Posted by: Linda Proud | September 5, 2007

Counting words

When I started writing, we used to have count words ourselves, without the aid of a computer. For a short piece, where the count often had to be precise, you would count each word. For a longer piece, you went by averages. A general average was 300 words per page but you found your own average and stuck with that. If I’d had to count every word in A Tabernacle for the Sun, I’d probably still be on the task ten years later.

It is so easy to bemoan our computers and their tendency to spoil our days, so easy to forget the absolute boon of some of their features, word counting foremost among them, so far as I am concerned. It was a joy on my first Amstrad, but it still took a little time. Now it is instantaneous and I stare in wonder at how many words I’ve written, using how many characters, feeling a little cheated that the tool does not record the amount of words that I’ve deleted, because a word count is not a record of what is written, but of what has survived editing and revision. I’d like it to tell me that I did have five hundred thousand words, which went down to one hundred thousand words, and then up again to two thousand five hundred words. That would be interesting.

So, how many words have I written in The Botticelli Trilogy? A Tabernacle for the Sun comes out at a beastly number of 166,660. Pallas and the Centaur is 174,219. The Rebirth of Venus – 184,146. Grand total: 525,025. Half a million words. Funny – it felt like a million.

In the spirit of an old Cabalist, I’ve added those numbers up. Tabernacle = 7, Pallas = 6 and Rebirth = 6. Which all adds up to 1. The grand total also adds up to 1. Now, that is pleasing.

Another wonderful thing of the modern world is Google. It can answer just about anything: the symptoms and treatment of concussion; how to make apple chutney; where Steeple Barton is; the right spelling of Zenobio, to name a few of the problems I’ve solved this week. In less than five seconds I’ve discovered that Tolstoy’s War and Peace has a word count of 553,890. Funny – I thought it was a million. Of course there is no comparison between the books, not least because Leo wrote his story in five years, whereas I took thirty-three.

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