Quality Over Quantity & Defying the ‘Word Count’ Gods

The nightmare began sometime in mid-April

Despite being on point with my word count, one evening I had a horrible thought: what if after 50,000 words I didn’t like my story enough to actually shape into a proper novel?

That evening’s writing session had hit an all-time low. By now, I could see massive, gaping, awkward holes in my narrative, which I had no idea how to fill.

The organic development of my narrative began to feel forced. My exuberantly imperfect inner scribbler was feeling trapped. Trapped in a messy writer’s room of mind-skulduggery and coerced to make words appear on the screen. Meanwhile, the Tahoma 12 point font was screaming at me to write more! ‘We need more words or the word count gods will be angry!’

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The process was, to a degree, still enjoyable, but my spidey-senses were telling me something wasn’t right. I had to stop. I couldn’t bring myself to write another word. That night my word count was in the region of 26,000 words. I hit ‘save’, shut down the computer and lost myself in American Horror Story.

The Next Day…

On my way to work, I (stupidly?) re-read Chrissie Manby’s Writing For Love and something she said made me reassess my attempt at ‘exuberant imperfection’.

It’s all very well having all these great ideas, but when it comes to stretching an idea into a novel, you’ve got to have a plan. But plans are so restrictive. How can you be creative if you’re working to a plan? Trust me, when you hit the fifty thousand word mark, you’ll be glad that you are.

Chrissie Manby, Writing for Love (Hodder & Stoughton)

Another uncomfortable gut-grumble (nothing to do with that morning’s breakfast), made me revisit (read: pay attention to) Chris Baty’s chapter called, ‘I wrote a novel. Now what?’

What will I do with my story, once the word count has been met and the deadline has passed?

“Do I want to devote a year of my life to making it better? The answer may be no… With our busy lives, we have to pick our battles, and there’s every chance that you just won’t like the book you wrote enough to wrangle it into shape. Two of the five novels I’ve written fit into this category.”

Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days (Chronicle Books LLC)

Instinct told me that like Chris Baty, I too, would find myself relegating my 50k tome to the slush file. That depressed me. Deep down in my lady-plums depressed me.

So, like any Type-A personality, I did what I do best: I made a plan.

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The Excel Spreadsheet

I took stock of what I had written, saw the storyline I enjoyed and sketched out a plan. It took three separate sessions, but eventually I had a road map to follow.

Personally, it doesn’t even matter if my work is any good. It’s more important for me to strike a balance between creativity and discipline.

Where does that leave me? I know have about 10,000 words of story that’s following a narrative I can understand and I can write around. There are still holes, however, I can deviate and casually navigate scenes as they come to mind, knowing that at the end of a session my words will fit in to my narrative’s plan.

Now I need more coffee. I got words to write. #amwriting

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Kyla

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