Thursday, June 23, 2011

It’s Not About the Overall Word Count

Writers are obsessed. Like the artist with his paints, the jeweler with his beads, the carpenter with his tools, writers are obsessed with words.

Some people can’t. get. enough. words.

Some people have to pinch….and pull….and fight those words into existence, but they are the happiest when manipulating them around the page.

But it all comes down to one thing: we love our words! And our words form a certain equation. 90,000 words strung together in a coherent thought make an average novel. We KNOW, we UNDERSTAND that those 90,000 words will guarantee us a novel of considerable length, the kind we are most often used to reading.

But what happens when we start to edit those 90,000 words? We start to lose them. Sure, we lengthen some plot threads, but most often (okay ME) have to cut words. Gulp. The last week or so of editing, not a day has gone by that I haven’t deleted 1000 words.

Now a good many of those are recovered in other areas of my novel, so the loss isn’t as great as it sounds every single day, but just before my finger punches that delete key, I pause. This will affect my overall word count. I won’t have 90,000 words anymore, I’ll have 89,395 word novel.

My novel will be gasp….INCOMPLETE!

I eye my word count number with a jaundice eye at the bottom of my screen (Word can be a blessing and a curse and I’m more prone to say curse)

I’ve just deleted 500 words, where are those new magic 500 words to replace the ones I’ve lost? So I type and I get lost in the glory of creating new prose.

But the problem is…nine times out of ten, they are filler words. And I have to go back and hit the delete key again.


I’m back to square one, back to biting my nails because my word count is going to fall short of my goal.

So where do you draw the line?

You have to be aware of your word count, yes. Because a 90K novel that ends up being 50K is not going to make it. (let’s hope we don’t write that much fluff on the first draft) BUT, don’t get so caught up in the word count that you FORGET how important it is to make sure you write the RIGHT words.

Don’t let the worry that you will cut too many words make you forget that we want the words we write to be the absolute best they can be.

Which would be the better option … to cut a section that bogs down your plot and takes it nowhere fast….or keep those words because you want to keep a certain word count?

Puts it into perspective, doesn’t it? I know at least for me, personally, it makes it a lot easier to hit that delete key. It’s making the work TIGHTER. It’s making the writing STRONGER and the writer more AWARE not to write such blah the first time around. ;-)

But this is what the editing and revision section is for. So realize that when you sit down to edit that the delete key is going to play a role in your day. Look at your writing over all, what is coming up next and what just happened and be prepared to analyze and consider what needs to be completely deleted or just rewritten.

There is a time for both. Don’t forget that latter option.

So go forth and edit and remember the delete key is not one to be dreaded. By the time you need a new computer, the key should be smooth and void all letters. ;-)


Sarah Tokeley said...

I'll be starting revisions soon, and I already know that chapter one will be disappearing completely. A plot change means none of it is needed. My plan is to do what needs to be done all the way through without looking at the word count, and worry about it afterwards. (Yeah, like that's gonna happen!)

Rebecca Bradley said...

I'm just about to finish my first draft and have been keeping my beady eye on the word count all along. I've finally come to realise, I can't decide when the novel is finished by its word count, it finishes when the story is told.

It's going to be a hard road working through the second draft!

Miss Good on Paper said...

Reall interesting post! I don't really think about word counts especially when revising. The right word is so much better than twelve words chosen to make my chapter longer. My students have trouble with this, but they don't often "care" about the finished product as much as we do. =)

-Miss GOP

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Excellent post, Casey! We definitely have our priorities in the wrong place when we focus on the word count. Ohhhhhh but that's what we writers talk about. I did __ words today, I did good. Hmmmm is that so? Perhaps the 200 less words done yesterday were better?
Excellent points, good thoughts. thanks.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Usually I'm scrambling for more word count, not less. It's the latent journalist in me. So I understand about word count being precious. Your reminder is spot-on: It's about making words count--all the while hitting the correct word count.

Angie Dicken said...

I am in the middle of editing my ms, and the delete key has actually been my friend! I love tightening stuff up and applying things I have learned since I first started writing it. I do check my word count often, but I try not to let it direct my edits. Great points, Casey!

Joanne Sher said...

Super advice. Great, GREAT post, Casey! Thanks.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Casey, what a great post. Ahhh, the dilemma between word count and making words count. I'm still at the point of getting words down on paper, but I am certain I will come to the point when I will be considering my count and how high or low it is. Thanks for the great thoughts!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Love that T-shirt!

I was just talking to a fellow writer about this. She looked at me in awe and wondered if I kept drafts of all the changes my MSs go through.

I shook my head. Nope. Other than the original hard copy with scrawl all over it, once I change it, it's changed. I don't look back. I see it as improving and I don't hung up on what the novel once was.

Made me think of what you were expressing in this post.
~ Wendy

Lenni said...

I do so love the satisfaction of a well worn keyboard. :)

Casey said...

SARAH, my first chapter as well went to delete-land, so don’t fear you are alone! You’ve set a good goal, but don’t be afraid to be aware of your word count, where you need to be cautious is not to let it rule your writing life. It’s just words. ;-)

REBECCA, VERY, VERY TRUE!! You are exactly right and I have heard of many writers writing a very bare bones story and fleshing it out with subplots, etc in later revisions. I’m the exact opposite, get a 90K novel and then get to work. ;-)

Casey said...

MISS GOP, it’s not about WHAT we write, it’s about making our writing COUNT. So yes, if one word can explain 12 go for that one word!

MARY, I definitely think word count has its place, because you can’t edit a blank page, I think were word count can get deceptive and worrisome is during the revision stage. Ah, the glory of revisions! ;-)

Casey said...

BETH, your one of those writers who likes to add subplots later. ;-) Though I think you probably have a greater blessing there, because you have the freedom to play with your work. The curse is finding the RIGHT words. Hope it goes well for you today!

ANGIE, I’m right there with you!! I’ve learned to love the delete key more and more.

JOANNE, so glad it was helpful! Always good to see you stop by. ☺

Casey said...

JEANNE, the glory of a rough draft is where they don’t necessarily have to count- YES you want to write a great story and want to stay true to your characters/plot, but ENJOY this because 9 out of every 10 words are most likely going to be changed. You’re in my favorite part. Enjoy!

WENDY, the old is gone the new has come? Reminds me of what Christ does for us. ;-)

LENNI, so do I! ☺

Misha Gerrick said...

Yep. I'm revising too. And tightening up my stories mean that I'm deleting a lot.

Still... I seem to be putting more back that I can't delete. :-/

As in... 15k more.

Casey said...

MISHA, that can't be an entirely bad thing to have happen. ;-) Depending on whether you have a word count you have to stay within. :-)

It all depends on how vital it is to the story.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

That little D button is a scary key on my computer. But you are right...we shouldn't be afraid.

Oh, and I LOVE that T-shirt!

Pepper said...

Sorry I'm late to this, Casey. GREAT post and reminder!! Now, it's important for me to push as many words as I can onto a page at a time (because time is extremely limited), but I am fully aware that some (maybe many...gasp) will find their place in the word graveyard.

I remember the first time I took an existing novel and started the book on chapter FIVE! AHHHHH! What was I supposed to do with those previous FOUR chapters. FOUR CHAPTERS!!! Well, it was some great backstory, and I pulled some of the snarky dialogue I liked for later- but even though it was some pretty relevant stuff to my novel, it didn't move the story along.
That was tough.
Just did the same thing to my historical. Ripped off the first THREE chapters.
But it's a much better starting point. Gets RIGHT into the action.