Word Count Goals: The Ugly Truth
Ahh, the dreaded word count goal. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been living with this as an important part of writing. I can tell you that I think it’s completely fucking ruined my writing. Yes. My writing. I honestly think a lot of my problems with writing stem from this strange idea that a larger word count means a more creative, informative block of text.
Hint: It doesn’t.
As NaNoWriMo looms, I felt it necessary to share my own progress with cutting out the wordiness and writing clean, concise stories. Because my progress is absolute shit. I’m one of the wordiest fuckers out there and I abuse it so badly. But there’s ways to embrace that if you don’t mind the extra work.
Let’s be clear, here. I’ve been writing creatively for a very long time. I had a whole pack of short stories I’d written in high school and eventually I got into those roleplay forums on sites like Gaiaonline and Solia. Oh, I know, I said the dreaded “r” word. Actually, in some ways I think it helped a lot. I learned to take criticism from others and I liked being able to bounce ideas around to come up with plots and I learned to love character creation. A lot of my old characters have been woven into newer works because of it.
But lemme tell you, Gaia has some of the snobbiest writers I’ve ever come across. If you’re not writing 1300 words per post at least and posting twice a week, then you’re not an “advanced literate” writer. It’s goddamn ridiculous.
And I gleefully partook.
Okay, so a lot of these writers also put an emphasis on grammar, which is good, but reading their posts was a goddamn chore. You think Tolkien was bad? Dude’s got nothin’ on Gaia’s elite. And everything, I mean everything, just dripped “subtle” sensuality. Sometimes it was very well done and hot as fuck. Most of the time, not so much.
When you think about it, it makes sense. The general age group for people I wrote with ranged anywhere from 18-25. Hormone central.
So, word count was a huge indicator of quality in a writer. One of the roleplays I joined demanded quality and quantity and I admit, I had a few threads with that same demand. But honestly, all those paragraphs? I could gut all the useless shit and probably be left with something like 300 words. If you’re writing 1300 words and 1000 of them are utterly useless, there’s a problem.
This is why I know I can do NaNoWriMo without any issues. I’ve been programmed for years to write five paragraphs to describe The Thing when two sentences is enough. The Thing does not need five paragraphs. At most it needs one.
Am I going to stop? Hell no. I’m going to write the shit out of these novels and get them up to 200k if I have to and then edit entire novels out of them because I’m a masochist.
I do have a reason for that and it works for me. I have a lot of detail I’d like to get down and I know as I write it that not all of it is going to make the final cut. For me, it’s an important part of my writing process. I overwrite and then go in and clean it up. I do it with blog posts, too, albeit not very well.
But overwriting isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as you remember that all those darlings will probably need to be killed. Write it. Love it. And then kill it if it serves no immediate purpose.
Or erect a no-kill shelter for some of those darlings and lovingly stow them away.
This is another reason Silk & Swords exists. I have a veritable mountain of writing that will never make it into any novel because it’s the little events that hold no importance to the overall story, but help to develop characters. It allows me to grow with the character so I have a better idea of where they are for the next installment and it’s particularly useful if a number of years have passed between novels.
In the case of Silk & Swords, it’s a personal growth story. Outwardly, the events are not so fantastical and calling it a fantasy story doesn’t do fantasy justice. It’s more of a genre-bender I guess. But I needed to know how Catori, the main character, grows after the end of The Unbeaten. How does a peasant go from having nothing to having everything? What’s going on in her mind? How does she cope with her new title, her new husband, a new pregnancy, a new home, and new responsibilities? I guess it’s sort of a post-Cinderella story, now that I think about it.
I can’t begin to tell you how important this process has been. Even if no one reads the damn serial, I will not regret the effort I’ve put into it. I now know what Catori’s first year as lady is like and what her state of mind is, what her fears are, and how she overcomes them. I don’t have to guess at the start of the next novel and find out afterward that she hasn’t grown at all since The Unbeaten because, duh, I missed a few years.
It also lets me delve into some relationships that don’t get expanded on in the novels. Catori has been best friends with another woman, Anisa, since they were five. But Anisa barely shows up in the novels and honestly, half the time she doesn’t pass the Bechdel test (though not for lack of trying.) She’s just not an important character and there’s no time to focus on her relationship with Catori.
Not the case for Silk & Swords. I am so happy I get to expand on Anisa and how important she is to Catori.
At the end of it all, yes, I think my writing has suffered a great deal from word count goals. I wish I could write clear, concise, beautiful sentences the first time around. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time teaching myself to write longer instead of better. I wish I could view 75k words as a lot. But the truth is? I don’t and I probably never will.
And that’s okay. As long as I remember that all those darlings must be killed (or put in a shelter) everything works out well. I can overwrite to my heart’s content and make the cutting room floor look like a murder scene.
So don’t stress if you’re writing crap for NaNoWriMo, or padding your work to hit that 50k goal. Pad the fuck out of it. Make it look like a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. And when November ends, quietly take it out back and murder it.
If you weren’t on a watchlist before, you are now, sorry.