Is It Really Necessary to Determine Your Estimated Word Count Prior to Writing?

A quick update on the short story writing challenge:

I’m happy to say that the short story writing challenge is going very well. It’s really given me an opportunity to hone my skills even further and strengthen some of my weaknesses. Having consistent feedback and critiquing has also been super helpful along the way!

So far the story is just over 10,000 words! I was aiming for 7,500, but…this specific story just needed more words to be told well. Which brings about the question: Is it really necessary to determine your estimated word count prior to writing?  

word count

When writing a book, or even a short story, I’ve always had an idea of how long I want the finished project to be. I would take my estimated final word count, divide by average number of scenes, and so on…

But does knowing the word count and scene count from the start really matter? What if you start writing a novel but the story can be told effectively in just 15,000 words—with even more impact? Then, you’ll have a novelette instead of a novel, and maybe adding more words for the sake of length would take something away from the story.

On the other hand, what if you start writing what you think is going to be a short story—maybe 5,000-7,500 words—but then 12,000 words into it you realize you’re only halfway there—the story needs more words to be told effectively?

I know for die-hard outliners it’s imperative to know the estimated number of scenes and words from the get-go. I understand that. But the more I write, the more I’m finding myself somewhere in the middle of being an outliner and pantser. I want to have a general idea of the story I’m writing, I want to see the arc of the story, but then I want to let the story take me where it wants to go. Knowing the general idea, the major points I need to hit, the arc, and where I want to begin and end up is my guide (my loose outline). You can read more about the process my co-author and I use in this article:

How We Use Fence Posts to Plan Our Writing

What I’m saying is that if there’s a story fighting to get out onto paper, then just write it. Don’t worry about trying to fit the story into specific parameters of word counts. Just write it and it will develop into what it’s supposed to be.

Have you ever started writing what you thought was going to be a short story but instead turned into a novel or vice-versa? Share in the comments below!

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