Monday, February 6, 2012

By the numbers (But don't "buy" the numbers)

Have you ever had this problem, writers? You step away from your computer and your novel-in-progress, only to return to witness all of your words being erased -- word by word, line by line -- because your "delete" key is stuck?

This happened to me a couple years ago and ever since, I've been jotting down the word count when I start a new chapter or after I've added a particularly hard-fought paragraph to my manuscript. See that photo above? Those are my numbers from last week. Looks kind of crazy, doesn't it? Sort of like this?:


Anyways, since I've been manually keeping track of my numbers, I've been able to notice a weird quirk in Microsoft Word: the software is actually pretty shitty at calculating word counts, or at least remaining consistent in how it performs the calculation.

Here's what I mean. Almost every time I return to my manuscript (after I've rebooted my computer) I find that the word count -- which I compulsively recorded on my notepad -- has changed, in either the plus or the minus, depending.

When I first noticed the problem, I would get very paranoid. "Did I hit a few keys by mistake?" "Did I delete something without noticing?" "Oh $#!%, oh $#!%, oh $#!%!!" and I'd re-read entire sections looking for my error. But I never found one.

What I did find, however, was this very valuable lesson: While you should always trust your words, dear writers, never ever completely trust your Word.

6 comments:

  1. interesting! i am obsessed with word count (i check it every few minutes) but i haven't noticed it. i did once have a quirk where word change the file name constantly without telling me - like several times an hour or more, so i had fun trying to figure out which file corresponded to the most recent draft.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think, sometimes, that we should go back to writing with quills and parchment. But then I think, no.

      Delete
  2. But on your manual count, your word count went down from page 64 to 65 - so how do you tell if there's something wrong like a stuck delete key?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm not as worried about the delete key getting stuck these days. Counting like this also really helps make feel confident that I have opened the right file and that I haven't made some weird error like delete an entire paragraph. Writing it down also helps me remember what the last major change was that I performed. What are you, anyways, Matt: the word count police?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes.

    I would just freak out if I opened a chapter and I had less words than the chapter before. I'd be looking for disappeared words that didn't disappear and would probably go as far as to question the cats.

    They know things.

    ReplyDelete