Sunday, August 22, 2010

I wish I was an under-achiever...

Before I continue, let me state that my use of the term “under-achiever” in this particular post is not in its usual derogatory tone, but rather something I aspire to be as a writer in reference to the dreaded Word Count.

For example, if a novel in your genre is typically 90K words then you have achieved that goal when you reach approximately 90K words. If you finish your novel significantly less than that, then you have quite literally under-achieved. Right?

Contrarily, if you were to write…oh, say, a Paranormal Romance novel…and comes in at almost 135K WORDS, then you’ve by far surpassed the status of over-achieving and gone straight to, “Oh my God!”

That’s right, you guessed it. I went WAY over an acceptable first-novel-word-count. Now, I’ve looked at my scenes from every angle possible and tried to picture my story without them and just can’t bring myself to cut any of them except one. But as I was going through my MS this time I realized something about halfway through. Cutting scenes isn’t my problem. It’s cutting words.

I was always confused when I heard authors say, “I’m doing line edits now.” What the heck were line edits? Who, in their right mind, would go back and analyze every line in their book? I’ll tell you who. A writer who knows what the hell they’re doing, that’s who.

The first run-through of my MS on these latest edits (which were complete overhauls, I might add) I was taking out all of the unnecessary “that” uses and correcting paragraph breaks. Easy stuff like that. Because after all, I thought, I've done so much work on this thing, there's only going to be MINOR edits that need to be done now. It's basically a done deal.

But once I started getting closer to the middle I realized there was A LOT of text I could cut just by choosing different words. For instance, I could take a sentence like this:

“Your body can’t digest regular food now that you’re a vampire.”

And change it to this:

“Vampires can’t digest regular food.”

For my purposes, the second sentence works just as well as the first, but it knocked 6 words off of my count. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but they add up fast.

Another habit I have that adds to my superfluous word count is my love for description. But I go overboard. I add in so many adjectives and adverbs that it turns a perfectly succinct sentence into an entire paragraph. I wax poetic until the reader forgets what the hell it is I’m waxing about. (Okay, maybe I’m not that bad, but you get the picture.) But whether you call it babbling or embellishing, it all has the same result.

Too. Many. Words.

So, even though I had the first half of my MS marked up with red pen, I went back to beginning and started marking it up with purple. I looked at every sentence as an individual. If it wasn’t pertinent to the story, I cut it. If they were unnecessary descriptions, I cut it. If I could think of a different word – or set of words – that would say the same thing in less, I cut it.

At this point I’ve only fixed about a quarter of my edits in the computer version of my novel and I’ve already knocked off about 2K words. That’s not bad at all. My goal is to not have anything more than 130,499 words, so when I query I can say 130K (you’re supposed to round to the nearest 500), but I’m hoping I can get it into the upper 120s.

What have I learned from this experience? With my next novel I have a feeling I’ll be analyzing my sentence structure and word choices a lot earlier in the game to prevent such a gross over-achieving status. I don’t hold out any hopes for ever being an under-achiever with word counts. I’ll just never be that person that can throw down a skeleton and flesh it out after.

But maybe, with practice and time, I’ll eventually just be a regular ol’ achiever.


P.S. My earlier post boasting about my new website is now obsolete. I cancelled that account with VistaPrint. Loved the template, hated the price. I'm still on the prowl for the right hosting company for my website. I'll let you all know when I make my final decision. Sorry for the tease with the other one!


  1. Have you used Wordle yet? It's a great website for finding over-used words. I easily cut a couple of thousand by realizing I over-used 'just', 'looked', 'felt like', 'seemed'... Every time I looked at those sections, I was able to tighten up some more :)

  2. Ha ha :) Sorry, but you just make your problems seem so funny! That's a good thing though, I promise. Good luck with your line edits and with finding a cheap website solution.

  3. Be careful what you wish for! I need to add about 25K to my WIP and that seems so hard.

    The important thing here is that you're recognizing the issue and working on it. That's part of the process with writing. Learn as we go. :)

  4. Don't be too hard on yourself. This is your first novel and you're still learning. I imagine every novel is a learning experience and you'll get better and better with each one.

    Good luck with your line edits! Once you get in the zone I'm sure you'll fly through it.

    I'm an under-achiever when it comes to word count!

    Thanks for the update!


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