Word count. It's one of the main aspects of writing for publication that's different from writing for fun. When I'm writing with no goal in mind the number of words I'm using is irrelevant. I type until I'm finished. And I know I'm finished when I feel there's nothing left to say. The same can't be said when your writing for somebody else's expectations.
First time novelist have approximately 100,000 words to tell there story with. That kind of limitation definitely limits the scope of what you can work with. It gets even more difficult when you target short story publications. Can you tell a story that interesting, compelling, engaging, in 5,000 words or less? How about 2,500? Sometimes you find yourself trying to shoehorn a story that really deserves more, just to get underneath a word count.
I'm finding out that most writing, be it for a book or short story, is a lot like movie making. A director will film a lot more of a script than what actually finds its way to the screen, most of it ending up on the editing room floor. The same process happens with novels. The author will cut out words, paragraphs, scenes, even whole chapters to foster a better reading experience. Finding one word that can take the place of three is the holy grail. Unfortunately for writers, they don't have the opportunity to see their deleted sections end up on a DVD.
When I sit down to write a short story, I think of an idea, flesh it out a bit, then decide how many words I want to target. Most of the major contests have standard word limits, so once I determine my boundaries I set about writing without regard to word count. When I'm finished with the first draft is when I'll look at the count and see how much I have to cut (I never had to add). That's the hardest part. Every deletion feels like your hollowing out your work. If I write 7500 words for a 5000 contest, I'll shelve the story rather than try and edit it. I've read about authors who write a 2500, 3000, and 5000 word versions of the same story so they can submit it to different contests. I can't write that way, but then again, maybe that's just me being naive?
My wife has me on a budget. I get so much a month to spend on whatever I want, but usually it goes towards renting movies & video games, and buying music. Lately some of my allotment has been devoted to writing resources like books and magazines. I have the same feeling about being on a budget as I do about writing on a word count. It is a necessary evil, one that I constantly butt my head against. But to ignore my wife's budget, or to disregard the publishing worlds guidelines, will both see me end up in the same place.
On the couch, alone, reading my own book.