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  • Writer's pictureEugenia Sestini

Word count

Word count – it doesn’t get better than this. I can hear you groaning in front of your computer.

Remember those 2500-word essays you had to write in high school or university? If this doesn’t bring back fond memories, it may be because word count is associated with pressure. The text will only be valid if it has 1000 words, 5000 words… you get it.

There is a place where letters and numbers meet, and as children grow older, they may be expected to reach a certain amount of words. But at the moment, I want you to take that pressure away, and lead your child from the empty page to the page with some writing.

Word count – Thumbs up? Down?

Twitter allows no more than 280 characters per tweet. When I submit a manuscript, usually there is a limit of 10,000 words. I recently entered a competition where the poem I submitted could have 25 lines, tops.

I’m not saying word count is the enemy, I’m saying it's part of a different conversation.

As children embark on a creative writing journey, it can be tempting to think “ooh, that story is lovely, but it’s not very long.”

Apart from pressure, word count has another downside in creative writing for children: it can lead to a watering down of quality. In the struggle of quantity vs quality, we definitely want quality to have the upper-hand.

Let me show you what word count pressure can do to a story:

“I have a lovely, funny, bubbly, special, fantastic friend called Jacinta. She likes salsa dancing. Also, my lovely, funny, bubbly, special, fantastic friend called Jacinta likes ice-cream. Her favorite flavors are: chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, mango, cow tracks, and sometimes she adds sprinkles. My lovely, funny, bubbly, special, fantastic friend called Jacinta….”

This Jacinta person has already gotten on my nerves and I only just made her up five minutes ago.

Adding long lists of adjectives or nouns for the sake of a longer text does not necessarily improve the story; but often children hear that more is better. We live, after all, surrounded by numbers. More does not equal better. More is just that, more. I hope to encourage children towards more meaningful writing, and this should not be compromised by the feared word count. Instead, make every word count. Less is more.

If your child has made some progress with meaningful writing, from no words to jotting down three sentences, or from not wanting to write to enjoying it, this is definitely moving forward. I will explore different techniques, and hopefully one of the exercises will inspire your child, and something will click. The goal is for them to enjoy writing and grow in confidence.

And by the time they do have to write a set amount of words for an exercise later in life, hopefully they will be so comfortable writing, they will look at that number in the face and fearlessly cry, “Bring it on, word count, I’m not afraid of you!”

PS: This post is 547 words long.

PS2: Still worried about word count? Check some of the next posts on how to help your child’s story grow. Try to think of something else in the meantime, like what your favorite ice-cream flavors are.

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