How Many Words Must a Writer Write Down To Know He or She Has Written a Novel?


Word Count

Word Count

I once read somewhere Mark Twain kept a running word count in the margins of his manuscripts. Word counts are probably a weird obsession held largely by writers. We survive by them. Sometimes we’re paid by the number of words we write. Sometimes we use the count to measure a good day’s work, whether those words add up to a few sentences or several pages.

Word counts also tell us—somewhat arbitrarily—what sort of work we have written. Is it a Tweet (which actually is even more micro, down to the character)? Is it an essay? A short story? A novella? A novel?

A few months ago, a writer friend of mine Gerald Warfield and I shoptalked about just such things. We couldn’t come up with a solid answer. But a blog post from Writer’s Digest gives some novel advice at least, breaking down some average word counts for novels of different lengths.

The link is here. Of course, it’s not the end-all declaration of authority, but it must count for something.

—Todd

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One thought on “How Many Words Must a Writer Write Down To Know He or She Has Written a Novel?

  1. Todd,
    Seems to me there are two reasons for categorizing by word count

    1. Who’ll publish it (publishers and contests), and here the boundaries are always shifting, and
    2. Awards, where the boundaries are mostly set. Here are the boundaries for the Hugos, given by World Science Fiction; and the Nebulas, given by SFWA:

    Novel: 40,000 or more.
    Novella: 17,500 – 40,000
    Novelette: 7,500 – 17,500
    Short story: 7,500 or less

    All best,
    Gerald

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