In the new world of publishing, writing is a lot more fun than it is for those in the legacy publishing trap. No signing over your rights for life-plus-seventy, no unconscionable, one-sided contracts, and no specifications on what you can and can’t write.
The only person you have to please is you, the writer…and, of course, the reader.
That’s a big focus change. I know I’ve seen plenty of stuff around the Interwebz with writers talking and posting story lengths. You see those little gauges on a lot of wannabe blogs, showing what percentage of the story is finished. All of them start with a word count, something the writer sets before they even type the title on the first page.
I know, I did it too. For a long time, I assumed everything I wrote had to be 80-100K words long. I really did. If it came in short I agonized over where I could stretch it. When I wrote my first novel-length work, it came in at much closer to 100K. And again, I agonized over what to cut, how to rework, where to trim, to get it back to that magic size range.
Some bestsellers don’t face word count issues. At least, not on the high end. (Stephen King, anyone?) But for mid-list (or below) authors, the work has to fit the box. Either push it out there until it does, or start sawing the shin bones until it can be crammed in.
The last novel I wrote came in at about 71K. That’s too short for any gatekeepers to want. They’d ask me to stretch it. The contract might even say it had to be a certain length and I’d be legally obligated to stretch it. Maybe I could do that and maybe doing that would generate a lot of useless crap…which would then get the story rejected. And if it’s too long, I’d be asked to shave it down, cut out whatever I can, and the gatekeepers might even have suggestions to “help” with that.
But the story I finished was a fresh start for me. I wrote the story as it wanted to be written. It came out the length it naturally wanted to be. I didn’t add anything extraneous to it. I didn’t take out anything because it wasn’t helping the story. The word count never mattered. (Okay, sometimes I had to remind myself not to worry about word count. Old habits die hard.) Only the story mattered.
And when it was all said and done, the story worked great. At least, by all reader feedback accounts it did. And I can’t tell you how thrilled I am, how easy it was, to write that story so it was told. Not to fit on a shelf in a particular way, not to try and become some model of a genre. Just to tell the story, the way the story wanted to be told.
And the natural length of the story left the readers who’ve sampled it fulfilled and satisfied. Just enough. Not too little, not too much.
And for me, as a writer, it’s just as satisfying. I feel no desire to go back and “fix” something out of order. I don’t feel the need to “flesh out” any aspect of the story. It flowed out of my fingertips and hit the mark on a lot of different levels.
It was amazing.
So I’ll never do another story to word count as long as I live. Oh, sure, if some publisher comes along and offers me an attractive contract (I can’t even type that with a straight face!) I might write to their specs. But unless there’s a pot full of money involved (and there won’t be), I’m happier just writing to story, rather than to word count.
How ’bout you, fellow writers? Do you write for a certain word count? And for you readers, does size matter? is bigger better, or is “just right” more important to you? (Yeah, we’re still talking about stories here. Clean it up.)