Word counts that work


We are at the letter W in our series on “Authors’ Tips – A to Z of Writing

If you’ve read the previous posts on the subject, you’ll recall that the eight of us – Devika Fernando, Preethi Venugopala, Paromita Goswami, Adite Banerjie, Ruchi Singh, Sudesna Ghosh, Saiswaroopa Iyer and I – are blogging on a myriad of writing-related topics with the topic corresponding to the Alphabet of the Week.

This week I’m going to talk about word counts and what they could mean to you as a reader and as a writer.

What word count can mean to a reader:
How long is this story? Do I really want to read such a short/long story? Some like it long – they feel cheated by shorts and novellas; others want to get through a book in one night, or on the train ride home, so they shudder at epic word counts.

For authors, though, word counts can mean two things:

How many words do you need to put down so that you can do justice to the story?


How many words do you need to write on a daily basis so that you can do justice to yourself as an author and to your readers who are chaffing at the bit for your next release.

(Does that last bit sound like wishful thinking? I hope not.)

Let’s start with the first issue. How long should a romance novel be?

The simple answer is: there is no need to worry excessively about it.

Unless you are aiming for a traditional publisher who needs a certain specific word count, just do justice to your story without counting the words you put down, then, edit out the redundant stuff, flesh out what needs fleshing out, edit out some more, and there you are, you have your ideal word count.

If you insist on a number, I hear that a novella could be anything from 20,000-40,000 words, while romance novels vary in size from 50,000 to 80,000 words.

When I was writing my very first romance for Mills and Boon, I was asked to aim for 50,000 words in the first draft – but, naturally, the count went up and down as edits progressed.

That was in 2014 and I’ve since re-vamped it – the word count of ‘Take One Fake Fiance…and add a dash of desire’ stands at about 54,000 words today, which is just perfect for Mita and Tanay’s story.


The other vexing problem is about the daily word count. Should authors set a target?

I don’t – sadly. I would love to. Setting a daily target is known to drive writing. Maybe not great writing, especially when you’re doing it at the behest of a tyrannical clock, but still, you’re getting the words down and that has to be better than not writing.

Where fiction writing is concerned, there are some days I don’t write any words at all, but that’s because I’m focusing on designing questionnaires and workshops, and what not. That is stuff to do with my medical researcher/teacher work and it is the reason I don’t set a daily target for my fiction writing.

Many authors do really well with daily targets and if you are one of them who can’t write unless the clock is urging them to it, I would suggest setting yourself a target of 500 words a day. No point setting up a huge target and then kicking and cursing because you couldn’t achieve it.

Tips and tricks

Remember that you also have to research and observe and dream and edit/delete and do all sorts of other stuff for the book that doesn’t involve writing so don’t beat yourself up about daily word count goals. If you can’t keep up with daily goals, set weekly goals instead. Yes you can – there’s no law against it. Yet.

Do not compare yourself to other, more prolific authors. You do what works for you. I mean, sure, discipline helps, if  prolific author Devika Fernando is to be believed: if you sit down to it in every day at the same time, in a nice soothing place with no distractions, and with the internet switched off (unless you need to research), you may be able to make the keyboard hum. It is not impossible to write 10,000 words a day, consistently, just that I haven’t ever done it. Sigh!

Author friend, Preethi Venugopala, uses the Pomodoro technique, where she sets a timer and writes in multiple bursts of 25 minutes at a time.

If you’re plotters, like author pals Adite Banerjie and Sudesna Ghosh, it helps to prepare an outline of your story first and then to put the words down – there’s less time wasted on wondering what should happen next, which means more words down.

I like setting up targets with my writer friends – I find it motivates me to sit down and write. The other thing that works for me is visualizing scenes and dialogues at night, after lights-out, while I lie in bed waiting for sleep. It’s an enjoyable exercise and it has me all set to spew out the words when I do sit down at the keyboard the next day.

Tell me what you do.

Do you have a set word count for your books or do you play it by ear?

And what about the daily word count? Does having a target drive you crazy or does it drive your writing forward?

Read other posts related to Authors’ Tips – A to Z of Writing.

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