W is for word count

Sin #22: Quantity over quality
“It is the quality of our work which will please God and not the quantity.” Mahatma Gandhi
Now I can’t speak for God, but as a reader I can definitely confirm the above statement is true!
There are far too many writers out there who rely solely on word count. They tap away at the keyboard for a minute or so…check the word count…go back to typing and chewing a pencil whilst trying to look thoughtful…check the word count…umm and ahh about leaving an apostrophe in or taking it out…check the word count and punch the air because they’ve wrote enough words…
Enough words? How many words is that precisely?
Well, how long is a piece of string?
While there are certain ‘boundaries’, which are typically adhered to whilst classifying a piece of work (Novel: over 40,000 words, novella: 17,500 to 40,000 words, novelette: 7,500 to 17,500 words, short story: under 7,500 words, flash fiction: under 1000 words), we should never lose sight of our original aim.
To satisfy the reader and tell our story the way we want to.
Some authors are so adamant they need to reach a certain word count that they will continue to write even when their story has been told. They panic when they reach the logical end of their plot and still haven’t reached that magical figure.
Try not to get too bogged down with word counts, instead concentrate on the quality of your work.
After all, the most memorable books are not necessarily the longest – books such as I am Legend by Richard Matheson, The Invisible Man by H.G Wells, The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson can each be read in one night, if you were so inclined!
These are all amazing examples of literature that tell their story perfectly without rambling on for the sake of a colossal word count.
If you finish your story, then you’ve finished your story, don’t spoil that fact by scrabbling to add meaningless words.
Congratulate yourself, pull a party popper, and then begin editing your work – trust me there will be plenty of opportunities to add more words during the editing process.
You’ll lose and add thousands of words when polishing your first draft, and probably more when completing further drafts.
So try and resist the temptation to check your word count every few minutes and instead focus on improving the quality of your work.


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    • CharmedLassie on April 27, 2011 at 16:18
    • Reply

    I do wonder sometimes how you go about finding your array of images but I think that would be a rather personal question 😉

    I'm guilty of using word counts to spur myself onwards, to set myself a goal to reach. I did find myself panicking though when one draft only came in at 50k. I was petrified, it had to be longer than that to get looked at! It's probably easier for an established writer to avoid strict submission guidelines for word counts. Everyone else has to jump through the hoops for a bit I suppose.

    • Steven Chapman on April 27, 2011 at 16:23
    • Reply

    I realised as soon as I posted this that I didn't really mention word counts for submissions guidelines.

    Obviously if the publishers want stories between 3,500 – 7,000 words, for example, then checking the word count makes sense.

    But I still believe the story should be the first priority and if that means you end up with 12,000 words then you either try to cut it down, or submit it somewhere else and start again.

    • Steven Chapman on April 27, 2011 at 16:26
    • Reply

    Cheers, Lucy! Image search on Google can be very rewarding if you have the patience, and a stomach of steel, to search through many, many pages of rubbish!

    Trying to write a certain number of words is very useful for forcing yourself to write everyday, and it's completely independent from your final word count (because your not trying to reach an end goal, just a daily goal), so it is particularly encouraging.

    • Nate Wilson on April 27, 2011 at 18:26
    • Reply

    Yep, quality is always better than quantity, unless you're playing Scrabble.

    I mean, when I tell people I've written a little over 100,000 words in my novel, they congratulate me. They probably wouldn't if I also mentioned that approximately 38,027 of those words are utter crap. Word counts are really only good for classification (as you noted), or as restrictions in writing contests. Beyond that, they're about as useful as my 38,027 words.

    • ttofee on April 27, 2011 at 19:09
    • Reply

    Quality is better – but at least a word count gives you a specific aim for the day! As usual, wonderful images to illustrate your points!

    • Sue H on April 27, 2011 at 21:58
    • Reply

    Word counts count for nothing if it's 100k of cr@p!
    I've read books that could have been severely pruned and lost nothing if the plot – it's times like that when I glaze over and just skim-read to get on to the good bits!

    This was a good post – till I saw that image
    Put me right off me supper!

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