Where Creativity Meets Craft Skills

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One of the results of my big critique, was the request that I lengthen my manuscript by a thousand words.  A thousand words in the course of fifty thousand is only, well, it’s one fiftieth.  I wasn’t daunted by the prospect.  I was ready…right up until my computer ate the first eight hundred words I’d added.  It happened during a reboot following a software update.  How ironic, in the process of updating my software, I backdated my manuscript.

“Nooooo!”   I wailed and rummaged through every file to which the computer may have autosaved.  Nothing.  Zip, zilch, nada, zero.  Not even a meltdown. Instead I’ve simply begun again, and so far, these new words may even be better than the last lot…from what I can recall anyway.

This obsession with word length that some publishers have, has been cause for some conversation between myself and some other writers of late.  There’s been a bit of moaning, some authorial outrage about words for the sake of words rather than for the sake of enhancing the story or progressing the plot.  I’m not taking this viewpoint.

I think there is a point where inspiration and creativity must meet with hard work.  This is what makes a writer.  The work.  At some point we have to leave our happy imaginary worlds in an attempt to apply some order to our work.  We have to apply our vocab, our understanding of plot arcs, characterisation, and a bit of clever nous to our initial creation.  True, it’s a bit dull and a lot less fun than the initial daydreaming phase of writing, but it’s still writing.

As things stand at the moment, I’m four chapters into my expanded rewrite and eight hundred words richer.  And when I say richer, that’s precisely what I mean.  Whether or not the publishers’ word limits are random, the story is richer, more developed and better for my efforts.  I’m working hard and I’m liking the result.

Strangely, it’s in this zone, where creativity and craft skills meet, I feel most like a writer.  What about you, when do you most enjoy your job? (And no, you can’t say ‘quitting time’ because that’s cheating!)


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10 responses »

  1. Just a thought. If you can expand a story without destroying it, great! However, I recently did my own poll (202 lit/novel readers) to see what book buyers really wanted and the “false” constraints being pushed by some short-sighted pubs aren’t being well received. Readers recognize “packing” when they see it, resent it, and it’s leaving a nasty taste in their mouths. I would suggest that if you’re able to expand a novel easily maybe the whole story wasn’t told. If you can’t maybe you’ve said enough.
    Sandy
    http://www.sandysays1.wordpress.com

    • Completely agree Sandy and truth be told, I never write a story with a word limit in mind. I write until I think the story is done, and my style tends to be ‘sparse’ by nature. I am the opposite of Stephen King who apparently culls more than ten percent of every first draft. For me, the initial writing phase is just about getting the story down before I forget it. After that, I ‘decorate’. I’m also usually amazed by the perceptiveness of great editors. I never hand in a manuscript without truly believing it’s as good as I can make it; then along comes that clever person who says “What do you think would happen if you…” Suddenly the story is better than even I imagined.

      By the same token, one of my friends recently submitted a thirty-five thousand word ‘tween’ novel to a publisher, only to be told “Oh no, we prefer our stories to be fifty thousand words at least.” Expanding by that much would require the creation of an entirely new subplot – and lets face it, how many plots can one tween handle? That’s a vastly different task to one of a little experimental decoration, wouldn’t you say?

  2. Couldn’t agree more with your statement. Everyone of us writes differently. I’m a planner, create a “skeleton,” hang flesh on it, and even with that I find I average 5 rewrites based on my pre-reader’s comments, questions, etc. But once I believe I’ve told the story, padding it would be difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I love advice on improving or clarifying a ms, and love to work with constructive critics. But words for words sake……No way.

  3. Hey, look! You have a blog! LOL.

    I just hadn’t seen it before and I’m glad to have found it.

    The word count argument is valid…with one exception. When books go into print there are certain numbers that are profitable. Over here in the US I believe it’s 70,000 words to 120,000 words. Before and beyond that the cost of printing is either not worth it or prohibitive.

    I remember an author who in his outrage called for a protest down the Avenue of the Americas in NYC. Silly man. Doesn’t he know writers have a billion better things to do? LOL

    Ash

    • Why, yes I do. Nice to see you here! I have been giving this word count thing more thought throughout the day. It strikes me that these seemingly random numbers apply to other forms as well. Didn’t Billy Joel write lyrics about a song being too long “so they cut it down to three-oh-five”? Why that time limit? Because radio stations have to play a certain number of songs within a given time slot in order to appeal to a wide enough demographic that advertisers feel safe spending money with them. All these things boil down to profit and productivity. It’s sad but true. Of course, ebooks allow for more flexibility with regard to word count and therefore creativity. Just another reason I love my ebook reader!

  4. I’d say the thing I enjoy most about writing is the feeling you get when you come back to something a long while after it was written and it seems to have magically improved in your absence. If only it always worked that way…

    I’m glad your 1000 word addition is working out great, I think I’d only be worried about the integrity of my original story if someone asked for a revision ten times that length!

    • Funny you should mention that Lynsey. I was reading over the ms in progress – the extra thousand words came easily, now it’s just for pleasure – chuckling away to myself. When hubby finally caved and asked what I was laughing about, I replied, “I crack me up!”

  5. You know you’re on a roll when you can say, “I crack me up,” and “the extra thousand words came easily.”

    Ride the wave!

    I don’t think you’re too cynical. Personally, I thought he was making a joke. LOL

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