02 November 2012

Does Size Matter?

I have always struggled to meet word count requirements. Not because I write too much; no, just the opposite. In university, I often found myself in the position of adding extraneous words to an essay in an attempt to reach that goal of 2000 or, even worse, 3000 words. Unfortunately, my essays often weighed in around 1000 words; sometimes even less. I usually got them back from my professors with comments in the margins telling me to expand more on the topic, to explore it further. I had no idea what this meant. I still don't.

Then I took a class with Prof. Nicholson. He handed out the first essay assignment, and almost immediately, hands went up all over the classroom. You see, there was no word count listed on the assignment sheet, and everyone wanted to know what the required length was. Prof. Nicholson smiled and shook his head and said, "Say what you need to say, and then stop." Most of the other students seemed baffled, but I was delighted. Finally!

I got better marks on essays for Nicholson than I did for any other professor, and my essays for Nicholson were always shorter than those for other professors. This proved to me that I did better work when I didn't try to "expand" and "explore further," but instead merely wrote the thing the best I could without worrying about word count.

The idea that longer equals better is unfortunately very prevalent. I recently entered a writing contest, and my piece made it through the prelims but was eliminated in the finals because it was too short. Everyone agreed that it was excellent but commented that it wasn't "fleshed out" enough. This sounded very familiar to me; isn't it just another way of saying "expand" or "explore further"? (If you're interested, you can read the piece in question here.)

I truly don't believe that longer equals better in writing. The longer the piece, the more chance I'll get bored as a reader. (Probably why I've never read War and Peace.) If it leaves me wanting more, it was compelling, not too short; and there's always sequels.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as too short? How about too long?


  1. This article was the perfect size,

  2. I think agents and publishers have ballpark figures for what they like to see in a novel, depending on genre-- probably based on past sales of similar books. But stretching to reach some elusive word count mostly like leads to too much "blah blah blah". Likewise, some books need their subplots and extra verbiage.

  3. Sometimes it is hard to write for other people than it is to just let your creative writing go the path it really wants to take. It is difficult to please everyone, so sometimes it best to make yourself happy. To write 31 poems in 31 days is an accomplishments.
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