Today’s writing tip is about the importance of word count. Boring word count. How can it matter? Most people don’t even know what it is, and those that do, think it’s just an “aside”. It doesn’t matter.
Or does it?
Let’s get that question out of the way. Yes, word count matters. It is an aside, yes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. The fact that most readers don’t know about your word count doesn’t say that they don’t care. Knowing and caring about something is different, of course. Some people might not know the technical term. Maybe they don’t even think of it. But if you don’t have a suitable word count, hurry. You’ve got to fix it up, and fast.
But first things first: what is a word count?
The definition of word count
Word count is nothing more than the length of a piece, whether it is a novel, a story, a blog post, a magazine article or a sales letter. The type of the work matters because its word count is affected by it. For example a novel will always be longer (80,000 words) than a magazine article (usually 1000 words).
In the same way, some types of novels will be longer than others. A short story is usually over 1000 words but also less than 20,000 words. So there are short stories of word count ranging anywhere between them. What about novels? There are 50,000 word novels. These are basically the shortest ones. There are 80,000 ones, 100,000 ones, and even 120,000 ones. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 257,000 words long. It (the length) depends. But upon what? Keep reading…
Why is word count important?
Word count is important because it helps you select your readers. For example, if you write a novel and it is long, about 100,000 words long, then naturally there will be some readers to whom it is not suitable (just because of the word count). Readers’ examples include children who are interested in the novel itself but can’t read due to the high word count. If your novel appears too big in shelves, you know you’ve got a problem because you automatically exclude a number of people.
In contrast, if you’ve got a low word count, then your work will be more suitable for some people and not for others. Of course, you must make it as concise as possible: this is necessary when writing anything in the world. But you have the risk of it appearing too thin on the shelves (if it is published, that is).
Note: The word count is not the only deciding factor why your work is suitable for some and not for others. It is just one of many. The most deciding factor is usually the content of the work itself.
Word count for nonfiction
Nonfiction can be shorter or longer than fiction: once again, it depends. There are fat books which you have trouble picking up (and the risk of dropping it) and then there are short articles which end before you read them. These examples are extreme, yes, but it goes to say that there is no given word count for anything, even nonfiction.
Want examples of this? Blog posts. In this sub category of nonfiction (online nonfiction) there is so much types and subtypes that it would make your head spin. Some bloggers only write 250 word posts. Some go the extra mile and bang out more than 1000 words of content (I fall in the latter category). Articles? Pretty much the same thing. No given formula at all, but well, nothing is guaranteed in the world of writing. Or maybe there is. Only one thing. Or maybe another list of ten steps which is sure to work out…
Have an appropriate word count for your readers
This is totally up to you. I only want to say that a wrong word count always manages to mess things up. You should generally know how much word count your work has when you write. If you write in Microsoft Word, the newer versions show up your word count as you type in the status bar of the window (it changes dynamically when you type).
If you’ve got a short word count for those who prefer short word counts, then it’s great. Same thing if you’ve got a long word count for those who prefer them. It all depends on the content anyway, and if you’ve really got something good then you’ll get exceptions. In this case, word count doesn’t matter — it really is an aside. You should be more worried about making your writing concise.
What’s the point of word count?
To be honest, if word count hampers your creativity, you shouldn’t focus on it. It’s that simple. Word count is something that requires attention in the editing and proof reading stage. If you’re typing out a first draft, forget word count. Forget structure. Get the thing finished first, as it goes: “First get it written, then get it right.”
Have Your Say
Not many writers write about word count. Many people don’t even know what is. This article solves that problem. So please spread the word about it (tweeting and stumbling it will be helpful).
What are your thoughts on word count? Be sure to share them in the comments.
This article is the second of the Writing Tips: How to Write Better. Don’t forget to subscribe for more.