Screenshot of an Excel spreadsheet showing a chapter-by-chapter word count of a 30% finished story.

A screenshot from the shiny Excel worksheet I used to track my progress. Click for the full image, since this thumbnail is illegible.

Whenever I write novels, I am /incredibly/ obsessed with tracking my word count.

This is probably because (as I mentioned before), I once had no idea how long a story should be. The first novel I “finished” was a 120,000 YA story. I wasn’t thinking about word count, I was thinking about “chapters.” And since I somehow had only twelve, I was convinced I had a reasonably sized novel. Learning otherwise was a shock.

There’s no one answer about how long a story “should” be, but I love this rough guideline that gives ranges for tons and tons of genres.

But oh, how I obsess.

That screenshot’s of the Excel spreadsheet I’m using right now. It’s very simple. I plug in the word count of a chapter when I’m done enough with it to move on. It then automatically gives me my total word count so far and calculates how far along I am compared to my goal of a 70,000-80,000 word story.

The idea is that I can follow my progress as I write. I should, ideally, pass the 70K mark somewhere near the end of the story, and should end up somewhere between the two estimates. If I don’t, that’s fine. If I run a little under or a little over, that’s okay.

(You can tell from what I have so far that my chapters are running long, anyway. They’re also not very even. I don’t think that’s a problem, but I do like being aware of it.)

I know people who would think this is weird and formulaic. I know tons of people who think that writing has to be free and spontaneous and that planning (and measuring it) kills the joy. But honestly? It helps me feel in control. And it gives me a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. I mean, look! I’m 30% done with my first draft!

But mostly, I keep track of my word count because I will totally lose track of it if I don’t. And I don’t like being surprised by how long (or short) my final novel is.

And why am I aiming for 70-80K? Because… I don’t know, it sounds like a reasonable range for a YA fantasy story. I’ve written long enough that it just sounds like the sweet spot in the middle of the 60-90K range that I consider reasonable for an unpublished YA fantasy author.

And that makes sense, doesn’t it? As an unpublished author, it’s my duty to research–and stick to–a “normal” length for a novel in my genre. So that’s what I’m doing!

Also, I like numbers. Maybe I should have just said that instead.