Word counts. A metric many of us writers become obsessed with. How many words did I write today, this week, this month, this year? Do I count new words for my revision when I’ve just deleted an entire page, scene, or chapter? Do I delete the cut words from my overall word count? Do word counts even matter? How the hell can one tell a story in just 500 words or less? How the hell can someone tell a story in more than 2,000 words? Those two little words sound simple but can cause a lot of anxiety for some.
To me there are two definitions of word count. The first one is the one which refers to actual word production or output. This year is the first year I’ve personally started to track my output. It’s kind of eye-opening in many respects. My own personal rule is to only count new words written in relation to a novel, short story, or blog post. I don’t count other stuff like FB posts or writing in my personal journal. At first I thought this made a lot of sense but whenever I revise, how the heck do I count that? I still haven’t quite figured it out and doubt I will by the end of the year.
Another thing that opened my eyes is by keeping track of my approximate production, I see just how much or little I write. I admit I don’t write every day since I like to let things sit for a bit, have an inability to juggle a bunch of stories at one time, or if I’m doing research. And occasionally real life wants in like knocking me down with a migraine or something else.
It’s interesting seeing how much I’ve gotten done by month. For example, for the first quarter of this year I wrote approximately 105,518 words. That’s a lot but doesn’t tell the whole story. January and February, when I was focused on working on my novel’s rough draft, my production was huge while March’s numbers were much smaller. But while March’s numbers weren’t big, that doesn’t necessarily translate into being less productive because I drafted, finalized, and submitted one story as well drafting two other stories for upcoming deadlines. That’s a lot more ‘storytelling’ if you will, then what took place in January and February.
The other definition of word count is one defined by guidelines from various publishers. Flash fiction is usually any story with a count of up to 1,000 words. To be considered a short story, the word count can be up to 20,000 words although I personally have yet to see any calls for stories anywhere near that length. 10,000 words max is the highest limit I’ve seen and that’s only be a scant few times. The average seems to be from 1,000 to 5,000 words. Within the novella camp, the word count definition gets even more confusing. Again, depending on whoever’s guidelines an author is looking at, a novella can be up to 40,000 words. Or more. Who knows. And when talking about novels, that’s wide open. Some shorter works like Eli Wiesel’s Night I’ve seen classified as a novel even though it’s about 100 pages. Yet there are plenty of books well north of 600, 770, 800, or 900 pages.
Numbers and writers don’t mix usually so throwing out that simple term word count is scary. It’s amazing to think regardless if a writer bangs out a ton of words in a year or relatively little that both paths can lead to success. Or those people I know who can easily tell a story is as few words as possible while I feel utterly incapable of telling a story in no less than 3,000 words can lead to success.
With word counts in all their forms, whether personal or professional, we once again see that there is no one correct, or easy, path to success. Just make every word count.