Blood to Ink: I am Haunted by Word Count

It looms menacingly in my mind. I look over my shoulder and it glares back at me with red, nefarious eyes. I hear the constant wail of its banshee-like call. I see the numbers in my dreams.

Not enough. Too much. 49,567. 679. 1,099. 44. 76,982. And worst of all: 0.

That darned blinking cursor, teasing, mocking.

I am haunted by word count. Every writer shares a similar fate. Whether writing a blog post, an article or a whole book, word count is the thing that keeps us going and that terrorizes along the way.

Some facts about word count:

1 – My Book Matters columns are typically 700-1,200 words long. I try to keep them around 700-800 for reading ease, unless the subject matter demands more or it’s a book list.

2 – My book reviews on this blog are usually around 200-300 words. I like to keep them short because we are all bombarded by information during the day and are more likely to read a short, to-the-point review then a lengthy, in-depth exploration.

3 – The standard board book has a count of 0-50 words and picture books from 50 – 1,000, depending on the type of picture book.

4 – The typical middle grade novel is between 35,000-45,000 words long.

5 – The normal young adult novel is between 55,000 – 75,000 words long.

6 – Most standard adult novels are between 80,000-100,000 words long.

7 – First time writers should try to keep their manuscripts on the lower end of these estimates. Typically agents and publishers do not want to look at a picture book that is 1500 words or a debut young adult novel that is 115,000 words long.

8 – However, genre fiction, like science fiction and fantasy, sometimes allows for higher word counts. Do some research into the typical word counts for books similar to yours.

9 – Find a balance. Word count is not as important as content; content comes first. But always remember that there is beauty in brevity. Do not say in 100 words what can be said perfectly in 50.

10 – Always remember that less is more. (Yes, I know I repeated myself, but it’s an important point!)

Bottom-line is writers must always be in tune with our word count to make our writing readable and to meet the needs of our audience. It is a necessary evil, but it is also a tool that can be used to our advantage.

Don’t discount your word count.

By the way the word count for this post is…431.

Do you struggle with word count? How do you deal with keeping things within a set word count?


8 thoughts on “Blood to Ink: I am Haunted by Word Count

  1. Being a software developer for a financial firm I'm not permitted to hate numbers, but as a writer I most certainly do. I write mostly fantasy and even within that (more forgiving) genre, my count is too high. My problem of late, having recognized this fact, is that I find myself cutting as I write, skipping scenes I intended to show and so forth. It can diminish the creative spark and put the internal editor on overtime.I'd love to hear your thoughts on methods of cutting words without sacrificing the content.

  2. Thanks, Jeff! I think writing is all about decisions, especially the decisions of what is the most important thing to your story or article or whatever. When my word count gets too high I have to decide what is the most important thing, what do I absolutely have to keep and then it's a little easier to cut out excess. Of course, as writers, it's never easy to cut words we have written, but part of being a good writer is learning the art of decision making. When we make the right decisions the content will be great and hopefully word count stays in check. This helps keep the creative spark focused instead of raging out of control 🙂

  3. Every time I write I seem to be obsessed with how many words I'm writing. I don't write often enough and feel like it's slow going, with word count as proof. It makes my day when my word count is above average. I think what I need to do is just write the scenes I'm thinking of and stop looking at the numbers. Then by the time I look at them they'll have added up and it will seem like so much more.

  4. That is a great idea, Emily! Sometimes I find myself more worried about word count than what I'm actually writing, so I have to step back, ignore the count for a while and come back to what really counts 🙂

  5. Great post, Teri! I totally agree. I feel like I'm always going over what I should be for word count, both with my work articles and when I write for Deseret Connect. Sometimes it's hard to be precise, but I have noticed with articles the shorter ones are more readable and there is usually ways to cut down sentences. With writing my book, though, it is totally different! A whole new ball game!

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