I never have a word limit for my novels, not a bar I’m striving to reach before I know, “it’s over.” Sometimes it just comes to me through the narrative itself. It whispers in my ear when it’s time to put it to bed. Other times it hits me at a natural stopping point.
When a good final line comes to you, don’t reject it because you felt like you should have 12 more pages in the bank before the end. Even in Novembers I work hard on getting to my 50,000 word goal, but that doesn’t mean that on the 50,000th word I stop, dead. Even then I write until the book is naturally and organically done.
My first novel was just over 34,000 words, and it suits the book. I feel like it ended just where it needed to end, and even one more word would have ruined the feel of the thing. But my second novel rolled in at over 70,000 words, and that number suited it.
I have another writer friend who only writes 100,000+ word novels because that’s how they come to her, these epic, sweeping, grandiose tomes about everything under the sun. I would describe her as prolific, but I would never have 100,000 words as a goal for myself. If I hit it, then fine, but I won’t go out of my way to try and achieve what I feel would lessen my work. See, it works for her because that’s her writing style, but it’s not mine.
I happen to think that, based on what I’ve written so far, if I get to 75,000 that will probably be the stretching point for me. My latest novel is sitting in Microsoft Word, waiting for me to return and finish it off, and I have to admit that I’m about 4,000 words from its natural and organic end. And when I hit that end I will know it, I will embrace it, and I might even bake a cake for it. That’s been known to happen in the past.
It’s funny too, because I’m teaching my literature students right now about what constitutes a novel, how many words can they expect from a literary masterpiece, and while there are numbers (40,000 words makes an official novel-length) there are rejections to that paradigm from the highest levels of work already in the literary canon (Steinbeck anyone?) so I tell them that if they’re interested in creating written work don’t worry about the numbers.
The numbers will sort themselves out in the end.