Against word counts as part of a daily writing routine

As some people reading this might know, I’m an obsessive cultivator of habits. I’m preoccupied by them intellectually and spent 6 years writing a PhD about how who we are is shaped by the situated interplay between reflexivity and habit over time. But this is also a big part of how I orientate myself to my work: what’s the most satisfying and effective way to to approach what it is I have to do? I’ve blogged in the past about the apps I use for this purpose.

It’s for this reason that I’ve tried various writing routines over the last few years and I’ve recently come to the conclusion that word count goals just don’t work. In fact setting myself a goal for how many words to write a day now strikes me as representative of everything that’s wrong with the academy i.e. counting your writing rather than valuing it. Looking towards a quantity of words inevitably encourages you to see how quickly you can write them and move on to something else. If not necessarily alienating, it now strikes me as quite alienated, no matter how useful the capacity to do quasi-automatic speed writing I’ve developed over the last few years is increasingly proving to be.

Since giving up on a word count goal I’m enjoying academic writing more than I have in a long time. I’m actually finding my book interesting again, after months of seeing it as an obstacle to be negotiated through daily bouts of meeting my word target (in turn ratcheting up my stress about the book when I failed to meet them). My new resolution: to only count things if I’m certain doing so serves a useful purpose. Perhaps this is a useful starting point for thinking about how the Qualified Self does inevitably sometimes interface with self-quantification.


Categories: Sociological Craft

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