You know what’s ironical about the people who never adhere to specified word counts? They are, almost without exception, the most mediocre writers, the ones whose sentences overflow with redundancies. Tell them the space can accommodate 500 words max and they’ll file 900 words; sighing in the fashion of misunderstood geniuses whose creativity has been shackled by page layouts and small-minded editors, they’ll tell you there was no way they could possibly have done justice to the story/review/column within the specified word limit.
Then you turn to the atrociously written piece, start copy-editing it, tighten the writing, take out the many repeated phrases - and voila, when you’re done you’ll find the story is down to...exactly 500 words. And this without even having to excise anything of substance.
So why am I grumbling, it all works out anyway.
But seriously, it’s telling that the best writers among columnists/reporters will invariably stick to the word limit. More than once I’ve copy-pasted a column from a word file onto QuarkXpress to find - and it’s scary when this happens - that it exactly fits the pre-set space. No kerning required, no adding/removing para breaks or randomly taking out articles (the way sub-editors in this country like to do). This level of obsessive perfectionism derives at least partly from the fear common to the best writers that someone might cut their copy if it significantly overrides the word count. It should also derive from common sense, but that’s probably asking too much.
(Now no sarcastic remarks please about the size of some of my recent blog posts.)