50,171 Words


Writing a book is like raising a child. Both require care in order to grow and flourish. Both are labors of love that are rewarded by tangible results in the end. Each book I finish becomes one more child who has grown up and is now out there in the world on its own, making its way, influencing others along the way. It’s a daunting situation, but a fulfilling one at the same time.

With that being said, 50,000 words is a threshold I’ve only hit twice before when writing fiction, so it’s still the gold standard to me. When that word counter ticks from 49,999 to 50,000 something in me rejoices. It celebrates a milestone that I am not guaranteed I will ever reach again. I am humbled in the presence of so many words that, while spawned from my brain, represent so much more than the sum of their parts.

That was 171 words ago, at least as it relates to my latest novel. I still only have a working title, and I’m still only about 2/3rds of the way through the drafting process on it, but it’s looking more and more like a viable book. It has my writing style stamped securely on it even now. It has my character progressions down. And it is driven more by character emotion and interaction than anything else.

In fact, I wasn’t even watching the word counter when I passed that magical number, when I breezed right on by 50,000. I was focused on the impending meeting between my protagonist and her estranged father. I was lost in the world I created, but that also created me in this moment, when my characters are real, and I’m just as clueless as to what they’re going to say next as my reader will be once it’s published. That’s exhilarating in a way that I can’t even describe. You just have to live it.

So yes, 50,171 words, and counting. And I’ve never felt so alive.



The Longer Stories

33,043. That’s the word count on the novel I’m currently writing. It’s crazy how word counts have so much meaning for me now, and they meant absolutely nothing to me before I published my first book. On this side of the looking glass things are much different than they were from the other side. I’m proud of that number too, because it means I’ve written a novella already. It’s more than a short story, but less than a full-length novel at this point (unless I’m John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway), so it has a heft and a weight to it that is satisfying in many ways.

storyI’ve written several first drafts of several novels before. They are as complete as they are going to be right now because I’m no longer sketching them out anymore. Perhaps eventually I will come back to each one and give it the tender loving care that it deserves, but I’ll have to be in the mood for that, and so many new stories come into my mind all the time that need telling as well. But yes, as first drafts go, this one I’m writing right now is solid, perhaps even more solid than the first draft of my most recent published novel.

Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this novel writing thing.

For years I considered myself a storyteller, but those stories were short fiction pieces. 20,000 words or fewer. Often times they were short shorts. 10,000 words or fewer. Sometimes they were only a page, but a highly detailed page with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. But that’s where they ended, and where I thought the line had been drawn, thick and uncrossable. I would generally tell my story, it would end, the word count would be slightly over 12,000, and I would file it away with the rest of my short stories, I thought never to see the light of day again. (More to come on that later.)

With Detours, my first novel, though, things just flowed, and as I hit and passed 20,000 words I knew I was in uncharted territory. But I didn’t look back. I just kept looking ahead, and I kept writing. Before I knew it I was past 30,000 words and I understood finally that I was looking at my first novel, that the time had come. When I finished the book, edited it, added more dialogue, and finally pronounced it ready to be published, I knew I had found a new way of writing that I would have forever.


I’ve written at least the first drafts of five novels since then. Two of those novels have since been published. But for me that invisible line of 30,000 words still speaks to me. It’s when I realized my first novel was indeed a novel, and it’s held true for every one since. By the time I got to 30,000 with Leaves in Fall, my most recent novel, I had already fallen in love with the town and the characters who populated it. It’s more than just a moment for me. It’s one I feel I have to observe now. It’s powerful.

When I’m done with this novel, which sits at 33,043 words and counting, I’ve decided I’m editing and compiling my short stories from way back to the present. I’m going to dig through my archives, I’m going to create a few more, and I’m going to put together a book of short stories, because they were my first love, and because it’s time. I know me, though. I’ll probably be writing my next novel in between the editing and compiling too. And I know I’ll still be counting the words.

Because while I’m still a storyteller, the longer stories have begun calling my name just as much as the shorter ones. Shhhh. Don’t tell the shorter ones. They’ll get jealous, and I can’t have that.


69,000 Words Later

ppt_five_wordsI 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.


59,961 Words In

simply-green-502085I’m 59,961 words into the writing of my latest novel, and I’m just as excited over it now as I was when I began. There’s just something about watching the story unfold that’s even better than reading a well-constructed book by one of my favorite authors. I think it’s because even though I’m writing this book I feel like the book is writing itself, merely using my fingers typing on this keyboard to grant itself life and breath in this physical world. I am in awe of it, honestly.

This book started with the intention of not making it a mystery to solve. From the time I was little I’ve been fascinated by mysteries, by the Sherlock Holmes’s and the Hercule Poirot’s of the literary world, and I spent many nights tucked under a tent of blankets with my flashlight, parsing their worlds, trying to figure out who did it before the final reveal. Usually if the story had 80,000 words in it I would have guessed correctly by the 75,000 mark, but I would still read feverishly until the end because I wanted to see if I was right.

Nothing quite beats that uncertainty, then certainty, then holding of my breath to see if my certainty was indeed well-justified, if I had solved the mystery or just put all the puzzle pieces together in the most convoluted way. Luckily for me most times I had indeed figured it out, and I would pat myself on the back for it. It made me feel on par with Holmes and with Poirot, even if for just a fraction of a second, or consequentially the amount of time it took to open the next story and begin reading.

In my own writing I’ve always hoped to create world and characters that are identifiable but that are not cliche at the same time. It’s a delicate balance that I think the best writers have been able to accomplish time and again, and I admire them for it. While I don’t want to copy them I do want to emulate the ability of those authors to fashion characters and situations that resonate. That means I don’t need to write in the mystery genre to be true to my own style. In fact, my first novel is decidedly not a mystery, and I love how it came together organically, but I missed the mystery of it all. So my second novel was a classic mystery, and I’d like to think the surprise of the ending was worthy of my own expectations.

This will be my third published novel, and I realized that about 10,000 words in. There’s just something about the characters that ache to come off the computer screen and inhabit the world of ink and paper. I didn’t set out to make it a mystery, only to give my characters a depth and carte blanche to do what they wanted in the world I gave them, but they went places I couldn’t have imagined, and now — 59,961 words in — I finally know who to blame for events going the way they have, I know which characters conspired to throw the entire world into chaos.

And I have 5,000 or so words to bring it to a conclusion, so that my eventual readers, like me before them, will be able to try and prove that they too knew who did it, and why events happened the way they did. Bring on 60,000 words, and beyond!


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