Feb 24

On word counts and interesting books. A response to a commenter.

I’m generally an easy-going, non-confrontational person, but an anonymous commenter going only as “reader” left the following on my previous post, and I feel compelled to respond:

It’s a pity when author says that the main goal is a certain number of word and not to write an interesting book!

Dear Reader–

I’m sorry if this is going to come off as harsh but… Are you for real? (I actually want to say something much harsher, but I’m holding back for now.)

Writing an interesting book is a given. Trust me, that big old plot board on my wall was so that I could write an interesting book that made sense and fit together in an entertaining and appealing manner.

But to get there, I had to write words. It’s called goal-setting.

I mean…Seriously?? If all I cared about was just the number of words, I’d write a book that consisted of

“Kara Gillian summoned a demon. It was really really really really really scary. She told it to sit and stay. It sat. She was very very very very happy that it didn’t kill her.” And so on.

When a builder decides to build a house, he or she most likely has the concept of their beautiful house in their mind. But they sure as hell don’t start building it without a plan, and when the workers start on it, I highly doubt they say, “Okay, we’re gonna build us a house today!” More likely they say, “Okay, let’s see if we can get the slab poured today. Then when that dries we’ll get it framed. The next day, we’ll put the walls on. The next we’ll shoot for finishing the roof.” **

Writing a novel is a lot of work, and can be unspeakably intimidating. Any task that you know will take you 6 months to a year (or far longer) can seem damn near insurmountable, even if you’ve done it before. But the best way to get around ANY huge task is to break it up into manageable segments.

I mean… seriously???? How can this be such a foreign concept?

Every writer I know sets daily or weekly or monthly writing goals for themselves. Most of the professional ones do the daily word counts, simply because it’s the easiest way to structure your day and give yourself a daily goal to help you stay interested and motivated, and keep from feeling overwhelmed. Because, trust me, 100,000 words is A LOT OF WORDS.

When I start a book, the first thing I do is create an outline. Not every writer does this, but an outline works best for me. It usually takes me at least a week of hard musing to create my outline, and it often involves either more butcher-paper covered walls, or giant sticky notes plastered all over the place. Once the rough outline is in place, then I start writing. I do NOT sit down and say “I’ma gonna write this whole book!” What I do is tell myself that even though 100,000 words can seem insurmountable, 2,000 words isn’t. So, for my first draft, I do my best to make myself write at least 2,000 words a day. And, since I’ve been down this road a few times now, I know that my rough first draft will be “finished” at about 65,000 words. Within that word count should be the bulk of my story, and I know that edits, rewrites, changes, and added descriptions will bring it up at least another 30,000 words.

Wait, you may be asking, why do you even care about word count at all? Why don’t you simply write the book at the length it needs to be?

Well, first off, my contract calls for a certain length. Now, it doesn’t have to be spot-on exact, but it needs to be close. This is for a number of reasons, but the one that appeals to me the most, is that 100,000 words is right about the perfect length for my kind of story to be told and hold the reader’s interest. So, it makes for a nice structure for my books.

So, getting back to how I write. Okay, so I have my rough draft, which is somewhere around 65,000 words. Now, I do NOT go in there and stuff in another 30,000 words just to plump it out. No, what happens now is called REWRITING. And do you know why I rewrite?


So, I print it out, and I read it through, and I mark the hell out of it with colored pencils. And I make notes of all the scenes that are horrible, and which scenes work, and what needs to change. I will most likely end up cutting damn near 20,000 words from that 65,000 and rewriting them into something that works better. Then I’ll do another plot outline, drawing out the plot as I have it now to see the “Big Picture” and try to do my best to make sure everything fits together and works. Then I write and rewrite some more.

Finally, when I think it’s as good as I think I can make it, I’ll send it off to a few select first readers. A few days later I’ll get their notes back. Sometimes pages and pages of notes. None of these notes will say one fucking thing about my word count. All of the notes will have to do with what works, what doesn’t, what makes sense, what is confusing, where it drags, etc.

And, so I will rewrite again. By this time I don’t give a shit about word count. Because now that I have a cohesive draft, my goal is more chapter-oriented. I tell myself that I will rewrite X number of chapters a day, which helps to keep me from FREAKING THE FUCK OUT at the pages of notes that my readers have given me and the amount of work I have ahead of me.

Once those rewrites have been finished, off the manuscript goes to the editor. She doesn’t give a fuck about the word count either, except to make note of whether it’s much higher or lower than the contracted amount, because it will make a difference to Production as far as layout, font size, number of pages, etc. She will read through it several times, mark up the manuscript, and then send it and a revision letter back to me. The revision letter for my first novel was 9 single-spaced pages long, and all of the notes had to do with making the book better. You know, more interesting. And I made those revisions, because I wanted my book to be, you know, more interesting. Gooder. As gooder as it could possibly be. Eventually it was published, and I was very happy.

But none of that would have ever happened if I’d been so intimidated by the thought of writing a novel that I couldn’t start.

Before I wrote Mark of the Demon, there were two pieces of advice that stuck with me. The first was via Jay Lake, and it was “The best indicator of future success as a novelist is writing one.” The second was one that actually came from a fitness and weight-loss site that said, “Don’t focus on the huge goal at the end. Don’t say ‘I will lose fifty pounds.’ Instead, say, ‘I will walk two miles every day and eat more fruits and vegetables.’” I co-opted that advice and shifted it to, “Don’t tell yourself that you will write a novel in six months. Instead, tell yourself that you will write 2 pages a day.”

Now, my dear reader, all that being said, if you find my books to be uninteresting, then that is surely an opinion you are allowed to have and voice. But please don’t blame that on the fact that I break down my big goals into smaller ones.


** I’ve never built a house. Please don’t get on my case for the fact that this description is surely rife with any number of inaccuracies. :-)

ETA: Oh, and by the way, those 100,000 words have to be turned in by a certain time or I don’t GET PAID. I can’t simply wait until I feel like writing. I have to make words. Yes, even interesting ones.

Feb 22

I still have a blog..?

Oh… my poor, poor…. POOR neglected blog!

Well, obviously the whole Holidailies bit about posting every day met a hideous death. LOLOL I really only have one excuse for the extended lapse which is:

I’ve been working my ass off!

Seriously, I have been! I have a March 1st deadline for the third book in the Kara Gillian series, and at my last post my wordcount stood somewhere near 40K. And they weren’t pretty and polished 40K either. Oh, no… my plot was a mess, my scenes were out of order, and, well, I still had at least 50K words to write. But I hated the thought of missing my deadline, especially since this is my first deadline with my new editor over at DAW.

This was part of my living room wall for several weeks, while I struggled to Make The Plot Work:

Butcher paper plotting

So, I wrote the ginormous bulk of the book in about a month, then spent about 3-4 weeks rewriting the entire damn thing. I’ve been writing 8+ hours a day, plus time stolen in the evenings, plus as much time as I could squeeze out of the weekends. Twitter became my friend, because I didn’t have to think about writing something terribly coherent. (140 character limit! Yay!)

However, the good news is that the mad crush is over (for this book, at least!) and I’m quite pleased with how Secrets of the Demon has turned out. I think that the lines between Team Ryan and Team Rhyzkahl will definitely be drawn after people read this one!

But enough about book three! Book two–Blood of the Demon–is officially hitting the shelves tomorrow! (I say “officially” because it’s already on the shelves in most bookstores, but Feb 23rd is the listed release date.)

Blood of the Demon.. it's a book!

Purty, ain’t it! So, go get yours!