Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson

On Word Count


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the different tools we writers have at our disposal. Like most people, I appreciate metrics. I measure my progress in a variety of different ways: word count, idea fruition, comments from beta readers, requests for more, requests for changes, and so on. A lot of times writers get stuck on word count. We obsess over it, strive to make certain numbers, as if there’s someone waiting to measure and judge how many little words we write.

There really isn’t any such jury, at least not for me. I know that I can churn out a couple thousand words in an hour if I set that as a goal. That’s not a problem. Anyone can do the same. Remember Jack Torrance from The Shining? “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” He met his word count, but to what end?

My dad always built his own furniture. Growing up, I helped him with this over and over again. Sometimes we used a hammer and nails, but sometimes we needed wood screws and a screwdriver. Sometimes we used manual saws and other times, circular saws or jigsaws. Rasps, files, awls, glue, paintbrushes, oil, steel wool, sandpaper: all these things were required for the finished product. We could never build a table without the full complement of woodworking tools.

As a writer, I’m constantly reminding myself about the absolute wealth of tools at my disposal. Ultimately, counting words is only one of those tools. I’m a sucker for sharing and feedback, but I’m also a bit of a perfectionist and want to get things right before I share them. Even though writing is a solitary effort, I have a trusted group of cohorts I turn to for feedback. Look: writing in a vacuum makes for a crowded vacuum and not much else. Where’s the fun in that? As private as I can be, I confess to being a bit of an exhibitionist with writing. It’s one reason I blog and use twitter and bug my friends to read and let me know what they think. I try not to worry so much (or crow a lot) about the number of words because in the end, it’s that combined with the story combined with the characters and characterization combined with everything else, tangible and intangible, that really matters. No one element stands on its own.

Author: G.L. Jackson

Writer, reader, amateur photographer. Mostly, I just like pretending to be a different person each day of the week.

2 thoughts on “On Word Count

  1. I’m learning to love story count. It’s harder to use word counts when I realize how incredibly much word count is variable. I’ve written more than 20,000 words to come up with the current 6642 words in the working draft of Dowse and Bleed, and the story ain’t done. It’s mulling again while I figure out what the perp was after in the first place. But seriously! The words weren’t wasted by a long shot, but they’re not going in the final work.


    • Story count, I like that. Of course, I’m making a complete liar out of myself and writing to word count right now, but it’s for a submission with a minimum/maximum word requirement. To me that’s a whole different beast than novel-writing.

      I’m pretty much convinced that no words are wasted, even if we don’t use them in the final story. They serve to further our own knowledge of our characters, our setting, or our plot: something.


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