Writers love to count their words, and that’s a good thing. Let’s just get that onto the table right away.
I count my words. So does my friend Harry, and my friend Kelly, and my friend Rachel. If you spend a lot of time writing, sometimes it’s the only way to measure the amount of work you’ve accomplished. Folks who work in a skilled trade like carpentry have it easy in that sense; at the end of the day, they can clearly see and touch what they’ve build.
Writers count words to measure how far they’ve walked into a story. But here’s the catch: word count isn’t the end goal. Sure, you might set out to plan a novel and decide it’s going to clock in at around 90,000 words. In that sense, your daily count is not just a look back, but a look forward. “I’m 25% of the way there!” you’ll tell yourself. And that’s also good.
Some people, though, think it’s more important to prioritize brevity over clarity and art. Their logic is simple: why would anyone want to read a 15,000 word review when they can read one that’s only 1,000 words long? They believe that the shorter the piece the better it is, that somehow using less words makes the work more admirable and praiseworthy. And they’re wrong.
Why? Because size doesn’t matter; intent and skill are the key. If you don’t like reading a 15,000 word review of something, the chances are good that it’s because it wasn’t written well. Or that you don’t actually care enough about the subject to stick around through the whole thing. Or that you’re just too busy to spend that much time on it. All valid reasons to dislike something, but that certainly doesn’t make all long-form pieces bad.
When you write under the pretense that shorter is better, you trade art and care for economy and mathematics. A writer should write the words necessary to tell their story — no more and no less — and then edit and craft them to fully represent the material. Counting words has nothing to do with that whatsoever.
Word count isn’t a quality of good writing. It never was, and those who say it is are cheating themselves and their readers.