Tag Archives: exceeding word count

The Little Story that Could

So, turns out I’m writing the Never-Ending Story.

No – not this one (unfortunately):

Image: ncwardwebb.blogspot.com

Image: ncwardwebb.blogspot.com

What I mean is, I’m finding myself wondering who’s in control of my brain lately – me, or a certain Miss Emmeline Widget, aged nine-and-three-quarters. At the moment, it’s Emmeline 1, me 0.

For some reason, I have been writing lots of words over the past week or so. Every day I sit down to work a little more on ‘Emmeline’, telling myself ‘Yup. This is definitely going to be the day. This day will be the day you’ll finish this darn book.’ But it just doesn’t happen. Words keep coming, squeezing out of my mind like toothpaste out of a near-empty tube.

Just when I think I have a handle on what’s going on, I find the plot deciding to take another jaunt down Unexpected Avenue, ending up at a place I didn’t know I was going until I got there. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; it’s actually a whole lot of fun. However, it does make it hard to know how I’m going to trim enough out of the book – once that mystical place known as ‘Done’ has been reached – to make it sit neatly inside an acceptable word count. At the rate I’m going, I’ll need to shed something like 10,000 words, and that will hurt. A lot.

I’ve been trying to just forget about all of this and go with the flow, putting the words down as they come to me and not caring about anything else. This, however, is not something that comes easily to me. I have always wanted to be a tie-dye, flower-haired, ‘all-is-one-here-have-a-crystal’ type, but really I have the soul of a person who wears all their pens in their top pocket and who likes to know What Is Going On at every given moment. So, the fact that I am dealing with a recalcitrant book which is, apparently, telling me who’s boss, is a bit uncomfortable.

Image: jamesclear.com

Yes, yes. But which one is the writer, and which one the book? *That* is the question. Image: jamesclear.com

It’s all part and parcel of being a pantser, I suppose. I certainly feels a lot freer than trying to write within a rigid plot, but with great freedom comes great terror, sometimes.

But perhaps it’s not all my fault. I reckon a portion of the blame has to lie with my fictional folk, too. Call me crazy, but I’ve often felt that characters in books have more of a life than anyone suspects. It really does feel, to me, that Emmeline and her friends just aren’t finished playing yet, and they won’t allow their story to come to an end – not until they’re good and ready, at least. If that’s the case, then what’s a writer to do but hang on and hope for the best? I hope that this is a good thing – as in, when I read my work over in the weeks to come, that it won’t seem drawn out, or extraneous, or ‘puffed up’ for effect; I hope that the story I’m telling will be fast-moving, exciting, interesting, fun (except for the scary bits), and as good to read as it was to write. If the writing process feels a bit out of control, the worry is – of course – that the reading experience will feel much the same.

But I won’t know that for a few weeks yet, of course. Perhaps, if things carry on the way they’ve been for the past while, I may never know.*

I’m sure there are people who think that sitting down to write every day must be the most boring thing imaginable. ‘What – you spend hours staring at a computer screen, by yourself, listening to the voices in your head, and staring at the wall when you need a rest from the sheer overwhelming excitement? Wow.’ To those people, I say: ‘Actually, it’s rather like being at the helm of a ship in a storm-tossed sea, with no land in sight. You’re the captain, and you think you know what you’re doing, but the waves have other ideas – and, no two are the same.’

Land’s not in sight yet, not for me at least. But – so far – the voyage has been worth it.

Image: devwebpro.com

Image: devwebpro.com

I’m off to do battle with my book once more; wish me luck, do. Perhaps today will be the day I bring her into harbour.

(All right – enough with the nautical metaphors. Tally-ho!)


*Of course, I don’t mean this. The first rule of writing, as everyone knows, is ‘Finish Your Work.’ This is truth. I will finish ‘Emmeline’, and the work will be done, and it shall not defeat me. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that when the book has you in a choke-hold. Anyway.

Walking into the Wilderness

Wow. So, yesterday’s blog post seems to have touched a chord with a lot of readers. I’m glad to have written something which so many people identified with, but also sad that it had to be written – if that makes sense. I wrote yesterday’s post filled with a potent mixture of anger, sorrow and confusion, and I was glad to have the escape of ‘Emmeline’ to take my mind off it. Nothing helps me to refocus better than throwing myself into whatever I’m working on, and getting out of my own head for a while.

Image: helenafrithpowell.com

Image: helenafrithpowell.com

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read yesterday’s post about crime rates in Ireland and the parlous state of our small nation; I really hope that, very soon, I’ll be able to write a blog post about how wonderfully we’ve progressed and how Ireland is well on its way to becoming a Utopian dream.

But I’m not going to hold my breath in the meantime.

Anyway, today’s post is back to ‘business as usual’: it’s time to talk about ‘Emmeline’.

Image: cuppacafe.com

Image: cuppacafe.com

Writing continued apace yesterday. In fact, it was a little too apace. I had an upper word limit for this project, which – as of yesterday – was smashed, and I sailed right on through like I hadn’t a care in the world. That upper word limit, for the curious, was 80,000 words. Anything above this – as I’ve learned through bitter, bitter experience – is straying into the realm of No Longer Suitable For Children, apparently (even though I often read longer books than this as a kid, but no matter.) I am not finished with the story yet, though I am almost there; I’d hope that within 5,000 words, I should have it nailed. That means – if the Great Spirit is with me – I’ll have draft 1 done this week.

This week.

It also means I’ll have a heckuvalot of edits to do.

Image: gracebooks.org

Image: gracebooks.org

But that’s fine. All in good time, and all that.

Something strange occurred to me yesterday: I realised that I have basically pantsed this whole novel. By ‘pantsing’, of course I mean ‘written it without a pre-arranged plot’; I’ve just sat down and copied out whatever the voices in my head told me to, pretty much. Most of it has been made up on the spur of the moment. I haven’t done my usual thing of laboriously working out family trees for each character, and setting out plans getting to the heart of their ‘motivation’; this, I suppose, is a consequence of it being a NaNoWriMo project, in essence. I began it in a burst of inspiration, and it has continued that way. All things considered, I think I’ve done well in getting it to over 80,000 words, with an end in sight. It’s been exhilarating, if a little exhausting and nerve-wracking, particularly in the last few weeks; certainly, it’s exciting to be at the helm of a writing project which feels like it’s steering itself instead of one which feels so hemmed-in by plotting that the life gets pinched out of the story.

Where it may pose a problem, however, is in knocking the whole thing into shape. I’m sure, much like my knitting, that when I look back over the entirety of the project all I’ll see will be loose threads and gaping holes everywhere crying out to be fixed. However, I do feel, as first drafts go, that ‘Emmeline’ is fairly strong; I’ve been lucky, insofar as I’ve been blessed with rounded characters and clear voices, and they help to carry the structure of the book. That doesn’t mean that my work in editing the story will be any less – in fact, I feel the need to do a good job even more keenly, because I love these characters and I’m committed to this book, and I want to do them justice.

As the story stands at the moment, I have eight main characters, all vying for their own ends. Several of them are looking for the same thing; several others are looking to save their own skin. Yet more are determined to save the life of someone they love, whatever the consequences. At stake are Great Things like the fate of the world. The drama in which they are enmeshed is taking place in a frozen wasteland, sprung entirely from my imagination, in which the characters encounter strange creatures and nefarious goings-on and mythical horrors.

Sounds like I have a handle on it, right? Well.

I have a vague, overall idea of what I want to happen, but what I don’t have is a cast-iron plan of ‘Event A will happen, and Event B will happen as a consequence of that, and then either Event C or Event D will take place, depending on my mood’; I’m pretty much just writing, and seeing what happens. It’s like being snowblind in the wilderness, or – in my case – walking about without my glasses on. Things exist in a general sense, but the finer details are invisible until I’m right on top of them.

I can’t say I entirely recommend writing a novel this way, but I feel like it has done me some good to learn how to loosen up a little and trust myself. I’m not entirely there yet; I still find it hard to open up the file of a morning and cast my eye over the twisty mess I made yesterday in order to sort it out today, but one thing’s for certain: it’s never boring.

Off I go! Image: arthistory327.wordpress.com

Off I go!
Image: arthistory327.wordpress.com

Wherever you’re wandering today, may your path be smooth and may wonders be around every corner.

Write on!