3 Reasons Why Word Count is Evil

#wpad blog challenge, day 18.

Word count is evil, and I herewith propose 3 reasons why. And then (mostly) rebut myself.

1.            Word count is limiting

To be honest, this is more a personal gripe: short story competitions usually have a limit of between 1,500 to max 5,000 words. I am always above that. I didn’t learn to write to a specific word count in school, like my kids do now; it was usually the more, the better. But because I can never submit my fabulous stories of 8,000-15,000 words to any competition, I think that word count, as in word limit, is evil.

Hmm… perhaps I should consider having a closer look at my stories instead? Perhaps there is a reason for these standard-ish limits? Apart from the fact that the judges have to read hundreds or thousands of submissions and have brain space for only so many words. There is probably a reason why the short story is that short, and perhaps I should look at mine and consider whether (a) I have written too much or (b) they are really just part of a larger story.

Or perhaps I should consider these wise words which are usually attributed to Mark Twain: “Apologies for writing such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”

Writing to a word count, or writing and then trimming to meet that word count, is good training. It can help eliminate superfluous stuff. It can help focus on the essence of the story (so loglines are really a rather specific variation of word count). And it challenges my writer’s skills.

The ultimate challenge is when the word count is not a limit but the goal. Such as the #jfeme essay competition that closed yesterday: “The completed essays must be EXACTLY 500 words, excluding the title. Not over. Not under. 500 words. Strictly enforced. Get a word count.“ I think I’d actually like to try that when it comes around again.

2.            Word count blocks

Very often when I am stuck, I obsess about word count.

How many words have I written today? What, that is all? I must write more! Other writers boast 2,000, 5,000 or even 10,000 words! My daughter writes 800 words for her school essay in one hour! And I have managed only 534 since this morning… I suck… let’s count again… shucks, no, it’s still 534…

And then I am usually well and truly blocked. And count again. Which is why word count is evil.

How to rebut this? By being honest: it’s not the word count that blocks me. It’s the importance I attach to it. Which leads me to the next Evil Reason:

3.            Word count can fool you into thinking you’ve done a good day’s work

Wow, I’ve written 4,781 words today! I’m good!

Quantity, not quality?

Actually, I rarely get to that point because I agonize endlessly over the quality of my words / phrases / sentences. That’s not to say the end product is all quality – my point is that thanks to my inner censor, I rarely get to the quantity problem.

But I do see this one as a theoretical reason for evilness, and I am pretty sure it actually applies quite often. And I have no rebutatal for if and when that happens.

Word count: 534.

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