Monday, June 20, 2005

Confessions Of Wordy McWordWord

The very first manuscript I wrote was magical, I now realize. Not magical because it was any good. Magical because when I wrote it, I lived in total ignorance as to the intricacies of the publishing world.

I'd had this story - this very detailed, plot-heavy story - floating in my mind for so long, I finally decided to sit down and put it on paper. For two months, I came home from work, scarfed down dinner and took care of the family, then sat down at the computer with anticipation. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I didn't care about anything but telling my story. It was a lot of fun.

But what I've learned since those halcyon days has really cramped my writing style. It's not so much I now worry about character and plot and good craft. I mean, all of that is important and I'm much more aware of it now. Really, my writing has improved ten-fold since that first manuscript.

What's freezes me up is word count.

Yes, word count.

See, I'm a wordy writer. You've probably already figured this out because my blog entries are usually three times longer than most other bloggers on a fairly regular basis. I don't understand the meaning of concise, I guess. I try really hard not to be repetitive, so I'm not really sure where all of those words come from, but there they are.

Learning that single title romance novels usually run in the 150,000 word range is like putting a straight jacket on me. I've already given up on the idea of writing for series lines because I cannot imagine telling a complete story in the span of a paltry 70-90,000 words. And I'm not talking about stories with casts of thousands or intricate settings that require loads of description.

What happens is I start out going gangbusters, and I reach what I'd consider the end of my first chapter. I do a word count and discover that I've already reached 10% of my allotted word count budget and I know I have more than nine chapters left to write. At the rate I'm going, I'll end up with something that rivals War and Peace in terms of pure heft. I get really discouraged because I feel like I must be doing something wrong. Other writers manage a perfectly wonderful Chapter 1 without hitting the 12,000 word mark. Why is it that I've got too many words?

I know the solution is to just not worry about word count at all. I should sit down and tell my entire story. Take as many words as I need. The save comes in the rewrite and the edits. That's when I would pare it all down. Kill those darlings, get rid of all the unnecessary thats and adverbs. I get that part, no problem.

The thing is, when I reread what I've written, I still feel as if it is a bit...thin. You'd think that with such an extreme word count my writing would feel rich, full of atmosphere and perhaps even a bit of purple prose. Except it doesn't. I look at what I've got and I still don't see that it equals the books I've read and love as far as conveying scene. Granted, I'm a beginner, but then how do I account for so many dang words?

What I need to do is turn off my inner word-counter. Maybe I should even find a way to temporarily disable my word count tool. Kind of like hiding your scale when you are on a diet so you don't get discouraged if the weight doesn't fall off like you think it should.

I once wrote a story for a contest that had a word limit of, like, 750 words. I got down around 1,000 or so and was completely stuck. So I sent the rough draft off to a writer friend I have who has almost the exact opposite problem as I do. She's a master at brevity. She uses the fewest words necessary to tell the most amazing stories, and I both love her and hate her for it. Anyway, I asked her to help me edit and what she sent back to me was amazing. She'd removed some descriptive, cut out speech tags, got rid of some dialogue speech tics I'd been using. The word count was a perfect 750 and with a big thanks to her, I was able to submit the story.

But when it was all said and done, the Story Lite version felt kind of dry to me. Like a steak that had been cooked too long and had no flavorful juices left. I'd sacrificed my voice in the name of making a word count.

I guess what I need to do is go back to writing a story simply because I have a story I want to tell, with no ideas of ever having it published. If I can get into that frame of mind - not worry if my end result will be a three volume set - I imagine writing would be a lot more fun. And I also believe it may be the answer to my problem of never finishing. Somehow it's really hard to get inspired to finish something when you already feel you've reached your word limit. Kind of a "what's the point" attitude.

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