Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Word Counts - The Creative Process

Nope, "The End" does NOT count towards your final word count, Joey. Nope, no matter how much you wish it did. I don't know about you guys, but I like to have a predicted word count. I know some authors do it and others just go with the flow. I also know that it's a big thing in regards to Nanowrimo where the end goal is to have over 50,000 words. I do something similar. I estimate that each chapter should be between 2,000 & 2,500 words and tally up the chapter count when I make my plan. The total is then my goal.

Now, it's really easy to get caught up in the trick of worrying about filling space with meaningless fodder to up the word count. I have never, since I started calculating my predicted word count, been below count before. I haven't always kept track of the word count of each chapter. However, like many writers, I've picked up some tricks along the way that, for better or worse, have become my routine with planning. Some of them are great and make sure that I stay on target and keep my continuity lines straight. Others not so much.

I'll tell you about some of them another time, but for the purpose of this piece, I'll stick to the word count related ones. Before, when I started a book, I didn't keep track of how many words each chapter had. I still don't do that really. What I *do* do though is keep a running tally of where I am in regards to the end word count tally. Right now in front of me is the chapter plan for book nine. I can see how many pages each chapter is, what pages they are in the document and also how many words I have in total at the end of each chapter. This helps me tremendously at times and other times, it causes me great anxiety and concern.

See, I predict for book nine that I will be at about 100,000 words. Or I did when I first started. I wrote that prediction at the top of the chapter plan. This book in particular hasn't been that much trouble in regards to the total words because the chapters have been using more words than book ten does in the same amount of pages. Now, usually around half way through the book, I'll look at the word count and my prediction and I'll work out if I need to increase it or if I'm on target. Sometimes, I'm over target and I cheerfully tell myself I'm doing a good job. That's not the problem here, it's when I'm under target that I start to get into trouble.

I start to worry, panic even. What if I don't manage enough words? I can't just fill the book with useless words to make it on target, can I? Am I missing a huge piece of plot? Is that why I'm below target? I get myself worked up into a tizzy about it all and the calm and rational side of my brain doesn't get a chance to speak because I'm too busy fretting. I know people who do Nanowrimo have the same issues, but here's something I've learnt when I listen to the calm and rational side of my brain.

Word counts are not going to make or break your story. If you can tell it in 40,000 words and it's fleshed out to the point of it being a good story - people. won't. care. Word counts are just numbers. Sure, it's a good idea to have a target, but not meeting it will not spell the end of your writing days. Some stories use fewer words. Some writer's tell a story in a more words than others. As long as your story is not just "Here''s a character. Stuff happened. Met another character. They got married. Lived happily every after. The end." then I guarantee that you are doing your story justice even if you feel it should be longer. As a reader, I prefer people not to add a chapter just for the sake of the word count. Yes, there are some chapters that may not seem central to the plot, but are still needed, but still, you can't have your character read aloud a really long piece of prose just for the sake of it. And if you do, that shouldn't count towards your word count because they're not your words. (Or they might be, but you get what I mean.)Anxiety about how good your story is, that's normal. But it should be more about the content and the way you've written your tale. It should be able the actual story and not just because you wanted a 50,000 word story and it came in at 49,000. Everyone writes differently and part of being a writer is finding the way YOU want to tell that story. Be that at 40K, 50K, 100K or even only 30K. So, don't fret about the final word count. After all, it is just a number and not a reflection on you personally.

Now, I need to find 2,000 words before the end of the day or I'm done!

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