Why Do Writers Have to Do Math?

Welcome to #MFRW 52-week Blog Challenge where this week the topic is Word Counts Matter…How Much? How Often? When I heard the topic, I cringed. It might be written in fancy prose, with a prompt to provoke contemplation but I smelled it for what it was—math. A necessary evil. Even for writers.

I Was Told There Was No Math Involved

I admit it. I don’t like math. In fact, part of the allure of writing, and especially paranormal and fantasy writing is the ability to be creative, and not have to follow rules. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered there were rules about writing—a lot of them.

Before I started writing back in the day when I was just a reader, I held onto that fantasy of the author pounding out a story on the keyboard and then—presto! It’s done. For some authors, perhaps, but for most there are all kinds of numbers coming at you as you create your masterpiece.

Really? More Math?

Scruff worrying about word countIf you’re counting, the numbers just keep coming. But no worries, I’ve put my algebra days behind me.

Some authors adhere to the rules meticulously, while others pick and choose what to follow. It’s the little things I’m counting that can make a big difference in the story.

Until my book baby is hitting the shelves I’m counting the…

  • First and second drafts—and then some until I’ve made new names and/or dates to distinguish just which version of the story is this?
  • Number of rounds of edits-—editing—wait, one more roundsomebody stop me!
  • Counting repetitive words-ah yes, I’ve talked about this at length here
  • Number of words in a blog post (yep, even here I’m checking word count) minimum of 500, but longer posts are coming back in style peeps. That’s good news for us long winded folk who intend to write a short piece, but then tend to digress and blather on. Hey, why are you looking at me?
  • Total number of words in a scene (at least 250-500)—a chapter (I’m aiming for 5,000)— or how many words makes it flash fiction (varies from 100-1000+)? A novella? The list goes on. (If you love math and want more word count details- here.)
    • Writer Problems—I’ve got more than 99 words and… Try telling my characters that they should aim for a certain word count per scene and chapter all while maintaining the interest of the reader with goal/motivation/conflict.
    • I’ve talked about my writing process as a panster (a writer who writes a story with little, or no plotting beforehand I.e.: by the seat of their pants) in which a story idea whispers into my ear and I sit down and—go! The characters pour out their heart and soul and I scribble it to the page. No calculators involved.

My Magic Word Count for a Novel

A novel? For me, the magic number for a novel is that it must be at least 80,000 words. Depending upon genre, some are more, or a little less but not for that calculator in my mind. Once I hit 80,000 I know I’m golden.

Now that the math talk has fussed me up and caused me to digress, let me return to the heart of the question. What does word count mean to me? Too short and I can’t get the story in and get to the happily ever after or happy for now. Too long and you lose your reader’s attention span.

Word by Word

#Word count does matter to me big time in one way, and that’s if I want to get-er-novel-done. #MFRW Click To Tweet

I learned that with my third or fourth attempt at NaNoWri. When I sat down and wrote I’d think I got a ton of words for the day and later realize it might take me 90—or more—days, instead of 30 to reach my 50,000-word goal (more numbers! Ack!) But if I wrote a minimum of 1667 per day that’s when the magic happened.

As much as I hate math, and so many numbers, I must admit keeping a word count keeps me accountable. It also can force my creativity to flow when I don’t feel like writing. Because sometimes just sitting down to the keyboard turns on that faucet.

What About You? Do You Look at Word Count When You Write? Or As a Reader Do You Prefer A Certain Length of Story?

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11 thoughts on “Why Do Writers Have to Do Math?”

  1. peggy jaegerpeggy jaeger

    Maureen- that Nano number is such a pain!! More than 1500, less than 2000 per day. I think it stinks. And when was the last time an actual novel totaled 50000? Even Harlequins are 55,000! Novellas less than 40K. I think 80000 is a great number for a novel. Unfortunately for me, I can never get one of my books below 95000 without jeopardizing the story! I love writers who can write tight and light. One of these days I hope that’s me. For now, words keep coming!

  2. Sherry LewisSherry Lewis

    Math. Ugh. Add in print runs, sell-throughs, pricing questions, production costs, promotion budgets, and all that stuff, there’s WAY more math than I expected in the life of a writer.

  3. Meka JamesMeka James

    Yep, not a fan of math either. I don’t want to count or think about that sort of thing when writing. I’m a pantser also so I rarely start my day of attempted writing with a goal in mind. Now if I’m mid-scene then I have a general idea, but still the end result is a surprise to me.

  4. Kenzie MichaelsKenzie Michaels

    Adding my voice here….I hate math. Although…..I love algebra problems….solving for X….YES! But sadly, I have issues balancing my checkbook at times. Go figure…..

  5. Mary J. McCoy-DresselMary J. McCoy-Dressel

    I’m definitely not a fan of math and never have been. I count words when it matters, like for NaNo, and I try not to make a blog post too long. When it comes to a novel, I hope for around 80,000, but I’m always above that number. I try not to dwell on the word count though I try to keep it in the back of my mind. Like your characters, mine have their own ideas.

  6. Ed HoornaertEd Hoornaert

    I have my computer count and record each day’s word total, complete with spreadsheets . . . but then, I am a math person.

  7. Alina K. FieldAlina K. Field

    I was surprised about the math for writers also! My first romance was 150K, and I was shocked when someone told me it was too long, LOL, and that I had enough material for 3 stories. That one is still under the bed. I’ll use it for kindling some day.

  1. A Day in My Life; Reality vs. Fantasy - Author Maureen L. Bonatch

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