Aug 22, 2010

How I Track Word Count

by Marsha Ward

As I drown in slip-sliding paper falling toward me and my fingers on the keyboard (most of which I could shred, once I extract the odd computer disk, wedding announcement, and hardback book from the pile), it occurs to me that I could share how I keep track of my word count as I write.

Now understand, this can be as complex or as simple as I want to make it. I can use the Excel chart my friend J. Scott Savage sent me several years ago that nags me incessantly, or I can add and subtract words as I write and edit, or I can keep a simple running tally at the beginning and the end of my writing day. I kind of like the simple style nowadays, so I'll tell you how that last thing works.

I love the 9.5 inch by 6 inch one-subject notebooks for this task. They're not so big as to be in the way, and not so small as to disappear amidst the rubble on my desk. I open it up and draw three equally-spaced lines down the page. This gives me two sections of columns to fill up.

In the left-most column, at the top, I put the date. I can put anything else in the nature of notes in that column, like the times I start and end, the scene or chapter I'm working on, and how many hours I work. I see I have a notation saying slippery elm bark and chamomile tea. Ha! I know what scene that one was!

The second column is where I put the beginning word count opposite the date. If I'm starting fresh, this is zero. If I want to, I can add the word count when I do a save, when I get up for lunch, or what-not (I usually only put down the last three digits, or hundreds). The last figure I put in that column is the final word count of the day, unless I want to do a total of words written underneath it. I finish the day with a horizontal line drawn under all the notes for the day, in both columns.

The other section of two columns is for when I get to the bottom of the page. You knew that, right?

How do you find your word count at the beginning and end of the writing period?

If you're in Word, look for a menu item called Word Count. It might be in the Tools menu. That's where I'd look first, because that's where it is in my ancient Word 2003. Before you click it, highlight all your text. Then click Word Count, and you'll have a rough estimate of your words. I say "rough," because it will count every asterisk (*) and Chapter Heading, but it's good enough for starters. Do this again when you quit for the day, and you have the second count.

Or, you can use the software program I now use, yWriter5, which tells me at the bottom of the main window how many words I write that day, along with the total of words in the project. I put those numbers in my notebook at start and end of day.

yWriter5 and its antecedents were written by novelist and computer programmer Simon Haynes of Australia. He couldn't find a writing software that suited his needs, so he wrote it. He updates it quite often, sometimes to meet suggestions of users, but it's a lean program written to use few resources of your machine. It even runs off a flash drive, so it's highly portable.

You can find yWriter5 at (Hal Spacejock is the hero of Simon's futuristic sci-fi series). There are several other useful programs to be found there, as well as a link to the new how-to wiki created by the folks in the next paragraph.

This software is free, not only no-cost, but free of nasty surprises like virii, Trojan horses, and other malware. There's an active community of users in a Google group who support each other. The old hands answer the questions of the newbies, and Simon occasionally pops in, too.

Can you tell I like yWriter5? Let's see how many converts I can make. Let's see, |||...


  1. I guess it depends on how you want it to interact with Word, Susan.

    Let's suppose you want to print off a scene or a chapter to send to critiquers. Each scene is saved by yWriter5 to its own file in Rich Text Format (rtf). You can issue a command to the program to print so many scenes, or you can export the scenes from within the program to copy over into Word, or you can find the saved files and copy them to Word.

    When you are completely finished with the work, you will export it by your chosen method into Word for final tinkering before submitting it.

    Did you have another purpose in mind?

    If you work on the text in Word, you can paste it back into the scene content in yWriter and save it.

  2. I'm rolling Marsha. I followed very little of that...I thought word count in word was all that was necessary silly me.

    I'm sitting on three completed projects of LDS fiction, I'm honestly not sure where to submit. I've done a lot of research, Shadow Mountain and Cedar Fort I think would be my first picks. I'm just curious about who the "ultimate" publisher would be for you Mormon writers out there?

    (BTW - I'm obsessive about word count but I've NEVER checked how many words in one day - I delete too much...)

  4. Hi Jolene. The "ultimate" publisher depends on many things, including your expectations, what kind of novels you have written, and what the publisher publishes.

    Deseret Book typically has not done a majority of fiction titles in their yearly projects, but focuses a lot on doctrine and self-help. They do publish some fiction, but not as much as Covenant (which DB now owns).

    Shadow Mountain is the more "national" imprint of DB, putting out the fantasy serieses (ha, what is the plural of series?) and anything deemed secular or of interest to non-LDS readers.

    Cedar Fort is usually accounted as the 3rd biggest publisher in the LDS market, and does quite a lot of fiction. They are not without their quirks, and you should network with some of their past and present authors for recommendations and things of which you should be aware.

    Of course, any relationship with a publisher has it's pros and cons to be aware of. Have you ever given thought to joining ANWA to network? Check it out at

    Terri, yWriter5 is a dedicated program for writing novels, scene by scene (that's a manageable chunk). It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of Word, nor the distractions of a feature-heavy program for writing multiple kinds of documents. It has features that Word can only dream of, very useful to a writer. I urge you to take a look at it.

  5. Wow, Marsha your answer was way over my head and need to reread it. A lot of great information.


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