My most recent manuscript tipped the scales at just over 100,000 words - lengthy by some accounts, but worthwhile according to the reviews. I keep this number in my back pocket for when people ask me, "How many words does a novel have to have?" I smile and tell them the rule of thumb is a minimum of 50,000 words, but it's usually a lot more than that. Hearing that they have to type 50,000 words just to have a novel can be exhausting for some people, and their sighs are heartbreaking. However, if they are willing to take on that task, I support them, cheer them on, and tell them to just write the story and ignore the word count. That last part is very intentional, because it will come in handy later.
Then the fun begins.
I have had writers come up to me, beaming that they finally finished the draft of their first full-length novel, and yes, it was, say, 60,000 words. This is a proud moment indeed and I acknowledge this feat. Then I follow up with, "Just 60,000 more to go." This usually confuses them (as it should), which is when I discuss just what it means to do that first rewrite. They are usually too excited and/or confused to appreciate just what the rewrite process means, but it's a big one. And kind of fun.
Once I finish a big project like a manuscript, I step away from it for a bit, just to cool down. I can't have everything fresh in my mind otherwise that is the part that will reread the manuscript, and I need a fresh brain to see the work as a reader, not as the author. I then read my work again, trying to think about how any and every sentence fits into the story, where the characters belong and whether or not I need them. I think about the plot as a whole, and ask myself whether this makes sense as a reader, not a writer. I start thinking about what I would want as a reader to guide me along the path, what would really surprise me, what would push me along. Hopefully, in doing this I will realize that large parts of the story don't do this as well as they could, and the rewrites begin. And there will be many.
At this point, word count no longer matters, because large chunks of story are going to be created or eliminated, with even more being added and rewritten several times. Scenes, plot arcs, and characters will vanish or be added, the world will change under our hero's feet, and it might even change between third- and first-person. However, the rule of thumb that I use is that for every first draft, 10% of it will be deleted outright, 20% is okay as is, 30% will be altered several times and 40% will be complete rewrites, followed by another 10% of changes so that all the previous changes agree with each other. For our friend with the 60,000-word novel, over 40,000 of those words are going to participate in some kind of change.
For those who did the math, the first draft plus the revisions equals about 100,000 words - the length of my last manuscript. This is where I remind the new writer that the length really doesn't matter, as long as the story is engaging for the reader. They're the one who matters, and if they are satisfied, and you are satisfied with your creation, then everyone wins.
And then you're ready to type your next work - in my case, one that is about 94,000 words prior to the revision process.