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I know I can view the word count from the statistics pallet. Is there a way though to permanently show the word count as I write, while keeping the tools drawer closed? I know other wp programs do this, by displaying the word count on the bottom of the page.
You can drag the Statistics palette — or any other palette — onto the desktop, where it will stay and be permanently visible, unless you either remove it, or choose "Hide Palettes" (F1) from the Window menu. Or are you using something like an MBA 11" without the screen real-estate?
Another option is to Insert > Automatic Number > Word Count in the document (such as below where you are typing?). The number updates frequently, and updating can be triggered by various actions. Assign a key combination to the menu selection and you can also easily get the number on the fly.