"Figures often beguile me. Particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'"
And so I find myself, having just finished the fifth draft of a new novel for middle grade readers, staring the stats WORD popped up.
Time was, I wrote long hand, then revised and typed a story, only to ignore the numbers. WORD insisted on telling me the word count, but I looked the other way. I was writing literature, not counting beans.
I remember the feeling of diminishment when I encountered writers who spoke about word counts for different age groups, chapter page counts, and output counts per writing day. Everyone, it seemed, was counting.
I honestly couldn’t figure out why, and determined not to write-by-numbers.
Only they are everywhere. And while they say nothing about the quality of the story or the art of the telling, turns out they do count.
In the business of publishing, they count quite a bit. To quote Agent Jennifer Laughran’s iconic post on the subject, outlier word-counts put her in the mode of “...I am tying a noose.” I don’t want that responsibility. I also want my work to be considered for publication.
Innovative work should not count these counts. But the numbers will let us know how far off the expected norms we’ve ventured, and then choose to do so knowingly and deliberately.
These Stats still lie in the most fundamental sense of not telling that all’s well, or that I must take some drastic action. The readability statistics only sit there, telling their truth. It’s not an important truth. But it is one I now look at , just as I look at the WORD program’s mechanical (and often wrong) grammar-check at which end these stats pop up.
For me it is about marching forward having looked at all I could know about what I wrote. It means that if a reader calls the story “too long,” this is not a matter of length but the feeling it drags. The strengths and faults lie in the art, not in the craft. The mechanical checks and algorithmic statistics deserve a glance, and then the option to dismiss or heed from a place of awareness.
Phew, these latest revision stats look okay. But who's counting?