I ran across this great article on word count by Chuck Sambuchino the other day, and it's a must-read for all you beginning writers or those delving into a new genre.
One of my favorite parts: "However, if there is one thing I remember from when my wife dragged me kicking and screaming to He’s Just Not That Into You, it’s that you cannot count on being the exception; you must count on being the rule. Aiming to be the exception is setting yourself up for disappointment. What writers fail to see is that for every successful exception to the rule (e.g., a first-time 150,000-word novel), there are at least 100 failures if not 300."
Solid truth, friends. Keeping your word count within a set parameter is an important tool--like throwing up a corral fence around the galloping horses in your brain But if you like to ignore word count until the redraft phase, preferring to focus on character and pacing, that's fine too; saving it for the end can be a great technique to bring unnecessary sections onto the chopping block. Just make sure you focus on it at some point, because I guarantee that agents and publishers will. Thanks, Chuck!