Words, pages – who’s counting?

I am, and obsessively so.  I’ve tried to work out averages and it’s not easy to do.  What’s the average paperback length?  What’s the average word count per page?  What does that work out as when you multiply it by pages?  Why am I so worried about it?

If trying to work out averages and finding it hard to do so should teach me anything, it’s that every novel, every story, is different and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s fifty or a hundred thousand words.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s three hundred or a thousand pages.  There will be as many words, as many pages as the story needs.

I think I’ve heard too many times and probably in fiction anyway, that a publisher has paid an advance for the next hundred thousand words and am trying to somehow live up to that imaginary requirement.  I don’t have a publisher.  I don’t have a brief to fulfil.  I have a vision in my head that wants to be written down and that is all.

Of course the dream is that a publishing house snaps up my vision and then I sell the movie rights and retire on it.  But that’s just as imaginary as the brief I’m somehow writing to, especially if I spend so much time counting that I never write anything!

I’ve passed the half-way mark in my self-imposed requirements and I’m trying not to view that in still a long way to go sort of way.  I don’t find it a chore.  I love writing.  I love it when I read back over what I’ve written and think actually, I wrote that and I’m really pleased with it.  Why then do I always return to the reasons to be hard on myself?  Is that normal writerly (yes, I know that’s not really a word but it should be) behaviour?  Is it just that these days everyone has the means to voice their opinions on these things so publicly?  There are an awful lot of question marks in this post!  Do, please comment whether you have an answer or another question for the pot.  I can’t be the only one that worries about achieving an unspecified goal.


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About julietmchugh

Fiction writer from the North East of England with a taste for the gruesome and macabre.

8 responses to “Words, pages – who’s counting?”

  1. tanja1986 says :

    Thank you very much Juliet!

    This helps a lot and you speak true words here! A writer should write the story that is in his head! A story can be short or long, but it always needs as many words it takes to complete it! 🙂

    And thank you for your vote on my page! 🙂

    Best wishes, Tanja

    • julietmchugh says :

      So glad this is of help to you. Realised I was chasing my tail. Couldn’t work out an average because there is no average. I still track word count but I use it to balance my sections and not as a stick to beat myself 🙂 When you write, you’re sharing a part of yourself. I’d always take note if someone said something was too wordy or not wordy enough, but the general overall length is up to the story as it pours out of my soul 🙂

  2. Roni says :

    thank you for this post, it really ‘speaks to my condition’… which for the most part is verbose. The story or the characters always have a mind of their own, at least that’s what happens when I’m doing my best.

    • julietmchugh says :

      The story should have a life of its own, and the characters minds of their own. That way it becomes a world your readers step into full of people they get to know.

      If your editor says it’s too much, pay attention, they have a way of being right. Listen to feedback when you’re ready to show your work, but in the meantime write your little heart out. You’ll probably really agree with suggested changes more because you haven’t already made it hard for yourself by doing what anyone else wanted to begin with 🙂

  3. Robert Perry says :

    Wonderful blog. Thank you for sharing. I agree with Tanja: write the story until it is finished. Don’t obsess over the word count. It will take care of itself. If you have a tale to tell, write it until you and your characters agree it is finished.
    Now, sometimes as an exercise, try writing a story in one page, or two. Or even set a limit of 1000 words. It will help you to condense your language and get to the point of the story quickly. But these are just exercises.
    Again, thanks for sharing.

    • julietmchugh says :

      Well that’s it exactly. There are no hard and fast rules. I did a LOT of investigation. By day, I’m a technical author writing succinctly under very strict guidelines and formats.

      Some of the most beautiful writing consists of long sentences perfectly punctuated. Brevity might be the sole of wit, but I’m not telling jokes or writing a wiki. I’m describing a person, a feeling, a situation.

      When I write, I’m there. I smell the cloying stench of the thick, warm, viscous blood as it drips with a flat, heavy pit-pat to the floor in a glossy pool of vermilion. 28 words, but all of your senses engaged. If I stick to that form though, my novel will be a pamphlet. Writers should not be afraid to be expansive. It’s much easier to trim than to fatten up. If only that were true in the dietary sense 🙂

      • Robert Perry says :

        Very true and I do agree with the notion of a story being descripive. What i am wrestling with now is the readibility vs the eloquence of the story. A recent series of articles in Writer’s Digest pointed out that todays readers want simpler and less convoluted sentences. I am a descriptive horror writery my works heavily influenced by Poe. Now, however, I am weighing my own style with marketability. I don’t like it, but if you want your works to sell, you must find a compromise between the two ends. I am finding it a tough road. I wrote a
        few blogs about it. You are welcome to check them out.

      • julietmchugh says :

        Srite it, re-write it, hone it but until YOU are happy with it. People have become accustomed to tabloid journalism style and that’s a shame. The English language is the richest in the world with so many roots. But look how many people are still gobbling up the classics. You know, those books where infinitives are not split and sentences do not end with prepositions? I want to read what an author writes, not what they think I want to read 🙂

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