Tag Archives: writing tips

The Elusive Word Count

I’ve kept on with my writing like a good little writer should, but for the past two weeks, I’ve been struggling with and getting aggravated over what may seem, and probably is, trivial.

Word count.

For writers just starting out, you may have realized that there are set guidelines for the average amount of words in an MS (manuscript) for any given genre. Heck, they’ve even incorporated a general word count for book genres in Sims 3! And it’s fairly accurate for the most part, though I’ll beg to differ on their length for “Romance” fiction. Speaking of trivial…

If you’d like a list of standard word counts by genre, here’s a decent and relatively up-to-date list. I want to focus upon the current genre I’m writing: high fantasy to include epic fantasy. The typical word count for high/epic fantasy is 100k-120k words.

Problem:

I began my story with a word count goal of at least 180k. Why? Because I read a lot of long high fantasy and sci-fi novels, to include the Dune series, Martin, Erikson, Goodkind, Williams, etc. and I did an average word count of their novels. They reached 200k and above. So I, being the typical uninformed self, thought I can do that too. And after 30k words into my story, I really thought I could. I still think I could make this a 180k+ word novel. But then for reasons unknown (I really don’t know), I thought, “I’m not a published author. And wait, I hear agents have word count limits. I know I’ve looked into this thing before, but that was a long time ago. Wait, let me look into this again.”

So I began looking up and kept arriving at the numbers 100-120k words. I was crushed. Devastated. Maybe I’m delusional, that my story really wouldn’t be that long, I’m just hoping it’ll be 180k words. But seeing that Book 1 of my story is going to end at around 50k words, it’s possible, or not. I’m not sure. And that’s my problem. Agents give leeway to authors who have a proven track record, which applies to most of those authors I just listed up there. First-time authors? Much less leeway. There are always exceptions, but they are so few and far between that you won’t be able to disprove what I just said up there.

Solution:

  1. I’m thinking much too far ahead. I haven’t even finished my story yet! I’m not even halfway through it, and I’m already fretting about an imaginary word count!
  2. This is a first draft. I’m sure there will be a lot of condensing, merging, deleting (*cringe*), and other methods of reducing that word count.

What I learned from this sad episode is: Don’t worry about technicalities while you’re writing. That’s the whole point of a first draft.

Worry about all these things when you complete your MS. This doesn’t mean I’m going to make the 120k word mark, I might miss it by a long shot (note I’m still confident about making it a super-long novel — I’ll get a good laugh at this when I finish at 90k words!), but it won’t prevent me from querying it. Not that I’m a phenomenal writer, but I’ll never forget what one writer told me: “Write a good story, let your agent worry about it’s length. Especially if you are a first time novelist, the most important thing is quality. Tell a gripping tale and it will find a home.”

ps. For kicks and giggles, I did a word count of a couple fantasy books in my library:

“Wizard’s First Rule”  Terry Goodkind; random page: 366 words. TOR Fantasy, 1994. 836p x 360 = 300,960 total words*
“Otherland River of Blue Fire” Tad Williams; random page: 374 words. DAW Books, 1998. 675p x 370 = 249,750 total words

How’s them numbers?

*total words is average. Could be more or less!

pps. Just look at the fretting and the frustration over word count … there’s more than one page of this! It’s just awful.

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The Internet, Procrastination, and Writing

Like so many other writers, I’m addicted to the internet. To Twitter, to Facebook, to Netvibes, and every other feed related to my hobbies and interests. And I struggle daily on getting myself focused on my productivity and writing (not including blogging). If I had my way, sleep should be optional! Unfortunately, I’m not superwoman, I have two toddlers, I’m a homemaker, a chauffeur, and have multiple things on the agenda that make me stay up until at least 2AM every night trying to get everything done that I want to get done. And writing in my novel — well, that tends to get shoved to the bottom of the list and with 15 minutes remaining in my awake hours, I end up putting it off completely because to me, I can’t instantly reorganize my mind to get into the writing mode.

Now some may say, “Just write! It doesn’t matter if it’s 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or 50 minutes, just get something on the paper. That’s what the first draft is all about.” If there’s one thing I really truly hate, it’s going back and rewriting entire scenes and plots because my mind wasn’t completely there when I was writing (I’m there right now. It’s absolutely awful). Unless I know what I’ll be writing in a scene (which is rare even though I just recently discovered I’m more a plotter than pantser), it’s just not happening. Sure, fifty words down on paper is better than none, but I’ll lose the flow, or the spark just won’t be there, and I’ll just end up hitting select and delete.

But I didn’t come here to complain about my 2AM problems. Over the past few months, I’ve been organizing and reorganizing how I work. I wanted to give you some of the things that have actually worked for me. And leave out the things that haven’t worked for me, which is every other procrastinator’s tip out there. Procrastinating by reading on how not to procrastinate. I love that. I’ll start off with how I deal with the internet:

  • MS Word is for editing and reviewing my draft when it’s complete. That’s it. I use WriteMonkey to write my draft, a distraction-free text program that is indispensable to me. When I hit open, it opens to the exact spot I finished writing, and I’ve made it a rule to never scroll back farther than the page I can see. The temptation to change a word here, work on that sentence there, has always hindered my progress, so I prevent it entirely, and WM helps me do just that. No red squiggles in this program!
  • I recently read Matthew Stibbe’s article with its tips on getting up earlier in order to accomplish more work. Even before reading the article I’ve been pushing my alarm clock ten minutes earlier every week so I don’t suffer from being over exhausted and hitting snooze 5+ times the next day. And it’s true: my mind is much more focused on getting things done in the morning, and getting up earlier every day helps me accomplish that much more work and leaves me more time to write at the end of the day!
  • I use Trillian to stay on top of all my tweets, incoming emails, IMs and more. No matter what program(s) you use for your bombardment of information and links, just turn it off. An hour or two without it is really refreshing, and believe it not, you don’t even notice it’s not there when you’re writing.
  • It helps to mute your computer volume (or everything else except for your music program).
  • Writing is your passion. Writing is your life. No matter what other hobbies you have, you need to addwriting pretty high on your priorities list. My family and livelihood are at the very top, of course, but writing comes right after that. It’s hard not to become addicted to reading blogs and other edifying morsels on the writing life, but is it really progressing your writing career? I’m convinced that you can be aware of every writing tip out there, but unless you actually write, those tips are useless. Show that you’ve learned something instead of just reading about it.
  • Find at least an hour of your day that has the least chance of interruption, and use it to write. With my toddlers, it’s after they go to bed, which always varies as some of you may know. But like the prioritization tip, is rechecking your email and facebook, smoking that comfort cigarette, or whatever you find yourself doing, is it really that important? Just. Start. Writing. Squeeze that muse until she collapses for the night. She’ll last longer the sooner you start. And the longer you wait, the more excuses come up, and the more tired you will be once you finally get around to writing, if at all.
  • It sounds so awful, but if you’re like me and have a wide variety of goals and hobbies, put them on a schedule. Sounds like a sin, but unfortunately, it’s depriving you of your time with your writing muse. I hardly spend longer than 5-10 minutes on facebook now (what a relief!), and I’ve let go of a lot of other social sites, too. The commitments are just not worth it, unless you’re getting paid for it. Your writing is worth so much more. If it helps (and if you love procrastinating as much as I do), create an Excel chart of all the hours in your day. Forget all those programs and freeware that calculate how much time you spend in this program or that website. The procrastination cure is the word “NOW.” Just make up a quick chart, color code it with tasks that take up a variable amount of time, or whatever. See how much time you can alott to just you and your muse, and you’ll be surprised how much free time you have for writing.
  • I’m convinced that when there’s external pressure, or someone is expecting something from you, it gives you incentive (to write). I decided after much thought to post my work online at Protagonize.com. When a fan or two wants to see more, then it gives me a push to keep going, and pronto! Give yourself a deadline, or imagine that you have until the end of the summer before your (imaginary) agent (yes, I’m a daydreamer) begins to wonder where your first draft is. Lying Pretending to yourself can psychologically coerce you into writing. We’re all still children dreaming up stories, right?

I hope some of these tips help you to keep on track. They’ve helped me over the years and maybe there’s something new up there that can prove useful for you. If there are any other tips that you use to deal with procrastination or the distraction of the internet, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email me!


Some Peeves about This Endeavor of Writing

I’ve come to conclude, with all these arguments for and against self-published or published material, to submit work to a publisher first. Subject it to criticism. Maybe they’ll even tell you why they like it or not. And work with that. If you don’t agree with what they have to say, or are pretty sure that they’re wrong, then go the self-publishing route after a round of feedback.

— If you’re impatient and you need to see your novel in tangible book format NOW, then self-publish.

— If you want to self-publish because the profits from it are much more enticing than going through a publisher, then self-publish.

— If you want to improve your work, you write for fun, and write because you love it, then try that publisher route first.

For now, I feel that self-publishing, being relatively new, is still very malleable. Opinions are still being made of it. Sure, there may be a lot of self-published crap out there, but isn’t it all relative? For the most part, we know that publishers need to make a dollar, too, and they’re looking out for themselves. Trends come and go, and there’s so much talent out there that is yet to be discovered. Not to mention that there are hundreds upon hundred of publishers out there. I’m not saying submit your piece to every publisher out there before going the self-publishing route. Be reasonable, give yourself a limit, and if you get nothing out of the experience (to include the contract), and you really want to get your book out there to the complete stranger, then self-publish.

I recommend Smashwords.

Also, another peeve of mine is when articles compare novel writing with writing a movie script. Sure, there are some complicated movie plots out there, but for the most part, it’s very direct (has to be because of time restraints) and generally quite restricting as far as character and backstory development goes. You know why reading the book the movie was based on is so much more fulfilling than watching the film. That’s why. So unless you’re writing a screenplay, I can’t recommend taking scriptwriting advise for your novel. No, I’m not condoning wandering from your plot and theme just because you have the liberty of filling up 200 pages as opposed to a screenplay’s average 100 pages (with typically a lot of white space on the paper). Directness and making every scene count is essential. The fun of novel-writing is flowering it up, putting in a lot of twists and expounding on certain details, subplots and description. Modern Hollywood is not a good example for how you should write your novel.

That’s my humble opinion though, of course.