Sunday, May 10, 2009

Where Did the Words Go?

I have a theory.

Writers who are new to the game—who haven't yet been thrown back on their haunches with the sheer enormity of the learning curve before them—can lay down an enormous amount of words in a single setting.

They're free, and if their feet don't touch the ground, so what? They are creating the greatest work of verbal imagery since . . . well, since forever. They are basking under a rare and unimaginable (to all of those non-artistic folk, anyway) light. They are the newest, as yet undiscovered, treasures of the publishing world.

I know this, how? Because that new writer's name was Peg.

Let's go back . . .

At some point, my eyes begin to get adjusted to this strange new light. This writerly light that had placed me atop pedestals (for a few days at least) is now shifting, at least to me. It's betraying my birthright with something called Craft. The daunting spectacle of POV and backstory, MRUs and GMCs, hooks and sagging middles, scene structure and that pesky thing called grammar, all begin to rain their tentacles down on my fresh, green, Spirit. And my Spirit becomes paralyzed. Belief has been sucked out and replaced with mind-numbing, creativity-breaking, Need for Education. Aaargh.

Somewhere along in here, word count drops about 90%. And if it moves at all, it goes down.

Sound familiar, anyone?

But then, after some fitful starts and stops, something begins to happen. The butterfly begins to emerge from the cocoon of Writing 101. There's a pattern to her wings, a purpose to her day. She knows ever so much more than she did as a caterpillar. She can step out—or fly out—with the confidence that now the words of her warped mind (she's a Suspense Butterfly) will meet their intended target without fail.

And word count increases.

CR: Dead On by Robert W. Walker. This book puts a fully-realized character in your lap from the beginning. So far, so good. It will hit the stands mid-July.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Well, my first novel was 180,000 words, every single one of which I deemed essential and un-cuttable, so I think I *may* know where you are coming from, Peg...

    I read one of Lawrence Block's great books on writing and zeroed in on this one, teeny tiny sentence that happened to say that some high concept books tended to be longer in length, and totally justified myself that way. See! I knew every one of my gems should stay!

    It wasn't until I started to query, going only to top agents (of course, I did: mine was a perfect, sparkling, completely unwieldy GEM!) and was lucky enough to receive a two page letter from Jonathan Kellerman's agent himself, that I realized my ms was unworkable as is, and in fact, deeply flawed.

    Over the next two weeks I sat down and cut 60,000 of those all-essential words. (I really hope that I can one day thank this agent and tell him that he schooled me better than any professor in an MFA could have.)

    It was probably still too long when I finished, but it did net me my first offers of representation...

  2. I attended a neighborhood party a while ago. Another author and I got to talking, and he enthusiastically told me about the plot of his novel.

    His 220,000 word novel.

    The big trick of the evening was me not spewing my wine.

    I mentioned getting to the editing phase, and he mentioned having already been there.

    Not only did he self-publish, but he started his own publishing company to do it.

    Editing is as important, if not MORE important than the writing.

  3. More important than writing? Ack! lol... Are you saying my ms, my precious ms in all its glory, is not perfect? *Gasp*

    What's all this rubbish about POV, MRUs, etc? Are you speaking a foreign language? Don't let the CRAFT get you! It will ruin it...ruin it all! Or...make it better.

    *mutters to self*

    Please ignore me, I may not have had enough sleep last night. :)

  4. I'm muttering right along with you. Yesterday was less than satisfactory in terms of productivity. Word count? WHAT word count?