Friday, 23 July 2010


I'm getting to a certain point in my current book now. It's a point I like to call The Scary Place.

It gets its name because this is where, by my (and my word-o-metre's) calculations, I should be nearly at the end. I'm only supposed to have around 10% (in this case, between 10,000 and 15,000 words) to go. And yet, and yet, and yet...


It doesn't fit! Oh, no, what do I do? Holy Heck, this book is going to be way. Too. Long. Waaaah!

Yeah, basically it's like that. I don't know why this happens to me. Am I the only one? When I'm plotting out a book, deciding what should happen to who when, I'm always plagued with a vague feeling that not enough is going to happen and that it's all a bit thin. But by the time I hit The Scary Place the plot has started bulging out in all directions like an athlete on anabolic steroids. New scenes have somehow inserted themselves into the story. Characters have developed in unexpected ways. Parts of the story that I thought would only need one scene turn out to need three and a half. And even though this happens to me every single time, I'm never prepared for it.

If you could see me now, you would see that I have a harried, frazzled look, that my hair is sticking out in all directions from me running my hands through it, that my pupils are just a bit too dilated from rampant coffee-consumption. This is the look of an author on the edge.

I may have mentioned that my last manuscript, which I had originally forecast at a length of 65,000 words, ending up weighing in at a whopping 130,000? I do not want that to happen again, friends. Especially not since I ended up cutting nearly 30,000 of those words in revisions with my editor (it burned, I tell you! BURNED!). I want this book to be a reasonable length. I want to be between 90-95,000 words long and no more.

But I haven't even finished the bit where...well, that would be a spoiler but, looking at my four act diagram, I have nineteen 'Crisis Points' in the story, places where something major happens which flips the plot. And I've only written thirteen and a half of them. That means there are five major crises to write and I'm supposed to do that in 15,000 words? No way that's gonna happen.

So what do I do? Plough on - because it's all I can do - and admit that my visions of a first draft completion date of the end of this month are nothing more than a beautiful dream. Yes, I'm going to run over my word target AGAIN. Yes, I will probably have to cut thousands of words in revision AGAIN. Yes, I will miss my dream target (although not the actual target, which is early September) AGAIN.

The real question is, why do I persist in making up these word targets and pretending they're accurate even though I always exceed them? I suppose they're a safety blanket for a writer, giving us a sense that we know where we're going. Which is why letting go of that target is so scary. Like a kid venturing out without a security blanket for the first time, a writer without a word target feels cold, vulnerable and likely to burst into tears at any moment...

Frankly, I need a hug. Any takers?


Emma said...

I think this just proves that you're a real writer, when the plot and characters explode and expand by themselves! Plus, I'd love 130,000 words of your writing - the longer, the better for me, though I suppose your editor may disagree!

P.S. I meant to congratulate you on the grant earlier but my internet had other ideas and wouldn't recognise me, so sorry it's late but ... YEY! CONGRATULATION HUGS TOO!


Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you for the congratulations, and thank you again, for the hug! I sympathise with your internetz trouble - I still haven't got my proper email reactivated.

My publisher is incredibly good about word limits, and say they just want to book to be good, so when my editor makes me cut 30,000 words I know it's because they shouldn't have been there in the first place. But this book is turning out to be so complicated and I can already tell that I'm going to have to do SO much revising and rejigging of scenes - I was clinging to my end of July finish date like a drowning woman clings to a life raft. And now it's gone!


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Anonymous said...


Exceeding word limits are the story of my life - I actually have an MO now which requires me not only to research and write a good paper, but also be prepared to edit at least 15-20% of it out.

And even though I hate it and I start off thinking everything that needs to be in there is in there, it's actually a pretty great skill. Editing is about as hard as writing.

Zoë Marriott said...

My tip on that paper? Make sure you repeat yourself a few times. Then you know you'll have ready made stuff to edit!

Editing is definitely just as hard, if not harder, than the actual writing. That's why so many gifted writers never get published - they can't bring themselves to murder their darlings. But I'm longing to get to the edits on this one because it will mean I AM FINISHED.

I so, so want to be finished right now...

Saya said...

My problem with that? I never repeat myself. I have taken out whole paragraphs of original content when I couldn't figure it out, but most of all, I have totally mastered saying a huge point in as few words as possible, so by the end, every single word has earned its right to exist, and usually does double-duty and not one word is superfluous.

But I think I can only do that when I have something to condense it from in the first place - so I need to write the long version.

I've been watching Two of a Kind (yes, Mary-Kate and Ashley XD) and there is this one episode where Carrie is doing anything and everything to put off writing her English paper.

It's only 20K words (although 20K in research terms is about 100K normal prose), but ARGH XD

I'm going to work on my dissertation now.

Because I want a degree. Another one. So I can get a job and not starve on the streets of London.

These are not delaying tactics.

Zoë Marriott said...

This condensing thing will stand you in very good stead if/when you become a novelist! I can't help repeating myself. Usually as soon as I've finished describing something one way, a better way presents itself - I can end up with this paragraphs in a row saying the same thing in different ways.

Yes, off you go - I have it on good authority that dissertation adviser are way worse than editors. *Sympathetic face*

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