Updated: Sep 26, 2019
Word Count is one of those things that should be adhered to, but not so religiously you lose sleep over it. Writing is supposed to be enjoyable - not feel like a chore!
Word count is one of those much disputed concerns amongst the author community. How many words should my novel be?
Well, the answer to that is obvious: how long does it need to be?
There’s no point stressing about word count, in my opinion. You should write what feels natural, come to a natural end, and write as freely as you want. If you limit yourself to 80,000 words for a novel, but by half-way you’re on 60,000, it’s going to reduce the impact your storytelling will have.
I always think it’s better to have too much than too little. That way you can always cut down on the unnecessary superfluous language/description/dialogue/scenes/chapters.
So then, the question is: how do you reach that total word count in the first place?
Well, we all have our own ways of working (I certainly have mine here), and what’s to follow is not to be taken as gospel. Similarly, this post is completely dependent on your circumstances. Again, everyone’s is different.
Today’s world of 9-6 jobs, commuting, family, friends, socialising – all of it! – means that we are continuously running out of time for ourselves to become better writers and, indeed, readers so we are able to understand the craft. You may have a full-time job with mouths to feed at home, or there might be a new TV series that you want to watch and so you put it before anything else (this, however, is a poor excuse not to be doing any writing), and so you simply find you don’t have enough time to seriously get down and churn some words out.
But you have to make time; yours is precious and so you should be making the most of it. My philosophy in life is to do what you want, and if you’re not happy then change. Easier said than done, I’m aware, but it’s the little stylistic changes you can make in your day-to-day that make it more enjoyable.
In terms of writing, then, it is important to make the time because you want to be writing, you want to do something you enjoy, and you’re good at it, so bloody well make the time! All I ask, is that so long as at the end of the day you are satisfied that you have created enough of your story, or filled in some plot holes, developed some characters, extended the plots, or edited some more of your manuscript – so long as you have done any of these things, then you have had a successful day. Even if you have only an hour to spare or half an hour to spare, then getting those words down on a page is enough. Like Stephen King said,
If you write 300 words a day for a year, then you’ll have yourself a novel.
But if you are serious about becoming an author, then 300 is not enough. Once you begin writing in the short space of time you have, then the proverbial creative juices might just start flowing and you will find you don’t want to watch the next episode of Sherlock or Game of Thrones because you’re so indulged in your work that you won’t care about any(one)thing else! Plus, giving yourself a short amount of time and putting yourself under some sort of pressure will make you more productive – at least, that’s what my lecturer told me once…maybe he was just trying to get me to come up with the answer to his question to hurry the process along.
I think a perfect example of this in action is the gym. You go there for an hour (maybe less, maybe more depending, but the premise still stays the same), and in the time that you are there you are focused and make the most of the workout. Or, on the other hand, you leave after feeling as though you haven’t done enough. The same can be said for writing, if you use the time effectively (no matter how little it may be), then you will feel more satisfied with what you have done.
This leads me on to my next point - how much is enough? As a rule, I generally like to stick to 2,000 words a day, sometimes giving myself the weekend to reduce this amount to about 1,000, maybe less, or maybe even taking weekends off, depending on how well the week has gone with respect to other aspects of my writing. But anything under that, then I feel like I haven’t done enough, and that I haven’t used my time efficiently. Now, perhaps 2,000 words may sound like a lot to you, but that is fine, and in some ways it is – in context, keeping to a rate of 2,000 words a day would mean that a decent length novel of 80,000-90,000 words (this is also dependent on the genre in which you write, but as rule) would be completed in as little as two months. This is a good pace to maintain considering 90,000 words is a hefty amount and is quite an achievement, even for the most prolific of authors.
But there is an issue that comes with this: how much is too much? How high can a daily word count goal be? In essence, anything over 4,000 is too much, because the quality of your work will significantly reduce and you will put unnecessary stress on yourself to complete that word count (which will, in turn, hinder the decency of your prose, as well). It would just be a vicious cycle!
Think of it as little baby steps; begin with <1,000 words and then once you have mastered your technique and ability to maintain the same level of prose, then increase and increase until you have a comfortable word count threshold that you are able to hit almost every day, that way your quality will stay the same and you won’t have any unnecessary pressures on yourself, allowing you to focus on other things in your day, and in your life.
Your future manuscript will thank you for it!