Word Counts: Are They Important?

Word count. Word count. WORD COUNT. WORD COUNT. WORD COUNT.

If you can’t tell, I’m not the biggest fan of them. I can wax poetic for the next several years about how I loathe them, but I’ll spare you my droning. And I’ll do my best to remain impartial. 

Do not be afraid to roll up a newspaper and swat me on the nose if I do not keep my word. 

First, what is a word count?

It’s more than just a seemingly arbitrary number you’re given when you’re assigned an essay. A word count is… well, yes. Just the amount of words you’ve written. 

It also is the deciding factor in what makes your work a short story, a novelette, a novella, a novel, a “War and Peace” knockoff, etc. 

Why Are They Important?

In my personal opinion, word counts are only important when it comes to classifying your manuscript. It helps the reader (whether that be an unsuspecting loved one, a literary agent or a reader) understand what they’re looking forward to. A few hours of fun? (Don’t make that dirty). A weekend escape? (Still sounded a little dirty). A week’s worth it diving face first— I’ll stop. It didn’t get any better. I see where I went wrong. Anyway!

What I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is that your word count will dictate your audience. There are some people who prefer shorter reads and others who would happily devote the rest of their year to one book. I, personally, like novels on the shorter side. Long enough to scratch the ‘need for story’ itch without me slogging for an eternity to get through it.

Pros and Cons?

Don’t mind if I do. You know how much I love my pros and cons tables.

Pro: Keeping track of word counts can motivate you to reach your writing goals fasterCon: Keeping track of your word counts can de-motivate you and make you reach your goals slower
Pro: It can help you give scenes the equal attention they deserve by maintaining a similar-sh word countCon: It can be “muse” draining to not be able to reach a pre-designated word count for one scene
Pro: It really keeps you in touch with how much you’re writing and how quickly you do writeCon: …It really keeps you in touch with how much you’re writing and how quickly you do write
Pro: Forces the writer to flesh out scenes to meet the word countCon: Can lead to the writer over-writing and making a flabby manuscript

Am I doing a good job of remaining impartial? Boy is it hard. Anyway.

As I’ve said many times before on this blog, it’s all a matter of personal preference. If you feel better keeping track of what you’re writing, feel free.

Me, personally? I do not like it. It does not work well for me. Every time I would try to keep track I would create something terribly flabby and overwritten that would require lots of fat-trimming during the editing process. As my editor once said to me, “rip this page out of the manuscript, set it on fire and send it down the gutter”. 

I much prefer to write until I’m done and then check the word count afterward.

I consistently make the word count I “want” to make. You’d be surprised about the internal… — word… pedometer? Wordometer? — yeah, wordometer you have. 

I personally subscribe to the notion that you should write what feels natural. Trying to force yourself to meet a specific word count just seems like a recipe for frustration. And here’s the beauty! If you have to reach a specific word count for whatever reason and you’re short, you can always add more later.

“But Ivy, why would I want to add more words on top of the words I’ve already slaved hours of my life over writing?”

Simple: Because you’re always going to feel like something needs to be added or taken away during your read-through(s). It’s easier to add than it is to take away, trust me.

Tl;dr

Guh, okay. Here’s the real tea. Word counts are a great tool if you’re someone who is goal-oriented and has a specific length in mind. If you’re not a size Queen — I did it again — and prone to being obsessive/demotivated by perceived lack of progress, don’t do it.

As always, do what feels right and natural to you. There’s no reason to make an already difficult, long-winded process even more harrowing. If keeping one doesn’t help, stop counting. It not having one is hindering your progression? Then start!


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