Whether you’ve been a writer for twenty days or twenty years, you have undoubtedly heard something related to word-count.
Which is reasonable. The number of words is more significant than the number of pages; you can always tell if someone is a writer or not based on if they ask how many words are in your work, not how many pages.
I won’t deny the importance of word-count. But I begin to wonder if we’ve gone too far in the pressures of word-count goals.
I even wrote a post a while back about the word-counts of bestsellers, purely for comparison purposes. Not very healthy, is it?
I’ve seen Facebook infographics reading, “No agent is going to sign you if your book is over 100k words.”
I’ve seen people tell me on my Instagram livestreams, “My books are 50k – 60k words, they’re too short.”
We don’t even need to mention NaNoWriMo, do we?
I’ve also seen the obsession firsthand, many, many, many times.
A few years ago, back before The Girl Who Frosts the Cakes even had that title, I started researching word-counts and I panicked. My novel was 20k words “too short.” I resolved to put more time into fluffing it out.
And it worked! About a year ago I was, at last, at my ideal word-count. I delighted in daydreaming about my novel’s thick spine, up on my shelf with the other big books.
Unfortunately, I was not finished editing.
During the fifth draft, I cut 20k words. The 20k words I had spent years building up. I felt physical pain from this change, and for a while, I wondered if it was worth it.
(Spoiler alert: it was quite worth it. The book has never been better.)
I thought about where I could add another few chapters, just to fill in the gaps my darling-killing left behind; which is precisely the same mindset that gave me loads of filler I eventually had to trim.
Now that I’m in the same place I was a few years ago, with a book far shorter than I was anticipating, I’ve been thinking about this word-count comparison obsession we have as writers. I find myself DM-ing published authors to ask how many words their books have; I find myself doing the “page number X 250” calculation to find word-counts of books in the store. Just to see if my novel is good enough.
I wouldn’t feel so inadequate if I didn’t compare myself to others. And I wouldn’t compare myself to others if word-count wasn’t portrayed as such an end-all-be-all thing in the writing community.
I talked about this during a recent livestream over on Instagram, and I learned that many of you also struggle with this comparison game. I think it’s good to know that we aren’t alone in this!
If that’s you, I have some encouragement for you. These are a couple thoughts I’ve been telling myself lately, as I question the worth of my writing based on the length of the book. I hope they’re as encouraging to you as they are to me!
Additionally, scroll to read what I wrote in my journal after cutting so many words from my fifth draft.
YOUR READERS WILL NOT CARE THAT YOUR BOOK IS TOO SHORT.
Seriously. Nobody picks up a book and says, “I’d buy this if it wasn’t so short”; and nobody writes in their review, “This book was not long enough!” That is a compliment. You should be delighted to hear that!
YOU WILL NOT CARE THAT YOUR BOOK IS TOO SHORT.
Sometimes I daydream about the day I receive my first proof copy in the mail. Running out to the mailbox several evenings in a row, seizing that familiar book-shaped package at last, tearing the cardboard off, holding my work in my hands, feeling the pages and the words and the cover. My book. Finished.
I’ll probably cry.
But will I think, Eh, it’s cool, but I wish there were more pages. Of course not! In that moment, the length won’t matter to me. All I’ll care about is how I finished my book after long years of work. Isn’t that more significant than the page number?
In addition to this, here are some points I wrote in my journal when I cut 10k words from my manuscript in a single day (pictured above). I still find encouragement in these points, months later.
10 reasons it’s OKAY that my book is shorter now
- the book reads better.
- I made a lot of necessary choices.
- no one is going to call me out for it.
- if I didn’t compare myself to others, I wouldn’t be so concerned.
- when my book is in print, I won’t care how long or short it is.
- editing cost will be cheaper.
- I’m going to look back and be glad I cut so much.
- quality over quantity.
- my family will love it no matter what.
- I will love it no matter what.
I hope you find encouragement in this information. If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this:
You’re not alone in this comparison game. Remember your worth is not found in your writing: your worth found in God, and in God alone.
Hang in there, writer! Don’t let the word-count obsession hinder your success!
6 thoughts on “Is My Novel Too Short? – Thoughts on the Word-Count Obsession”
I do think a piece of writing is as long as it wants to be, or is meant to be. However, short stories, novellas, and novels have page ranges that publishers look for when submitting. For me, I write my story and stop when it feels complete. Then, I check the word count to see what category it really falls in.
I agree: there is definitely some significance to word-counts, especially in traditional publishing and genre definition. Although, it is not the most important factor. 🙂
I love this post! I really like how you say word count isn’t the end all be all, but it’s definitely something we fix upon…a lot. An awesome story is an awesome story whether it takes you 10,000 or 100,000 words to tell! At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s something readers even think about.
I’m so glad it was helpful! I agree: readers only care that the story is strong, not that the book is 600 pages long.
I loved your article, especially the part about my worth coming from God.
I didn’t really think that I obsessed over the word count. Once I learned how to keep that little pesty number displayed at the bottom of a Pages document, I thought it was normal to glance at it after every sentence that I typed, then retyped, then retyped, then deleted, then typed again. Watching the numbers rise and fall (this would be a good place for a simile but I can’t think of one).
How many words have I written in this little comment box?
Hi. My name is Sam too and I’m obsessed with word counting.
I’ve been writing a book for 6 months (okay, more like 2 years and 5 months but who’s counting.) This business is hard work. 24 hours after I’ve written something that I thought was decent, I return the next day and it reads like garbage, not even worth putting on paper. “Sam, what were you thinking when you wrote this non-sense,” I ask myself. Then I delete it.
If I was writing in the days of typewriters, my room would be full of trash cans overflowing with torn paper that I threw in one continuous arching motion from the typewriter to the trash can.
I’ve taken enough of your time. Please excuse any error above in verb tenses or other grammatical flaws. I only retyped it 10 times, well below the 20 to 25 that define my writing.
I just finished my book and it came in around 42k words. Since finishing, I’ve been obsessing that it’s too short. But, the story has been told and that’s that.
So thank you. I needed this.
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