Don’t Count on Word Count Too Much

Word count can have a big impact on your work and how it can be sold. Besides defining whether your piece is a short story, novella, or novel, the number of words will most likely dictate where you can publish the story and how much you will be paid for it. If you’re writing for a specific publisher or pay tier, you may have a goal word count in mind as you write.

One of my current projects has an 80,000 word minimum, so I find myself paying a lot of attention to my word count. I pay more attention as I get closer to the minimum, and in a way, it’s a positive habit because it’s a way of keeping track of my plot within that restriction. If my book ends at around 80,000-85,000 words, then I shouldn’t be getting close to the climax at 40,000 words. At the same time, I shouldn’t be too far from it at 70,000 words.

On the other hand, I’ve learned not to put too much stock into word count when the book is still in process. Although I try not to rewrite each day, I know that I’ll end up making changes as I go. It’s part of my process. It’s also part of the nature of brains.

For example, a few weeks ago, I had an idea that changed a few scenes that I’d already written. Now, I may or may not be able to use those scenes. That means that although my current word count is 59,790 words, I know that I could be down to 50,161 words or so if I end up trashing those scenes completely. (That probably won’t happen. I’ll need to make some tweaks, but otherwise, I expect most of what I’ve written to be usable. That said, it’s possible.)

Preplanning can help prevent a situation like this, but there’s only so much you can anticipate. When you get a new idea that’s a game changer, you have to deal with it. This idea strengthens the tension, conflict, and characterization of the book, so it’s better for the book if I put it in. That means accepting that some changes will need to be made, and some work that I’ve already done may have to go.

That’s why I don’t rely too much on word count. The word count of any book isn’t set in stone until the book is published (or even after for some). It’s fine as a guideline, but if you get too excited about it, it could be very disappointing and discouraging when the numbers fluctuate.

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