Friday, January 28, 2011

Counting Down

By Susan

In coming close to the completion of The Angels' Share, my work in progress, I've become a bit obsessive about the math in my writing. I'm counting everything: chapters, words, plot lines, and all the loose ends that I have to tie up. With only 15,000 or so words to go, I somehow just now realized that I have a whole lot to say in a very short period. As in: 30,000 words to say in 15,000 words' time to prevent my novel from spilling over the 100,000 word count mark.

And so to manage all of the things that I am counting, I created a file I've named Nuts and Bolts. Word count, chapter lengths, character lists with DOBs and DODs, family trees, notes, and scene edits--they all go into that little manila file on my PC's desktop. (I imagine, if it were a real paper file, it would be bursting open with wadded and wrinkled pages covered in coffee stains and doodles.) The organization, I must admit, helps. I'm tightening up. In doing this, I'm also talking to other writers about scary things like word count. What is too long? What is too short?

Pamela advised me to allow the story to tell itself and to worry about the word count later.

Kim's final product, much like mine, will be at or over 100,000 words, and she's written about her own word count issues here.

Our prolific Julie, who is in the editing stages now of her latest manuscript, seems to know the sweet spot on good fiction and hits it every time.
Joan just hit 80,000 words on her WIP, the same marker I just crossed, and Elizabeth, who writes young adult fiction, keeps things short and sweet.
I've found an amazing list--Top 10 longest English language novels here--that makes The Angels' Share sound like a whisper. I've seen agent blogs on the topic and the comments from yet-to-be published writers goes on for days. Writers who write too much (like me) must learn to slash and burn. Writers who are too brief need to shore up their fiction.
If there is a 'sweet spot,' as I alluded to earlier, I would say that it is 80,000 to 100,000 words. Yet as Pamela reminded me yesterday, I need to tell the story. Complete the plot lines. Write it until it's finished. There's a time to edit. There's a time to revise. Right now, it's time for completion, and tools like my Nuts and Bolts file are helping me get there.
What are your thoughts? Is there a sweet spot for word count? How long is 'too long'? How do you organize the back end of your manuscript?
Share with us! And keep writing :-)


  1. My latest was to be 90k according to my outline and wrapped up at 101k! Yes, yiu just have to tell the story, then worry about word count during revisions. It's helpful to have a goal, regardless.

  2. That was me--Julie. Darn blogger.

  3. ha ha, stealthy Julie... posting as anonymous! But I agree- writing it is the thing. I can always edit it down. Thanks!

  4. I'm almost to 64,000 words right now and missing a big chunk in the middle of my current WIP. I tend to be verbose, so we'll see how it ends up.

    I have a document entitled "Mess" or "Junk I don't know what to do with." Rather than deleting, it gets shoved in there. If I'm looking for something, file find is my best friend. I also have a "Start up" document that has DOB, hair color, etc.

    <>< Katie


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