See These Bones
Status: 79k words / ~130k projected length
This week’s update will be a little shorter than usual, as it’s Sunday afternoon, the NBA playoffs are happening, and I spent the majority of my weekend working on the book itself. As the word count update suggests, progress continues, if slower than hoped for, and I still seem to be on pace for a July finish. Last week, I sent out the first 74k words or so to my much-loved, badly overworked, beta readers. The early returns have been extremely positive, which is probably why I’m writing this post instead of weeping into a glass of whiskey.
Unlike a lot of writers that you read or hear about, I tend to write exclusively on the weekends. This is by no means the WAY IT SHOULD BE DONE™. In fact, you can find countless sources telling you that the only way to truly be successful is to write every single day. (The jury’s still out on whether that’s true or not, but I’m obviously hoping that it’s more guideline than law.) Unfortunately, even the best and most helpful advice isn’t always easily followed.
I have a full-time primary job, as well as a commute that takes two hours (on a very good day) to four (on a very bad one). By the time I get home on weekdays, it’s all I can do to force myself to at least wave some weights around in a semblance of exercise. So I try to maximize the writing I can get done on the weekend, and I take vacation days to supplement that writing whenever I have the opportunity to do so.
Again, that’s not an approach that anyone recommends, myself included. If I retire from my primary job some day, I’ll do my best to adhere more closely to the official party line. In the meantime, we all just do what we can.
On most weekends, my wife will ask me how many pages I’m planning to write, and I’ll respond without thinking too much about it (fyi, 10-25 pages is a great ballpark number that means absolutely nothing). But this Friday when she asked, I realized two things:
- I only think about writing in terms of page count after the writing is done. Before that, I think purely in terms of scenes. i.e. I want to get through scene A and most of scene B.
- I have very little idea how many words (or pages) a given scene will take.
That’s kind of a strange admission to make, but it’s true. I can give a general estimate for a book’s overall length, as I’ve done at the top of this post, but when it comes to knowing how much a specific scene will take? Your guess is probably only marginally worse than mine.
Maybe some of that is inexperience; I’ve written four books, but that’s a far cry from what many authors have managed. Maybe in another half-dozen books, I’ll know that a confrontation scene with lots of dialogue will be 3k-5k words while a climactic final battle might be 7k or more, but for now, I’m flying blind. (In fact, even the numbers I gave in the previous sentence could be–and likely are–entirely off base!)
Even if I do eventually become a master of word count predictions (and won’t that look amazing on a resume?), I’m not sure it matters. Is page (or word) count all that important beyond serving as a simplistic means of measuring progress or, (in more extreme cases), a final indicator that your book is either way too damn short or badly bloated?
Numbers are fun and numbers are easy, but numbers also rarely tell the whole story.
Take the past two weeks, for example. I’ve written ~10k words since the last update, but of far greater importance is the content of those words. In this case, I wrote a chapter I’d been dreading for almost six months (which ended up being both shorter and easier than expected), and two chapters I didn’t know to dread (but definitely should have, in retrospect). In doing so, I essentially wrapped up the first ‘half’ of the story (narratively speaking), introduced a major character that will have ramifications across the entire trilogy, and did some badly needed peripheral worldbuilding at the same time. The fact that it took 10k words to do all of that is entirely secondary, don’t you think?