One good reason your word count might go up while revising

Like almost all writers, I follow the #WritingCommunity hashtag on Twitter, and someone posted an interesting question recently. He said that he noticed that his word count has been going up while editing/revising his draft. Was this okay? He was concerned because he’d always heard that word count should go down while revising.

Generally speaking, that’s true. Word count should go down during a revision.

I realized, though, that my word count generally goes up during revisions as well: at least, DURING INITIAL REVISIONS. And I immediately realized why that was.

WRITING AS A “PANTSER” (the industry term for those of us who write “by the seat of our pants” with no outline in hand) MEANS DIFFERENT KINDS OF REVISIONS THAN IF YOU USE AN OUTLINE AND HAVE OUTLINED WELL.

I am a DEFINITE pantser when it comes to my first drafts. I had no idea how “The Crimson League: The Fight for Hope” would end when I started writing along, let alone that it would be the first installment of a trilogy that would cover 25 years in the lives of the major characters.

I LOVE writing as a pantser, because it means I am my novel’s first reader. My characters–whom I make sure to know fairly well before I start writing, because they will drive the plot as it develops–surprise, frustrate, and inspire me as I watch them face the problems that confront them.

I love those moments when I realize how everything will end for the first time, the prices that will have to be paid for victory… they are powerful, moving, even gut-wrenching.

However, writing as a pantser also means I CANNOT PLAN AHEAD VERY WELL. This is especially true of subplots and more minor themes, though it also applies to major themes and plot points to a lesser degree.

  • Things will happen two-thirds of the way through the novel that I had no clue were going to happen. I have to go back and add foreshadowing for those.
  • Characters may appear halfway through whom I realize, after finishing a draft, I would like to introduce earlier.
  • New subplots or new scenes might occur to me after a first draft that to improve the flow of the story, make a character more interesting or more relatable, or increase the stakes. (I’ve heard the advice that, as a writer, you should imagine what your characters need to do, think about how that will be hard, and then MAKE IT HARDER.)

If I created detailed outlines before writing, I might do this at the outline stage. But my personal process, and the reason writing brings me joy, is to let it happen organically as I write a first draft and then go to start revising.

A natural result of this, I think, is that word count increases during those first revisions as the story coalesces.

Eventually, once I know I have the skeleton of the plot in place, revisions work on tightening things up. I’ll start asking:

  • Is this subplot/scene/character/paragraph/sentence helpful and needed?
  • How can I get rid of this adverb and adjective by using a strong verb or noun?
  • How can I say this in a simpler, easier-to-understand way?

At that point, word count will start decreasing.

There are other reasons as well, of course, why you might add to a paragraph or scene during revisions, even if overall word count of the manuscript is decreasing:

  • You need to emphasize something
  • You want to clear up ambiguity (though always ask if that can be done through rephrasing, rather than an extra explanation)
  • You want to add a new layer of subtext
  • The way something is narrated doesn’t fit well with the point of view, and fixing it adds more words

So, what do you think? Do your word counts go up at times while revising?

Are you a pantser? Or a planner?

Comment below! And don’t forget to mark your calendars for the June 15 release of “The Crimson League! The Fight for Hope! You can find more information about it here.


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