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:~: Monday, February 20, 2006 :~:

The Dreaded Word Count

I'm there.

Okay, I'm not all the way there, but I'm at that point

You know the one . . . that point in the WIP where you look at your word count, and you look at your plot list or plot board and think, "Crap! I am never gonna get all of this in here and stay within word count!"

Oh . . .that point!

Yep. That's the one.

After a fairly productive weekend writing, I find myself at 70K words with a whole series of events that still need to happen before I hit the 100K mark and, hopefully, the end of the book. But now, after looking at where I'm headed and where I've been, I think it's safe to say there's no way that's gonna happen.

This always happens to me. I'm long-winded. I like long books. I like getting deep into the characters and situations. And I always go over. Always.

Luckily, I can cut in revisions, so going a little over is no biggie. (As someone once said, every book can be cut by at least 10%, and I'm learning that's true.) But going over by 20K words is a biggie to me, and unfortunately, it's something I've done on more than one occasion. If I had my druthers I'd write a 100K word first draft and be completely happy. (If a girl's gonna dream, she might as well dream big, right? While I'm at it, I'll dream about a publishing contract and a six-figure advance.)

I am always flabbergasted when I meet a writer who writes under word count or has trouble reaching their word count target. How is that possible? Can you teach me to do that? Holy cow, that's got to be easier than killing your darlings, right? Ah . . . not. In fact, after speaking with said writers, I think it might actually be harder. Adding scenes into a book that's already done just to stretch it is like adding extra sugar into an already-baked cake. A grueling process that makes my propensity to go over target not look quite so bad.

I think it's safe to say word count is a biggie with unpubs. Get on any writers loop and you'll hear over and over again that you will never sell a single title book that is over 100K words if you are a newbie. Never. Ever. Happen. And we all know it does. It just depends on the book, the author, the voice, the plot, the characters . . . on and on. However, I think it's true that it's the rare first book that goes drastically over that mark. A lot of agents won't even look at work by unpubs if they're over 110K words. (I know because I've received several of those "This sounds great, but it's too long. If you could cut it to 110K words I'd take a look" letters.) They figure you haven't discovered that small but essential craft element of 'editing'.

So what do you do when you get to this point? When you're staring at the WIP and all you have left to do and know you'll be either over or under? Are you able to write without any concern for word count and then hack and slice later? Or are you more like me . . . slowly watching those numbers creep up, wondering how you'll ever hit that mark, and what the hell you'll do when you go shooting past it?


Blogger Jennette said...

I can SOOOOO relate to this. My last book was 138k. I hacked out subplots and backstory, and pared down the writing yet again, and finally got it to 118k. I'm so hoping I can get someone to look at this because I can't really cut any more without cutting story.

The current WIP is - wait for it - 160k+ and still not finished. Sigh. Yeah, there's some subplot and backstory that can be cut there too, but I'm afraid not nearly enough. I guess that answers your questions - I write first and cut later. But it's hard not to worry about it during the writing.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

Either I write tight the first time or I'm doing it wrong. You know I consistently come in *under* 100K and that's by page count.

I'm so screwed. :-D

11:52 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...


I'm with you, girlfriend. My 2nd ms was - cringe - 178K words. Holy Cow! ROFL. However, I rewrote that book and took it down to 102K, so I think it's totally possible. The book I have under consideration with SIM right now went from 120K (Help me out here, Lin...you would remember) to roughly 68K. That's a pretty drastic change in word count, but after looking at it with a (more) objective eye, I can see it's a much tighter - better - book. So much of the extra "fluff" I had was all backstory that didn't need to be there.

The more I write, the better I get at writing "tight", like Lin mentioned. (She's my hero.) It's a skill just like every other skill you learn with more and more writing.

Of course I "say" that now. We'll see how much I've learned as I near the end of the WIP. ;)

12:02 PM  
Blogger Paty Jager said...

Okay, I'm the under word count. I hit the 100 k mark with my first three historicals, but since then I have to fight tooth and nail, adding, adding, adding to hit the word counts I need for the genre I'm writing in.

Eli and Jennette can you give me some of your words??

6:10 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

LOL. Anytime, sweetie. Although I'm not sure you'd want my words. ROFL. Not sure they'd go with your characters.

6:35 PM  
Blogger MaryF said...

I'm always under, too. The book that's out for submission now is the biggest yet, at 397 pages. It about killed me.

3:25 AM  

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