word count

How to overcome obstacles in your writing

As writers we often get the advice to ‘Just keep writing.’ ‘Don’t stop until you reach the end of your first draft!’ ‘Write first, edit later!’ And while this is to an extent, good advice, sometimes your plot gets off course, or you get the nagging feeling that something isn’t going the way you want it to with the manuscript you’re working on. And when that happens it’s perfectly okay and sometimes necessary to stop, take stock of the situation, and correct the underlying issue before continuing to write. Otherwise you risk creating a whole lot more work for yourself in the long run.

So what sorts of things can go wrong?

Unfortunately lots of things. Writing is such a free-form kind of exercise that there is no one right way to do it. When you start a new project, you make all sorts of decisions, consciously or not, like what point of view you’re going to use, which characters you’re going to focus on, what the plot is going to be, what style or voice you’ll use, verb tense, and etc.

How do you tell when you’ve encountered an obstacle in your writing?

Most of the time, you have to go by instinct. It’s your project, so ultimately, you’re the decision-maker. The easiest way to tell, for me, is when I reach a dead-end of sorts. Either that’s because my passion for the project has faltered, or because I’ve ‘written myself into a corner’ so to speak, and I can’t see my way out of it. Usually this is a symptom of a larger problem with the manuscript. Either I made a wrong turn in the plot, or there’s something I don’t like about the manuscript that’s making me reluctant to work on it.

So what do you do when you come across something like this?

Take some time to think about what it is that’s gone wrong, what isn’t working for you. If it’s a matter of plot, sometimes you need to back up to the point that things changed for the worse and take a different path from there. If it’s a matter of style, is it something that changed, or is the overall style not working for the kind of novel you want this to be? Point of view can be a big game changer as well, whose story it is and whose perspective it is being told from is a huge decision. For example, if you started writing in first person limited perspective from one character’s point of view, but then determine later that you need a wider view of what’s going on, or need to include the perspective of another character to make the story work, then you might want to consider changing it. It’s hard to make these changes when you’ve already begun and the temptation is there to just simply carry on with what you have, but trust me, it’s much harder to change the entire manuscript on the second draft than it would be to correct the problem when you first detect it. Even if that means starting over, and it very well might.

My experience with Mirror’s Despair (the fourth in the Mirror World series)

As you may or may not know, Murandy and I have been working on our latest novel, Mirror’s Despair, for the #85K90 challenge. The challenge is to write 85,000 words in 90 days from January 1st to March 31st. This is our third year in the challenge and usually the pace of the challenge works very well for us. Not so this year, I’m afraid! Early enough on in the challenge (sometime in early February) we realized that we had encountered one of these kinds of obstacles with our manuscript. Specifically, we knew what we wanted to have happen by the end of the book, but we hadn’t done enough work planning what needed to happen to get us there while keeping in mind all the mysteries we had to solve before the end of the series. A big reason for this is because we weren’t done editing or getting our notes back from the third book in the series. In short, we were getting ahead of ourselves and really weren’t ready to dive into the pace of the challenge starting January 1st. So, mid-february, we stopped working on Mirror’s Despair temporarily to take some time to reconsider our decisions so far and make some changes. And despite this killing our chances at completing the challenge in time, I know it is going to make for a healthier manuscript in the long run.

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So if you encounter similar problems when working on your own writing projects, remember that it is perfectly okay to stop, take stock, and make some changes before you continue. In fact, it may make the whole project easier.

Happy writing!  

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How many words is too many words?

For me, there’s nothing more cringe-worthy than when a first-time author announces that their manuscript is over 200,000 words, or worse yet, 300,000 words. The worst part is that they usually say with pride, like they’re looking for praise. I’ll admit, writing that many words is quite an accomplishment and for that reason, they should be proud, but announcing a single volume manuscript that long tells me that the writer has not done their research in regards to how long their novel should be to fit established guidelines.

Now, most word count guidelines are just that; guidelines. That said though, there are practical reasons why those guidelines exist. That’s not to say that a 200,000 word manuscript can’t be published that way, but it’s less likely to be and it will run into a few problems trying to get there.

First, let’s look at traditional publishing. First, a publisher (or agent) is going to be looking within a certain range for the length of books they’re willing to work on. One reason for this is that the longer the book is, the more effort and time it takes to get it ready for publication. A second reason is that for marketing purposes, each genre has an established word count range which readers expect to find when they pick up a book in their preferred genre.

According to ‘The Write Life’, here are the guidelines for most genres:

too-many-wordsFiction Genres

  • Mainstream Romance: 70,000–100,000 words
  • Subgenre Romance: 40,000–100,000 words
  • Science Fiction / Fantasy: 90,000–120,000 (and sometimes 150,000) words
  • Historical Fiction: 80,000–100,000
  • Thrillers / Horror / Mysteries / Crime: 70,000–90,000 words
  • Young Adult: 50,000–80,000

Now, what about self-publishing? You might think that if you’re not trying to get the attention of a publisher or an agent that word counts don’t matter, but you’d be wrong. Readers also have expectations and it is easier to market to people if they know what to expect. Not only that, but printing costs come into effect. If you’re book is monstrously long it’s going to cost waaaay more to print than your average book that that’s going to impact what price you set and therefore your bottom line.

So if you have a manuscript that’s way over or under the word counts suggested for your genre, I recommend taking a closer look to see if you can add or remove sections, or consider making your monster of a manuscript into several volumes. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

keep-calm-and-edit-later

Here’s another handy breakdown:

General

  • Flash Fiction: 300–1500 words
  • Short Story: 1500–30,000 words
  • Novellas: 30,000–50,000 words
  • Novels: 50,000–110,000 words

What about you? Do you think about word counts when preparing your manuscript? Thanks for reading and please leave your thoughts below!