Monday, June 28, 2010

One, Two, Three...

I admit it freely and openly: I can get obsessive about word counts. Whew. It's out there.

Back when I first decided try my hand at writing a novel as opposed to writing my games, I did some research as to what length was acceptable for my genre. Excellent, I thought, now I just need to fit my plot and all its little subplots into that many words. How hard could it be?

Stop laughing.


I had a plan.

I thought (logical to the end) that I could allow so many words for my beginning, a larger number for my middle and the same (roughly) amount of words as I used for the beginning for wrapping everything up. This thought gave me a sense of control. Control is good. It also cut the project up into several smaller projects rather than Mount Everest. Excellent. Sit down and write.

Okay, why does no one ever tell you that 10,000 words is really a lot of words? It takes time. And you can't celebrate that first 10,000 with too much confetti because you've got 70 or 80 thousand more still waiting to be written. I became fixated on the numbers. Whenever I opened a new book the first thing I did was look at the page number at the end. 500, 800, 1200. Daunting. No, let's be honest: terrifying. Then there were the 300 page books which gave me a glimmer of hope. Surely if others can do this, then I can too.

I typed on.

The word count on the right of my page became my best friend and my worst enemy at the same time. I'd try to ignore it - tell myself to not keep glancing at it, but to concentrate on whatever scene I was writing. I was successful some of the time, not so much at others.

Then you reach the half-way point. General rejoicing. Then you realize how much of the story you still have to tell and you can feel panic's icy fingers tapping on your shoulder. Stop looking at the word count, just keep writing. The three-quarter point. Time to start wrapping things up. Panic's icy fingers now have the weight of an elephant's foot.

Stop looking at the word count!

You tell yourself that acceptable word counts are guidelines - not a hard and fast rule. Just keep writing. Tell the story.

Stop looking at the word count!

And no, that's not my word count in the picture. It's from Google Images. I'd never show my word count - it would be like showing your underwear in public.


  1. Elspeth - I know exactly what you mean about word count. For one thing, a long, long novel isn't necessarily a well-written one. Can't we all think of absolute duds of novels that were 600 or 700 pages long? A short novel isn't necessarily a badly-written one. I can think of lots of novels of less than 400 pages that have enthralled me.

    I agree with you that word counts should not obsess us. Thinking of how long the book is going to be is one thing (and not a bad one). Focusing on the number of words until "the frights" hit you? Not a good thing.

  2. I don't worry about word count when I'm writing first draft because I change so much before I have a finished product. Along about third or fourth draft, when everything is in place and I've fiddled some with adding more of what I need and removing things that don't matter, that's when I think about word count. Am I under? Over? In the ballpark? Each requires a different response moving forward from that point, but for the way that I write, it doesn't matter until then.

  3. Margot; It's NOT a good thing is it? But yet, somehow, I continue to worry. You're absolutely right, of course, the quality of the novel is not dependent on the amount of words.

    Carol; I honestly don't worry so much about it on my first draft - my only aim there is just to get it down. I always have pages of notes about adding this or moving this or expanding whatever. But still, that word count lets you know how far along you are on the road and whether you're going to have to expand or contract your plot.

  4. I hate looking at word count. But...I look at word count every day. My contract mandates my word count so I try to stay on track. At least now I have a good sense of where I am in a document. The worst is coming up SHORT. Coming up OVER is easy to fix.

  5. I'm a slave to the word count, and it's a harsh master!

  6. Elizabeth; Coming up short would be the worst. I shudder at the thought. How precise is your contract - surely there is some wiggle room? I've noticed once I've written a draft my word count doesn't change significantly.

    Alan; It is, isn't it? It just sits there, mutely mocking. I'd like a friendly voice every once in while, offering me encouragement. Although, on second thought, that might be a bit startling.

  7. You are so funny. And what do you mean, we're not allowed to show our underwear in public? Let me go put some pants on.

    Great post.

    OH, and by the way, STOP LOOKING AT THE WORD COUNT!


  8. I worry more about having a word count at the end of the day that's higher than the one at the start of the day. Some days it takes a lot of words to get there! I figure the story will unfold at its own pace, and I can fix it later.

  9. If I’m on a writing roll, I usually don’t worry about how my word count is coming along. It’s when I’m struggling to get words down on paper that I become obsessive with checking the total. I don’t keep mine up on the screen though, and I think that might be a good thing.

  10. I totally get the word count fixation. It's a hard one to beat.
    About the underwear---sometimes there's more undies walking down the street than clothes!!

    Giggles and Guns

  11. My old laptop had an old version of Corel WordPerfect. It didn't show the word count unless I jumped through a few hoops and begged. I maybe looked at it 3 times while writing the first draft.

    My new laptop shows it right in the corner of the page. I'm better now, but when I first got it I looked at it every few words. Drove myself nuts! :)

  12. Clarissa; Thanks for saying I'm funny and I'll try stopping to look. I don't promise anything though.

    Terry; Sometimes it does take a great many words than one would think, doesn't it? I just keep telling myself it's getting better. It helps a bit - but not much.

    Jane; I've accepted I've got to have it there although if I'm on a roll I don't look at it until the roll stops.

    Mary; I will not be one choosing that particular fashion choice. Sometimes less is not more.

    Jemi; I think you have to train yourself to not look continuously. I like that it's easily available because it does (sometimes) give you a small glow of satisfaction. Or terror. It depends.

  13. hahaha! Yes, it happens to me too even though I constantly preach to people to avoid it. It's an inspiration sucker!

  14. Word count is always on my mind as well. I actually keep a tally in my calendar when I'm writing that first draft. It feels so good when I hit 75,000 words, because then I know I'm going to make it.


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