Watch Your Words…and Count Them While You’re at It?

In Those Tantalizing Twists and Turns, I touched on how important it is not to compromise a quality storyline for word count. We spend so much time on our writing—and even more if we try to compose the next War and Peace—that the last thing we want to do is make our readers anxious for it to end. Plus, we don’t fool anyone when we add all kinds of really’s, so’s or if another plotline comes in that ends up having nothing to do with the rest of the book.

All this said, word count isn’t something we can ignore, either, in the publishing industry. It’s among the first requirements listed on the submissions page for most companies. In case you young writers haven’t researched it, you’ll find some publishers consider a novel to be 40,000 words, but many want more than that, depending on the genre. With my mysteries, I shoot for 60,000, whereas I try to make it to the 50,000 range when working on love stories. I must note, though, that they often set a maximum limit, as well, so you’d better not go for triple the minimum, unless you have a very specific audience.

Word count requirements daunted me when I began writing because I never liked them in school. I laugh now at the memory I have of complaining about having a 500-word assignment in eighth grade! The older friend I was griping to warned me that they only grew from there, and I quickly learned he wasn’t kidding.

In truth, I still get nervous about whether or not I’ll be satisfied with my word count at the same time as I wrap up the story. Writing is like a long road trip, where the beginning and end is exciting, but the middle can make you drowsy, if not a bit nauseous. I hope I’m not alone in saying I always come to hate my work for a little while somewhere around the halfway mark! Still, the perfectionist in me impels me to keep on trucking until I reach my desired goal.

That changed this year, however. I recently finished a first draft that took me longer than any I’ve ever written, due to my book release in 2018 as well as some personal distractions. To be honest, I didn’t feel engaged in the plot like I have with past projects. At one point, every thousand words felt like a grind, which upset me. After all, if I, the author, felt this way, how would a reader enjoy it?

For once, I opted to round out the story, despite being short—very short, in fact—on my word count. I knew if I didn’t temporally pull the plug, I’d (1) go mad, and (2) come up with stuff a reader might not find riveting, much less an editor. I needed some space to rediscover my passion for it, rather than just throw out words. I’m happy to say that worked, as I’m now back to it and have a better grasp on where to go with it.

If we think about it, none of us want our readers to be looking at the page number to see how many are left until the conclusion. We hope they’re so entrenched in the action that they forget it’s even there. When writing, then, shouldn’t we suppress the urge to keep our eyes on that little number in the corner of the screen?

Sure, it’s a helpful tool, but so is a compass. Although it guides you through your journey, what would happen if you looked at it every step of the way? You’d probably run into something, and if not, you’d surely miss out on the scenery around you. Thus, live in the moment, and don’t define your progress by a number. Relish the experience, even if it takes longer than expected.


Rewrite? Say that Again?

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