Friday, May 29, 2015

Writing: Short or Long?

My morning walk takes me by the second hole of a nearby golf course, and I generally pause to watch golfers hit their approach shots into the green. A few overshoot it (leading me to watch for lost balls in the yard across the street), but most come up short. In either case, their problem hitting their shots the proper distance emphasizes to me how talented professional golfers are, not just to hit the green with their approach shots, but to hit the right part of the green in most cases. It's not as easy as it looks.

What does this have to do with writing? More than you might think. Writers generally have a target number for the word count of their finished manuscript. How do they hit it? What happens if they're too long or too short? I don't know what others do, but I've finally come up with a solution that works for me.

If you think the book you read was written in one fell swoop, without editing, revisions, and rewrites--then dream on. It didn't take long before I realized it truly does "take a village" of editors to produce a well-written book. Thus, I know going in that I'll be doing several rewrites of mine. My tendency is to write just a bit short. I keep one eye on the word count and the other on the outline in my head. No, I'm not an outliner, but even a "pantser" like me knows what has gone before and how he/she wants the book to wind up. So, keeping both those things in mind, I tend to come out a few thousand words short of my target goal.

Then, with the second rewrite, I make certain I've described the surroundings, engaged the senses, more fully explained some of the things that were clear in my mind but not necessarily in the reader's (and this is where my first reader comes in...she keeps me honest). I may also remove some things that are unnecessary, but this is more than balanced by what I put in. At the end of that rewrite, I'm generally in the correct ballpark.

Other writers do it the other way around--they write long, putting in everything that's needed plus a bit more, then tighten their writing in the revision process. It works for them. I don't know how you'll do it, but you'll eventually find your own sweet spot in the process.

It still takes...I won't say "talent" or "skill"--rather, I think it takes "experience." In other words, to learn to write you must practice writing. Practice won't necessarily get you to Carnegie Hall (old joke), but it often gets you noticed by agents and editors.

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Joy Avery Melville said...

Interesting subject this morning, Richard.
As ACFW Novel Track Writing Loop Coordinator,
this subject gets hit upon at some point every week.

I PUT OUT EACH WEEK? Authors submit articles to me at this length
and I'd LOVE to spotlight it on one of the Tuesdays next month.

THANKS for hitting this one today - much needed.

Blessings as you continue to GATHER WORDS.

Richard Mabry said...

Joy, thanks. Yes, of course you may use this post in Novel Track (which, by the way, is a great resource for writers who are members of ACFW). This is something each of us has to face, but there's not a lot written about it. Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for stopping by.

Gail Kittleson said...

Thanks, Richard. This means I'll see your article again next mo. in Novel Track Writing. But today, it encouraged me b/c it addresses something I've pondered--why must I delete so much of what I've written w/EVERY manuscript. I usually chalk this tendency up to my codependent bent of over-explaining so everyone GETS what I mean. Smile. Your take on it gives me new perspective, and I appreciate you sharing.
Happy weekend,

Gail Kittleson

Richard Mabry said...

Gail, early on I learned that not every word I commit to the computer screen is priceless...even though I may think so at the time. So I created, within the folder for that book, a subfolder named "recycle." If I have to cut something I've written, I put it there. It may get tossed out when the book is finished, it may be inserted elsewhere, it may even find a spot in another book. But nothing we write is wasted, because it's all experience. Thanks for your comment.

Author Peggy Blann Phifer said...

Thank you for this timely post, Richard. I tend to over-write, ending up with lots of editing and cutting. Unlike Gail for me, doing it that way works. I think it's easier to cut words than struggle to add them. But that's just me.

What I tend to do is go back over what I've written the day before and 'tweak' before moving on. Yes, that slows my forward progress, but as a 'pantser'—AND a perfectionist—reading what's already been written often gives me fresh ideas when I start on the next scene or chapter. When I start a project all I really know is the ending. Getting there is the fun...and the surprises along the way. Does that make sense?

I liked the golf analogy. Very apt.

Thanks again, Richard

Richard Mabry said...

Peggy, thanks for your comment. It's interesting that we all get there by different routes. I, too, am a "seat of the pants" writer, but I generally come in short and then add when I do my first edit. However, we're alike in that I read over (and edit) what I've written previously before starting forward--something Al Gansky taught me when I first got on this road to writing.
I appreciate your stopping by and commenting.

Janet K Brown said...

I think I write short. In my rewrites, I layer more description (which I tend to leave out) & more emotion. Those things always make it longer for me. Good thoughts, Richard.

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Janet. And if you don't think editors pay attention to word count, try turning in a manuscript that's too short--they have to take all that into account when putting together the book.
Appreciate your comment.