I hit the 70,000 word mark today. It has tended to be the magic number for me, the word count I aimed for when writing my first novel, ID, at the age of 20 (a novel that will never be released from the darkest pits of my archive folders), and just managed to stagger over before completion. For me, 70K means I've hit novel territory. I made book-length. Which is arrant nonsense, of course*, but psychologically, for me, it ticks every box. Once I hit 70K, I tend to relax a bit, catch my second wind, and ease on through to the finish.
Writer and editor Peter Crowther, in a panel at Fantasycon, recently explained how he carves up these categories. For him, up to 10K is a short story; 10-20K is a long short story, or 'novelette'; 20-40K is a novella; 40-60K is a short novel and 60K+ is a novel. These are good yardsticks to keep in mind, but it's best to play fast and loose with them. A lot of writers, especially novice writers, get hung up on word counts (I still do, as evidenced by this blog post). Seventy thousand words is a psychological – and, let's face it, physical – barrier to work towards. The argument that 'it's as long as it is' doesn't quite cut it when you're trying to write a novel, especially one you want to see hit the shelves. Publishers and readers generally like to see some bang for their buck.
What do you think? Do you have your little word counter clicking along as you type? Do you, like Graham Greene, obsessively count the words by hand? Or do you ignore the numbers and simply work until you feel it's finished? I'd be interested to hear from you.
* Look at the novels of Gwendoline Riley, for example. Her first, brilliant, novel, Cold Water, is 25,000 words long, give or take. A novella, really, if you were being strict. Is it a novel, though, in terms of theme and substance and gravitas? Well, that's a different argument...