Writing By The Numbers

I've been working on a short story for about 18 months. It's been submitted and rejected several times. I put it aside, worked on it, put it aside again, worked on it. I've been procrastinating on sending it out for a few reasons.

First, I want to get it right. I really like the story and obviously want to see it published. Second, I get a blind spot with stories I like. It isn't just the 'darlings', sections that are oh, so clever but don't move the story. I become blind to what the reader sees because the movie in my head for the story is so complete.

At that point I seek out critiques. I've done that already. I think the story is ready to go, but still I hesitate. So I wondered if there were some other means to evaluate the text.

For novels, I use software called yWriter. It has a tool that counts words, total and unique, and number of times each word is used. If I plugged my story in, would I see anything useful? Then again, I've got a blind spot. What I need to do is compare numbers on my story to another, say by a pro writer. So I found a great story by another author and typed it in.

Let's start with the big numbers.

  Pro Story My Story
Total Words 5,862 6,153
Unique Words 1,447 1,794
% of Total 25% 29%


Unique words are those that appear once, never repeated. Scrolling through the lists I see these are good words, descriptive words, interesting words. In the two stories, my unique words are a slightly higher percentage than the pro story. I like this statistic.

Lesson #1: Use interesting words.

Besides the unique words, the rest have been used at least twice in the stories. The usual suspects have been used hundreds of times in both: the, and, of, to. I notice that my story uses "was" 59 times while the slightly shorter pro story has 89 instances. So much for active voice.

Lesson #2: Know how to break the rules.

Going down the list, it's hard to make much comparison. The words, cut out of their context, seem so ordinary. They are the lunch-pail words, working hard at their job without expectation of big rewards. I'm not seeing any pattern or useful information.

How about the bottom, the words that are used twice to ten times? Maybe I'll see something there. Maybe I'm overusing a lot of filler words. Below shows the number of words used for each number of times. For example, if the word "what" and "should" are both used five times then the total is two for five uses. I know, this is getting abstract, bear with me.

# of uses Pro Story My Story
Ten Times 10 7
Nine Times 7 12
Eight Times 15 9
Seven Times 20 14
Six Times 21 38
Five Times 36 39
Four Times 54 72
Three Times 91 124
Two Times 217 258


My numbers are slightly higher, but only by thousandths as a percentage of the whole. What does this mean?

Lesson #3: Writing is about words, not numbers.

Perhaps this was a futile exercise. I thought as an experiment it was interesting. I think the final lesson for me is:

Send the damn story out already!


Yeah, that Lesson 4

Yeah, that Lesson 4 (unnumbered) is very important. You can drive yourself insane with the metrics (said the pot to the kettle).

Yep, gonna send it out, any

Yep, gonna send it out, any day now. Tomorrow is a holiday, no post office. Tuesday, definitely Tuesday.

Isn't it amazing all the

Isn't it amazing all the torture devices we put our words through to avoid the inevitable? A friend of mine uses autocrit.com, but I've never tried it. I think it gives basically the same information as you have here.

Good luck with your submission-I'm pulling for you :)

Ooh, another website! Good

Ooh, another website! Good thing that autocrit.com is subscription only.

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