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Another Existential Writing Crisis

Monday, November 29, 2010
I just wrapped up another chapter of my novel last week and decided to do a quick word count to see how long it is so far. Now I tend to be a bit gabby when I write, so I expected it to be too long. But not THIS long. Right now if one uses the standard "word count" function on Word all the text together is about 160,000 words long. I've read that publishers are generally unwilling to consider books that are more than 100K words long. Now I'm sure that the editing process will result in massive cuts to the length, but even if I cut HALF the text it would still be 80K - when I'm probably only 3/5 to 2/3 the way through the story.

This is a problem.

Now my goal in writing this book has never been just to write something that can be published. It's a story that's been kicking in my head for years and I wanted to see if I could tell it. Plus, I just like writing. However, I don't want to write something that definitely CAN'T be published, which is where I seem to be headed at the moment.

I'm left with a number of different possibilities:

1) I could just continue as I have been and worry about this problem when I finish the story. The downside of this is that it might result in a ton more work at the end of the process.

2) I could re-cast the book as a series of shorter novels, with the first book a relatively self-contained whole. This wouldn't be too hard, since the first portion has most of the key elements I'd need for a shorter story. I'd have to do some re-writing and shift some things around, and probably flesh out a few sections, but it's doable. The upside of this approach is that I'd have a book finished by middle of next year. The downside is that I had hoped to avoid writing a series. Maybe it IS impossible to get sci-fi stories down to a single book.

3) I could make a major effort to cut down the story now and see if I can get what I've written so far to an appropriate length without mutilating the narrative. This would force me to stop writing entirely for a while and just focus on editing, which I'm loathe to do. But it also might force me to focus on what truly is essential. If I make the attempt and fail, I could always revert to option #2.

I suppose ultimately what I need to decide is what sort of story this is. Is it an epic requiring multiple volumes? Or can it be distilled into a single work? Does the fact that it has shifted from the latter represent a natural evolution I should respect? Or does it just mean that I've lost control of myself?

Something tells me that I'm not the first amateur novelist to have this problem.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:57 AM
  • I don't understand why you don't want to write a series. As a reader, I LOVE series. You get to know the characters, and you want to keep seeing them.

    I can understand not wanting to feel trapped writing about the same characters over and over again, but there's no reason you can't keep writing about them until you just don't want to anymore.

    Do NOT stop writing to focus on editing until you have finished writing your whole story!

    Admittedly, I haven't completed any manuscripts. But from everything I've read about writing by successful writers, and my own experience with writing almost anything at all, you write a full draft and then edit. Then repeat that process until you are done.

    Of course, from what I understand, some writers don't know when done happens. An editor or somebody has to tell them. Kind of like an artist never feeling that a picture is finally finished.


    Anyway, best of luck with it. Tell your story and then decide what it's telling you it wants to be when it grows up.

    By Blogger Rebecca, at 8:50 PM  
  • I seem to recall reading something like this on Proust's blog...

    By Blogger Vic, at 8:54 PM  
  • Yeah, I know the best idea is to just to keep going. I'm just not looking forward to having to re-cast the whole thing in a year.

    Gee, thanks for the "support" Vic!

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 2:14 PM  
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