lie, or a joke, it's sometimes hard to tell with author's Facebook feeds).
But—be warned, here comes the rant—enough is enough. Come on authors. Stop the bragging. Or if you're going to brag, mention the total fiction writing package, not merely word count. Mention the hours you spend rewriting and editing, or plotting out and contemplating your novel. Mention how you gave up on a story and returned to it three years later.
Don't get me wrong. I've bragged about my word counts before. I also realize word-count crowing is how many writers motive themselves. Hey, I did my 2,000 words for the day! Time to tell the world so I can keep my bonafide author credentials for another 24 hours! But here's the question I'm pondering: Does an obsession on word counts hurt writers more than it motives them?
I mean, cranking out words doesn't matter a bit if your words don't make sense. Or if they're a jumble. Or if you write a 5,000-word digression which takes the reader out of your novel.
Despite this, it's still word counts we authors brag about. In fact, the highest profile fiction writing event each year, National Novel Writing Month, is built around word count alone. They even brag about participating authors writing more than 3.2 billion words in November 2012. The premise behind NaNoWriMo and our obession with producing daily word counts is that cranking out words indicates a productive writer. It's a belief that the hard part of writing is in the initial creative process. Once you bring words into existence, so goes this line if thinking, you can always go back and rewrite to your heart's content.
But what happens if that rewriting never happens?
I've talked to a number of authors in recent years who say they hate rewriting and editing their stories. That's possibly how many authors have always felt, but I also wonder if our obsession on word counts is making new authors believe rewriting isn't as important as the initial spurt of creation. But here's a truth for you—without rewriting and editing, odds are the suck level of your precious story will be rather high. While creating words may be more fun, rewriting is what ensures your story will actually be read by people.
Because when you get down to it, readers don't care how long it took an author to write a story—all they care about is if the story's worth reading. And without rewriting and editing, odds are a story won't be worth much at all.