For Story's Sake, Don't Worry About Word Count

Do you ever find yourself at some point in your writing process scratching out words, adding some in and then repeating the process several times before you end up back to where you were in the first place?  Or do you ever concern yourself over WC - after all, there are preset definitions for the different genres?  Or are you the type of writer who crafts the first draft seaminglessly making forward progress without the need to edit as you go?

I'm sure most of us are guilty of editing as we go along even if this means small changes, and honestly I don't see any issue in that.  However, if you're editing every word as you go along you might be hurting your story.  I realize we all have processes that work for us individually and maybe you find this works for you.  I know it doesn't for me.

When I write I love the free flow of words.  I'm not saying I never backspace or reword as I go along but I don't allow myself to become compulsive over word choice or count.  Honestly for story's sake, I don't suggest as writer's that we do.

If we allow ourselves to obsess over each word, we risk losing the story.  The worry over word count can even come into play after the first draft.  After all, we're wanting to query to agents who can reject on word count alone if our book is either too short or too long.  This is my advice:  write your story the best way to tell it.  Simple.

But what about during the first draft?  If we're worried about word count, we'll trim back character descriptions, motivations and backgrounds - three things of which contribute integrally to the impact of the story.  We risk not including enough information.

What about during the editing process?  We risk taking out necessary information.  If you have to trim the MS back due to WC be selective and be careful.  Don't take out words simply to reach a quota.

So am I saying don't worry about word count at all?  No.  I'm saying don't obsess over it and I'm sure you'll find your final MS will fall within the predefined parameters for your genre.  It's like that saying, "worrying doesn't do any good".  In fact when it comes to stressing about word count your story's at stake. 


  1. I need to learn this. I've let stories stall because I'm terrified I won't have enough words to reach the magical 80k.

  2. Paul, that's another terrific point. I was looking at this from the viewpoint of having too many words but the obsession over not having enough can be equally as dangerous for your MS. I hope you pick up your story again and just let the words flow. :)

  3. I don't think I really worry about word count to reach any kind of quota (unless we're talking about NaNo). But I do worry about deleting extrenuous details. I don't do that until the editing phase, though. When I write my first draft, I just write, knowing full well I'll probably have to take out quite a bit during editing.

  4. I have a word count goal for each act but I don't stress if I don't reach that in the first draft. I also don't allow myself to edit beyond a few tweaks (adding only) to the section I wrote the day before which helps me get back into the story.

    I've learned that I tend to write fairly thin first drafts. At least I get the bones of the story down. I aim for about 1/2 to 2/3 of the genre word count goal and that truly saves my sanity, LOL

    Great post Carolyn!

  5. April, I'm the same way - higher WC and then I trim it.

    Raelyn, it's terrific you found what works for you :) Glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. Don't worry about word count? In November? During NaNoWriMo? But...but... LOL

    However, I DO get what you're saying and I agree. Tell the story as it needs to be told...then proceed from there. I almost always have way too many words and need to cut, trim, and tidy.

  7. Hey Jennifer, I didn't the think the NaNo part through did I? LOL Actually even with NaNo, there's a target number to reach but to benefit the story we can't sit down to write and think I have to write x number of words today to catch up. During the writing process this has to leave our thinking process.

  8. Great post, Carolyn. I have to admit that at times I can be a little obsessive over WC, especially when it comes to meeting the "magic number".

  9. Glad you enjoyed the post Ken. And you brought up an interesting term the "magic number" - who defines that exactly? Is it the agents, the publishers, the readers? I believe the "magic number" is when a MS is polished to perfection and tells the story to its utmost potential.

  10. This did make me smile -- I'm one of those people who writes short, then has to go through and flesh out my skeletal first draft into a full novel.


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