anxiety

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Word Count Anxiety

Many of you have been concerned with word counts the past few weeks. I didn’t officially do NaNoWriMo, but I have been cranking out a fresh piece of writing. And as always, I’m haunted by the conviction that it’s too short.

Thing is, I’m not usually short of words. My first four novels are all well over 100,000 words. In fact, the second and third were once a 235,000-word monster that I clove into two smaller monsters.

And yet, when I set out to write something more ambitious than a blog post or flash fiction piece, there’s an imp on my shoulder whispering, “It’s too short! It won’t have enough depth. Come on, flesh out that paragraph a bit. How about some dialogue? They can talk about alchemy again, can’t they?”

I write my first drafts by hand, with pen on paper, so at that stage I never have an exact word count. But I know that 15 pages of my scribble adds up to about 7,500 words, so I’m always counting pages. When I hit ten and still have several key scenes to complete the story or a chapter, I smile and relax. Once the manuscript plumps up, I know I’ll have enough material to work with.

Because when it comes to editing and rewriting, I like having too many words. Cutting stuff is easier than crafting new material from scratch and figuring out where to wedge it in. In my finished scenes, however imperfect, sentences and paragraphs fit tightly to those preceding and following. Writing is sort of like making a piece of furniture or a garment, where skimpiness is bad news. Adding new material means having to disassemble the work, unpicking the seams or prying apart tightly-fitted joints — a painful process.

Strangely enough, though, I don’t have a problem moving things around. Words, sentences, paragraphs, even entire scenes. Once they’re finished, they acquire an integrity that helps them survive my whims.

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What about you, fellow word-crafters (and NaNoWriMo survivors) — do you agonize over word counts? Do you end up with too many words or too few?