I have been writing novels since middle school (trying back then). Of course, back then I never finished. I’d write for a while, come up with a new idea, then start the next. I literally have a crate full of at least fifty never finished novels (though most didn’t get past page ten).
I read books on writing. I read books, period. I took creative writing classes. In high school when we got a computer and AOL, I started participating in teen writing communities. I searched and searched and searched for the secret to finishing a novel… to no avail. I kept starting over.
In 2002, when I was a junior in college, I somehow (and I don’t remember how) stumbled across NaNoWriMo. I’ve written about this experience before, so I won’t go into much detail again, but this was the first time I ever sat down and wrote a novel from start to finish. Since NaNo’s challenge is 50,000 words in 30 days, that’s exactly what I did.
Later, I would revise that manuscript and got it up to 70,000 words, but every time I started a new novel whether in November or not, the number I had in my head was 50,000.
So, imagine my surprise when I actually began to focus on submitting and realized that most publishers wanted romance novels to be 90,000 words or MORE. What? That was like… TWO books.
Then I found out that category romance had a shorter word count. Whew. Of course, some of the lines I wanted to write for wanted more than 50,000. Anywhere from 50 to 75k.
So, when I sat down to write my last novel, I did not let myself think 50,000 words. Instead, I focused on telling the story hoping that I could stretch myself and reach 55,000. I did. In fact, I almost hit 60k. Yay!
So, then when I began my current WIP, I tasked myself with hitting that 75k mark. More if I could, but 75K at the least. At about 3/4s of the way through, it’s looking like I’ll make it to 70ish. I’m the furthest I’ve ever been (59k) and I still have 3 1/2 planned chapters to write–70 is very attainable, and I feel confident I’ll be able to reach 75k with revisions.
What’s funny is, I struggled for every last 50k of those first novels, sometimes not making it without making some additions. I would do the math… how many words does this chapter need to have to make it to 50k. It was all about words, words, words. Yet, once I set the goal to go longer (which allowed more room for description, secondary plot lines, etc), it wasn’t hard at all… and I wasn’t worried about word count every chapter. In fact, I didn’t even think about if I was going to reach that 75k until this weekend.
Obviously, word count is important because it determines what types of publishers you’ll target, what pieces of information you’ll focus on or will become unimportant, but I think I realized that word count shouldn’t be much of a consideration at all when you first start writing. You can worry about that in revisions–adding or deleting as needed.