Thursday, November 11, 2010

Word Count

Interno-- Gigi Chessa -1895-1935I’ll admit that as I’m writing, I keep half an eye on my word count.

It used to mess me up to do that. But now, I think it’s like checking my speedometer when driving a car—it just helps keep me in line so I don’t get into trouble later.

If you’re way over or way under the target word count for your genre, it’s going to mean some work later on. You don’t want to feel like you’re adding fluff to a book to get up to the target count and you don’t want to feel like you’re slashing important scenes, either. Sometimes it’s easier just to watch it as you go along.

When I’m done with a first draft, it’s usually a short 68,000 words. I write pretty sparely now—it used to be that I’d babble on and on when I was writing and wasn’t sure what direction I was going to take the plot next. Now I just stop writing when I get to that point and do some quick brainstorming. Otherwise, I have filler to remove later.

My target is 75,000 words and my manuscript goes right up to that after I add setting, character description, and the small subplots that I love including.

If you’re a newer writer, though, it might be better to just write the book you want to write and worry about the word count during revisions. I know that worked better for me while I was getting my feet wet.

I know some writers worry that word count limits creative freedom. But we can write whatever we want and make the book as long we want it….it just might not sell. If our goal is to sell our finished manuscript, at some point word count is going to have to be considered. Unfortunately, even if your book is excellent, it’s going to be hard to have it read by an agent or editor if it’s too long.

Here are some useful links to consider if you’re at the point that you need to take a look at your word count:

Word Count for Novels and Children's Books: The Definitive Post

Think twice before querying your 291,000 word book

A Few Words on Word Counts: How to Beef Up or Slim Down (especially for freelance writers, but some tips that will help novelists, too)

An agent on word counts (and here, where she defends her position)

Writing Nowadays–Word Count Violations and You

Bolstering Your Word Count

How To Get Ahead When You Are Behind On Your Word Count

Do you watch your word count as you write, or is it something you worry about later in the process?