Last week I made the mistake of going over word count for a magazine I haven’t written for in a while. It devastated me, as I believe that going over word count is one of the worst mistakes a writer can make—in part because it’s one of the easiest mistakes to correct.
Thankfully the editor took it well and understood that I’d simply gotten the number wrong. However, the failure of a writer to stick to a word count sets off a few red flags that you need to know about if you write professionally.
Can a Writer Follow Instructions?
Much like Van Halen’s “Brown M&M clause” in their contracts, a word count provides a simple metric for determining whether an author is able to follow instructions. Word counts aside, I’ve struggled plenty of times to follow guidelines, so if I can’t even nail a word count, I may have bigger problems.
Can a Writer Edit?
If I keep going over word count, that may indicate that I don’t edit and proofread my work carefully. A word count is a simple number to check. What else is a writer missing during the writing process?
Can a Writer Simplify and Distill Ideas?
A writer unable to go below a word count may have bigger problems with distilling ideas and simplifying concepts. Economical and effective writing is the mark of a good writer. In fact, my greatest growth as a writer has been figuring out how to delete, not necessarily what to write.