Count sheep, not words

In my first post, I mentioned that I once looked up how many words a novel should have. Then I said that the answers I read were very haunting. Well, today I’m going to tell you about this deep fear of word count.

*deep breath*

See, when I was first deciding to write a book, I didn’t know how many words a novel typically had. I knew the general page length of most novels I’ve read, but I also knew page length is affected by font size and spacing – so it couldn’t really be indicative of word count.

What I found was novels in the genre I planned to write were around 60,000-80,000 words. Some were more, some were less. But they were usually at least 60,000 words.

60,000 words. 60,000 words??

Umm, I definitely never expected novels to be that long, with that many words. But I was going to write a book, so I would just see how many words I could get.

The words were adding up in the beginning. I didn’t even have to think about it, and I had 5,000, then 10,000, then 20,000 words. They just appeared on the page. No problem. As my writing speed began to slow down, though, I started to become hyper-aware of how many words I had in my manuscript. It seemed like after every sentence, I would look over at the document word count on the bottom of my screen. When I got to about 35,000 words, I was mildly panicking.

I had already written so much, but it was only 35,000 words? A typical book is twice that length. Sure, I had other ideas to add, but would I really be able to double my word count?

I became overprotective of the words in my draft (because these are clearly the things you should be overprotective of). Every time I would add a part to my novel, I would stretch it out to be as many words as possible. If I read something in my draft I didn’t like, I wouldn’t want to take it out, because I wouldn’t want to lose those words.

It was a creativity killer.

My focus wasn’t on making my story better, but just making it longer. When I was extending sections to add unnecessary words and sentences, I knew it wasn’t bring value to my writing. When I wasn’t editing out parts that were bad, I knew I was sabotaging my work. I was so afraid that my manuscript wouldn’t be long enough; I needed more words.

So how did I overcome this haunting worry, you ask?

Well, I finally decided that having a good book was better than having a long one. When I would remove 5,000 worth of words from a chapter and replace it with 200, I would say to myself, “Yes, this section is much shorter than it used to be…but these 200 words are better than the last 5,000, so it’s worth it.”

And I learned to move on.

The best thing I did was turn the word counter off of my screen. On Microsoft Word, you can change the setting so the word count doesn’t display on your screen. What a great help that’s been. Now when I open my draft, I’m not overly focused on how many words I have. I can add or change things without stressing over how I’m affecting my length. I restrict myself to just checking the word count at the end of a writing session. Sometimes I even forget to check!

The real result is my manuscript has gotten so much longer because of this strategy. I’ve been able to focus on just telling the story, not on the length. And my draft is longer than it ever would have been before. Word count is important – vitally so – but focus on a higher word count shouldn’t lead to an inferior story.

If there’s something you should count, it’s sheep at night when you can’t sleep (assuming that actually works). But I’ve learned to not stay up all night thinking about the word count of my novel.


So there it is! Now you know my word counting fear.


2 thoughts on “Count sheep, not words

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