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LK Griffie

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Young Writers Series: The Counting Game
by LK Griffie   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, March 13, 2009
Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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This is the eighteenth in a series of articles about fiction writing aimed at young writers. This article focuses on word counts and how to use them, or not as the case may be.

Writers tend to think about the lengths of things they are doing in the number of words. For a journalist, this is something that is often dictated to them by their editor based on the space that needs to be filled. "I need a hundred word piece" or "Put 500 words on paper about. . ." and within that scope the journalist knows whether they are being asked to do a feature length, filler, or somewhere in between.

The same type of counting game applies to the world of non-journalistic writing, because the word count determines whether the work is considered a short story, novella, or novel. A novel is generally a length of writing of 50,000 words or more. Less than 50,000 is considered a novella, and under 30,000 a short story. Now, if I were writing adult fiction, I could make the length as long as I needed it to be and not have to be concerned with word count, within reason. But, since I write for the young adult market, I have to watch the length of my novels to make sure they don't get too long. One thing that I never have to worry about is whether or not I will make it to the 50,000 word mark. I always have to cut my length.

To give you an idea - Misfit McCabe is 66,900 words in length, and that was after I hacked some stuff out of it and trimmed the scope. In general, young adult novels run 40,000-75,000 words, the younger the target audience the fewer the words. Since my target audience for Misfit McCabe is really older tweens to young, young adults, 66,900 is on the long side, but I needed that many words to tell the story. And the story is far more important than the number of words on the page.

The important thing is not to get hung up on how many words you are writing, while you are in the writing mode. Even though you have a goal for the number of words that you expect your story to be, and one way to objectively measure writing is by the number of words, the best advice I can give you is that when you are writing a story, use the number of words that it takes to tell it. Or to put it another way, tell your story and forget about things like word counts. After you finish getting everything down is when you get to play around with trimming unnecessary bits out, or adding things in to flesh it out. There are general rules as to length, but the best length is the one that gives the story you wanted to tell.

For me, it's kind of fun to take a look back at the number of words I have written when I come to the end of a writing session. But that's all I use it for. There have been days when it has taken me longer to write 10 words than to write 500, because those 10 were crucial to me and I needed to work through them. How long is 500 words? By the question mark of that last sentence, I had put 527 words down in this article. If you notice that checking the number of words that you have written during a writing session is starting to cause you some anxiety, then don't count them. The simple count of words has nothing to do with the measure of your success as a writer, so don't let the sheer number dictate whether or not you feel a sense of accomplishment.

I remember being impressed as a young teen by a movie on the life of George Sand, whose real name was Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, and she later became the Baroness Dudevant. To this day, the thing I remember the most was that she was so disciplined in her writing that she wrote 30 pages a day. The sheer volume of that number began to haunt me because I felt like I could never measure up to writing that amount in one sitting. Plus, she was doing it with pen in hand and not on a keyboard. I then came to realize that I didn't have to keep up with George Sand, that each writer has their own method of writing and it wasn't a competition.

November is the month for the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) competition. This competition centers around writing by volume. The goal? To write a minimum of 50,000 words during the 30 day month. That averages out to be 1,667 words a day. The expectation? That a lot of garbage will be written during those 50,000 or more words. The purpose is to get people writing and forces the writer to write without editing. If you attempt to write and edit while you are writing, you are almost guaranteed Not to reach the 50,000 mark during the month. This helps you when you are not participating in the competition because has helped train you to write while the creative juices are flowing. Once you have captured the words on the page, you can always go back and edit them.

How do I count the number of words? It's simple - I don't. I use Microsoft Word for my writing and from the Tools menu is a word count function, so I simply highlight the section I want to count and use the count function and it tells me. It also gives the detail of how many characters with and without spaces. Just remember, word counts only become important after you've done the creative work of the actual story writing itself. And they are only important to help classify what you have written, so you know what category to submit the work under. (973 words)



LK Gardner-Griffie
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