Writing: The Mythos Of Word Counts

Especially during National Novel Writing Month, writers can get a tad preoccupied with word count. In fact, I’ve read posts by more than a handful of authors who refuse to have anything to do with NaNoWriMo because they believe it promotes the production of pointless fluff. I’m kind of in the middle on the subject. One of the reasons I’ve never participated in NaNo before is because the idea of writing 50,000 words just to write 50,000 words never appealed. I joined this year because I had a story to tell and I wanted the support of a community of writers all striving toward the same goal. Now I have a novel and I’m editing it, but word count is still something to consider.

My NaNo project is a YA paranormal. Will editors automatically discount a YA book over 100,000 words? How long is too long? I want my story told the way it needs to be told, but it won’t be told at all if they never look at because of a few thousand words. Colleen Lindsay, a one-time agent, talks about word counts at length here. Read her post. It’s highly informative, covering not only the rules, but the exceptions to those rules. It talks about editor’s expectations and the exceptions sometimes made for bestselling and series authors.

This information is useful. It’s a good guideline and a good goal. Just be careful about letting it become the be-all end-all of your writing. Another post I found at a blog called The Writer’s Alley talks about how an obsession with the literal word count can be a detriment to your work. If you’re too stuck on the tally at the bottom of the screen, you’ll end up cutting scenes that shouldn’t go or adding scenes just to fill the “quota.” Word count is an important factor, but your story is more important. If your book is not the best you can make it–with whatever word count is necessary–then how many words you have won’t matter. Write the best story you can and then polish it until it shines. Whatever the word count, it will find a home eventually.

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