Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Word Count

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
I do like to keep track of both where I am in a story and how much I’m able to accomplish each day.  That’s mainly because I deal with deadlines.  I’ve had to feverishly finish a story before in the 11th hour and boy, that wasn’t fun (that was also an un-outlined book, so I wasn’t even sure exactly where I was going with the story.  Thankfully, it somehow ended up fine.)
I like to pay attention to my progress also because with my genre, there’s a pattern to the events there and I need to stay on-target or else my pace may be off.  I don’t need a bloated beginning—that’s no fun to read.  But I don’t need a bloated ending, either, with a sleuth going on and on about how clever she was in figuring out the killer.  I like a second body near the middle of the book to keep readers guessing, so I also need to know when I’m about halfway done with the manuscript.
But—I know some writers who are messed up by worrying about their progress while working on the first draft.  Tracking their word counts makes them feel frantic and as if they need to catch up.  So there’s really no need to keep up with your progress as you’re working on the story if it makes things worse.
For those who like to track their progress on the story, there are different ways of doing so.  I think I’ve done all of them.  One is word count—the actual number of words.  I do track this from time to time, to make sure I’m on target for the 75,000 words I’m supposed to shoot for.
For me, though, I like tracking my page progress on a day to day basis.  When I’ve got a deadline, I’m writing 3.5 pages a day to stay on goal.  With my self-published books, I might give myself a little more leeway…but still around 3 double-spaced 12 pt. font Word pages each day. Usually I don’t write them all at once—writing half of them in the morning when I wake up and half later in the morning or after lunch.
I set myself a daily goal, but for others a weekly goal might work better.  If you have a chaotic schedule, setting a weekly goal can give you a chance to make your goal by either spreading your goal out each day or having a marathon writing session all at once to catch up. 
When should we worry about word counts? 
Definitely before we submit a manuscript to a traditional publisher because there are genre guidelines. Any publisher is going to be worried about a 170,000 word book from an unpublished author with no track record.  My contracts hold me to 75,000 words for my cozy mysteries.  I’m usually either right under that or right over it. 
Too short is also a problem, although sometimes it’s not as much of a problem.  I tend to write really short—Midnight Ink took my 206 page book without making a mention of plumping it up.  I’ve also written short for Penguin and haven’t heard any feedback on it (although they did reduce the price of that book by a dollar compared to the others in the series.)
More articles on word count:
Chuck Wendig’sHow to Maximize Your Word Count and Write More Every Day” (as always, I have to give a warning about the strong language Chuck uses in his posts…but he does provide excellent advice.)
Do you track word count or pages written? Why or why not?

Image: Flickr: Tom Raftery