My wife has me on a budget. I get so much a month to spend on whatever I want and usually it goes towards renting movies & video games, and buying music. Lately some of my allotment has been devoted to writing tools like how-to books and magazines. I understand the budget is a necessary evil, but it’s one that I constantly butt my head against.
I have the same feeling about writing on a word count. It's one of those aspects of writing for publication that's so much different than writing for pure enjoyment. When I'm writing with no goal in mind, the number of words I'm using is irrelevant. I type until I'm finished. And I know I'm finished when I feel there's nothing left to say. The same can't be said when you’re writing for somebody else's expectations.
When I got it in my head to tackle my first book, I wondered how long it needed to be. To find out I delved into my home library and took a sampling. On average, I saw books with just over 300 pages, 10 pages per chapter. No problem. I set to work and when my novel was finished it came in 335 pages. Cool beans! However, what most first time novelist (of mainstream adult fiction) aren’t aware of is that they only have 90K to 100K words to tell their story with. You see, most publishers consider anything beyond that a serious risk to recouping their investment. After I finally did my research and discovered these guidelines, I looked at the word count for my novel. 145K! Crap!
That kind of limitation definitely narrows the scope you can work with, dramatically impacting your narrative. I was going to have to slash 1/3 of my story just to get it within acceptable standards for submission. I knew there were tons of that’s and then’s needing trimming, but 45K? Large chunks of content were in jeopardy.
It gets even more difficult when you target short story publications. Can you tell a story that’s interesting, compelling, and engaging, in 5000 words or less? How about 2500? It’s not uncommon to find yourself trying to shoehorn a story into a word limit, knowing full well it deserves more. Composing short stories are an excellent way to practice word economy, since there’s so little room for extravagance.
I'm discovering that most writing, be it for a book or short story, is a lot like movie making. A director will film a lot more of a script than what actually finds its way to the screen, most of it ending up on the editing room floor. The same process happens with novels. An author will cut out words, paragraphs, scenes, even whole chapters to foster a better reading experience (or make it more marketable). Every deletion can feel like your hollowing out your work. Finding one word that can take the place of three is the Holy Grail. Unfortunately for writers, they don't have the opportunity to see their deleted sections end up on a DVD.
But there’s another dimension to the world of word regulation. A good many of the bloggers I follow seem to be obsessed with daily or weekly writing output. How many words did I add to my manuscript today? 500? A 1000? Nicholas Sparks generates 2000 words a day, surely I can do half that. I assume they utilize these goals as a way to stay motivated or accountable for their time, but how many of these words end up being edited out of the book? Myself…the only edict I follow is that I must write every day…and I do. Most of the time I don’t know how many words I use (glancing at the counter at the bottom of this document I see I’m at 730), and I could care less. I am disciplined enough to work on my novels or practice my craft without benchmarks, but at the same time my quest for publication has no pre-determined pace. It’ll happen…when it happens. But if daily targets work for you…then I’m all for it!
Of this I am certain, disregarding the publishing industry’s guidelines, or ignoring my wife's budget, either one will see me end up in the same place.
Stuck on the couch at home, broke, reading the lone copy of my unprinted manuscript.