The Write Life Articles

How to See Your Word Count in Google Docs As You’re Writing

“The article should be 800 words…maximum.”

I can’t count the number of times an editor has assigned me a word count for a piece. In the world of writing, word count matters more than we might think. Many publications determine how much to pay for freelance writing jobs based on article length.

Word count matters for book writers, too. How many words in a novel? Did you know novels should be at least 50,000 words? And that memoirs should be under 100,000 words, but biographies can be up to 200,000 words?

As a writer, do you compose drafts in Google Docs? (Here at The Write Life, we’re pretty big fans of track changes in Google Docs.) You may be wondering how to see the word count in Google Docs.

Good news — it’s simple.

How to see word count in Google Docs

When it comes to word count, there are three types of writers: Those who look at the word count after completing a draft, those who prefer to check in every once in a while and those who want to see the word count throughout the entire process.

If you fall into either of the first two categories, here are two strategies for viewing word count in Google Docs. (If you’re in the third group, don’t worry, there’s a method for you, too!)

1. In the upper left corner of Google Docs, click on Tools and scroll down to Word count.

A box will pop up that displays the number of pages, words, characters and characters excluding spaces in the Google Doc. Take a look and press OK when you’re ready to hide the box.

2. There’s a second way to check your word count in Google Docs: use the shortcut! Just hit Ctrl+Shift+C for the box to appear.

How to check word count in Google Docs for a chunk of text

Do you get the hunch that chapter three of your novel is running a bit long? There’s a way to check word count in Google Docs without copying and pasting the chapter’s text into a separate document.

Highlight the relevant text, then either select Word count under Tools or use the Ctrl+Shift+C shortcut for the box to pop up. 

This time, the box will display how many pages, words, characters and characters excluding spaces are in this chunk of text with respect to the total number in the Google Doc.

How to view word count in Google Docs as you type

This strategy is for the third category of writers. Let’s say an editor instructs you to keep an article under 1,200 words. You don’t want to finish a draft only to discover it’s 1,800 words, then make heavy edits before you can submit the piece. 

Just keep track as you go!

Either click on Word count or use the shortcut to bring up that little box. Then select Display word count while typing. A small rectangle pops up in the lower left corner of the Google Doc that displays the word count.

Click the rectangle’s arrow to see the number of pages, characters and characters excluding spaces. Is the rectangle becoming annoying? Click that arrow and select Hide word count to get it out of your hair.

Once your document exceeds 3,676 words, the rectangle no longer shows the number of words. (Why that number? I have no idea.) It will just say View word count, and you can click on the rectangle to see the details.

What is not included in the word count?

Be aware that Google Docs does not include certain things in its word count. It doesn’t count anything in the header, footer or footnotes, even if you highlight the words in those sections and select Word count.

Google Docs also doesn’t count symbols, such as # or $, in its word count. It does count them as characters, though.

It does include em-dashes, which look like — this. (Curious about how to type an em dash? It stumps a lot of writers, but we’ve got a simple guide.) Keep in mind, it only counts an em-dash as a word if there are spaces on either side of it. If you type it like—this, Google Docs doesn’t count the em-dash.

For example, I count 63 words in the above paragraph when I count manually, because I take symbols into consideration. But when I highlight the text and count using Google Docs, the word count appears as 60, because Google Docs didn’t count either of the symbols or the em-dash without spaces. 

Counting words can be a little like losing weight. Some people prefer to step on the scales constantly, others like to check in every once in a while, and some just do a final weigh-in when they’ve completed their diet. Whichever method works for your writing style, there’s a way to check word count in Google Docs.

Photo via Rido / Shutterstock 

The post How to See Your Word Count in Google Docs As You’re Writing appeared first on The Write Life.

The Write Life Articles

Need Story Ideas? This 5-Step Process Works Every Time

It happens. You’re sitting in front of a blank page, you dip into your well of inspiration, and you come up with nothing.

Nada. Zilch.

At most the moldy remains of an idea you had in seventh grade.

I’ve been there time and again, until by chance I attended a panel led by Orson Scott Card.

A strategy for developing good story ideas

In that panel, he opened my eyes to what a good story idea looks like, and how to generate story ideas without any effort.

With time, I’ve included my own little twist on his method. The result? A five-element story idea generator that will rarely fail you.

Here’s how to come up with good story ideas.

The First Element: Character

A story cannot take place without creating complex characters. The character might be a chair (I wrote one like that!), but it has to be there.

If you don’t have a specific idea for a character, make one up randomly. Choose the following:

  • Race (e.g. human, alien, salt shaker)
  • Gender (if applicable–and isn’t that a story idea in itself!)
  • Age (from toddler to elder and even eternal)
  • Marital status (single, married, divorced, three-year marriage contract…)
  • Family status (parents, brothers, pets, etc. but also nationality and ethnicity)
  • Circumstances (profession, work)
  • And, of course, creative character names.

Interesting combinations make for richer stories, so keep that in mind as you fill out your character’s background.

The Second Element: Desire

Your character must have some desires in life. What drives her? What makes her get out of bed in the morning?

It can be an active desire, like running a marathon or getting a promotion. It can be a less active desire, like wanting to be left alone.

But it has to be a specific, attainable desire that will move your character throughout your story.

Can’t think of a good desire? Re-read your character’s background, try to get into that person’s shoes and think of what you would have wanted in her stead.

infographic on how to develop story ideas

The Third Element: Resistance

If your character wanted something and got it right off the bat, you wouldn’t have a story, would you?

So the next critical element is the roadblock that stands in your character’s way.

It can be physical, emotional, spiritual or cultural. It can be another person or a group of people.

It can be a question of legality or consensus. It can be the very elements of nature.

Whatever it is, make sure the resistance matches the character. If you have a strong character, you will need a powerful obstacle to stand in her way — otherwise, the reader won’t be convinced that the struggle is real and desperate.

With these three elements, Orson Scott Card claimed at that panel, you have a solid story idea that can be developed into any media and length.

I like to add two more elements to the mix.

The Fourth Element: Change

A story is all about the character’s journey, and that journey is all about change. If the protagonist is the same at the end as she’d been in the beginning, something is missing.

For short stories, the change can be as simple as a single trait:

  • A shy man overcomes his shyness in order to pursue true love.
  • A skeptic woman must learn to believe before she can attain the career of her dreams.
  • A haughty salt shaker must learn humility in order to find peace in its life.

And so on. The longer the story, the more scope you have to mold your character in new ways.

The Fifth Element: Settings

The settings of a story are more than a backdrop. It is often a character in and of itself. It impacts the way your protagonist thinks, feels, and behaves.

Choose an interesting backdrop that will really challenge your protagonist or highlight her journey.

For example, if your protagonist is on a journey of inner and outer peace, why not paint her story against a background of war, strife, or unrest?

Character, desire, resistance, change and settings. Pick them deliberately or randomize them completely; either way, you’re sure to get some interesting story ideas.

How’s that for your very own story idea generator? Now go make up some good story ideas and write!

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

The post Need Story Ideas? This 5-Step Process Works Every Time appeared first on The Write Life.