Writing to Word Count – Yes, You Can

The question I hear most often from new authors: “How long should my book be?”

My answer: “Long enough to tell the story.”

That may not seem like a great answer, but it’s my personal belief that it’s the most honest one. As writers we tell the stories of our hearts, the tales that live inside our minds, birthed by our soul and shaped by our life experience. We each have a story to tell, and each one is as unique as leaves on a tree. Nope, I can’t bring myself to use snowflakes. I just can’t.

Writing doesn’t come easy as most of us know. It forces us to grow in ways we never imagined. And one of the ways we grow as writers is to learn to shape our work into a particular format. Book bundles are big right now. A group of authors write short stories as a sampling of their work to invite readers to try them.

I love these. I’ve found many a new favorite author this way. In these collections the story usually has a recommended word count, say five or ten thousand words. As an author how do you make your work fit this word count?

The answer is simple. Editing. As writers one of the biggest and best things we can do for our work is also one of the most difficult. We must look at our work objectively. If you’ve written a story for inclusion into a bundle with an 8k word count and your story comes in at 12k, you need to cut some words.

“But my story will suffer!”

No, it won’t. Step back, think on it overnight or a week later if you’ve got the time. Look at the details. Character, setting, and dialogue. Does each item move the story along? Are they necessary or are they just taking up space? If they are space invaders, cut them.

The same goes for writing short. I struggle with this. If there’s an 8k word count, my story will be 6k more often than not. So I need to look at where I can add details and fill out areas that are sparse.

Read over your story to make sure the conflict is strong enough and the plot flows coherently from beginning to end. Then read it to make sure everything your characters are doing makes sense for the story line. Are their motivations believable? Review it for details, and lastly read through for those pesky adverbs, filler word, echoes and general grammar.

Part of being a professional is meeting a goal. Not making excuses for why you didn’t meet it.  As writers, we are not weak. We are strong. We tackle the hard stuff.

It takes work, but don’t shy away from the challenge, rise to it. With polish, your words will shine.

About Sutton Fox

Sutton Fox has been published by Lyrical Press, Gypsy Shadow Publishing and wrote a bi-monthly column for an auto racing magazine for several years. She traded life in Bluegrass Country for life in the Windy City in a home she shares with The Man, a lonely cat, and her beloved dog, Lucy. When she’s not working the edj, you can find her writing or spending time with her extended family.
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4 Responses to Writing to Word Count – Yes, You Can

  1. I write to word count all the time. Whether I’m writing a flash story weekly (I post them free each Friday on my blog), or writing to a contest or anthology submission, or even writing a novel, I’m writing to a word count.

    The longer I do it, I think the better I get at it and the better the story is. I am learning to write tight, to make every word count. Think of words like distilled, condensed, intense. Who wouldn’t want a story like that?

  2. Nina Croft says:

    I think Connie is right – the more you write the more you get a feel for it. I also think outlining helps – I outline to scene level – I have a good idea of my average scene length so it lets me check I’m on track for the right sort of word count.
    I also think it’s much easier to cut words than to add – so I like to aim a little long.

  3. Sutton Fox says:

    I agree, Nina. Outlining helps, although I haven’t done it to scene level yet. Excellent idea. 😉

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