A Word About Word Counts

I’ve heard it said you shouldn’t count the words. Write what you want to. Let the story do the driving. Don’t be distracted by the numbers. In a perfect Utopian literary world – and we all know there’s no such thing – that might work for some. I always count the words. I think the key is to be aware of the word count but not to worry about it.

Sometimes that’s not as easy as it sounds. While writing my first YA novel, I was aware the words were piling up much too quickly. Painfully aware because I was writing outside my comfort zone. But I kept going. I knew if I put the complete story on the page, I could edit out what didn’t need to be there and still retain the structure. If I tried to adjust the pacing would be all wrong and this is a book where the chronology of change is important. I know my writing bad habits will make it easy to reduce the number of words. I write a lot of fluff and over fill that screams to be deleted the first time I redit.

Words counts are critical to me on a maintenance basis. They establish my writing habit. I write 500 words a day. Every day. I’m not a fast writer so sometimes even that’s hard. When I’m talking about output I’m happy to include anything creative I write. Even this blog post. It’s not about getting the story completed, its about muscle memory for good writing habits.

AR BookFinder: Samurai Kids #2: Owl Ninja

For the first draft I like to know where I’m going word count wise even though I don’t let it dictate to me. I know when I begin to redraft I will inevitably cut and add large chunks so at this stage all I need to do is head in the right direction.

How do I know what a reasonable word count is? I ask the  books I love and respect, the ones I wish I had written and occasionally, one that I did! I look up the word counts of any of these books with similar genre and target readership on the AR Bookfinder site.To find the word count search by author or title and when the book is displayed, click on the tile for more details including the word count.

Samurai Kids #8: Black tengu

My book is magical realism so I’ve got some leeway. Fantasy novels are often twice the word count of realistic novels and at 90,000 (after 5 edits) I’m currently sitting in between. I can go either way and no doubt I will in both directions before I am happy.

I have strategies I use when I edit. Some of these raise the word count (like upping the conflict and mending plot holes) and some whittle it away (like removing adverbs,redundancy and extraneous, tightening description and deleting unnecessary dialogue). But I never focus on any particular one for the sake of word count.

Somehow in the end it ultimately all comes together. Except once. The last Samurai Kids book, Black Tengu, was too short. I suspect I was in too much of a hurry to tell Sensei’s story and I left a big chunk of it inside my head. But that meant when I had to expand, the words all there ready and waiting. Fasted 4,000 words I ever wrote!

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