A writer’s job is to tell a story. Words are the medium. A writer jabs his brush into his pallet of words and begins to paint a picture one word at a time. I feel that my first effort was a good one and is one that I am proud of, but one thing that I pay closer attention to these days is how much “paint is going on my canvas.” I am more careful about the words I use.
I am a big fan of using only the words you need to tell your story—word counts be damned! In high school I had an English teacher who would answer the how-long-does-it-have-to-be question with, “As long as a piece of rope.” It seems that many would-be authors are asking a similar question wanting to know what’s a respectable word count for a full length novel. I asked the same question. I guess a first time writer needs a target to shoot for.
The general answer is a shifting one and ranges anywhere from a minimum of 60,000 – 75,000 for a short novel to 80,000 and beyond for a more substantial one. The trend seems to be towards heftier books, but I am not convinced that longer is always better. When I wrote my first book I have to admit that I was obsessive about at least reaching the 60,000 word threshold. I made it to 67,000 words with a sigh of relief.
There are so many ways to market your work these days that I think a word count should be less of a concern than the quality of content. Magazine fiction, Kindle Singles (e-published short stories), Young Adult fiction, short story compilations, novellas, the internet, etc. You may not even be interested in charging for your work, in which case you need not be concerned with length at all.
I find that I have a bad habit with redundancy, saying the same thing twice. So I have to periodically go back through my writing on a search and destroy mission removing all the weaker repetitions. Keep it tight. If it doesn’t pertain, leave it out. In a nod to Mr. Knox, my eleventh grade English teacher, take only the amount of rope needed for the job.