Your book is HOW LONG?
When telling people I’m writing a novel, the most common question I have received is: how long is it? Well, the first novel I wrote (that pesky one on the editing board for the fourth time), I wrote by accident. I had a little idea one February evening and hammered it out in a sorry draft that I thought was positive 24 karat gold. Just one long scene. And I loved it. That’s all it took to give me the impetus to keep going. Looking back, I see that a lot of that writing was cathartic. I had lost my father several months earlier, quite unexpectedly. Writing was my way of making it through a heartbreak I knew would never fully heal. For the next ten months, I wrote and wrote and wrote, starting a new document for every chapter or scene as necessary. Then, on a cool, crisp November morning, I wrote that exhilarating word Finis.
The irony, of course, was that my job had only just begun. I knew nothing about publishing. I knew nothing about anything other than I had actually sat down and written the book I’d wanted to write for years. I felt accomplished. I’d done this thing. BANG. ZOOM.
Then I started to read about publishing and the expectations and the requirements and, and, and… I saw my delightful little accomplishment fall very short of its mark. Very, very short.
But, as Mary Poppins said, Well begun is half done.
I still had a novel. It was only the first draft. First drafts were supposed to be rubbish. I got on Pinterest, started a board where I pinned what writer’s had to say about their craft, and allowed their humor and insight to inspire me to do my first edit. Well, Terry Prachett said it best, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” I’d done that part.
So, I compiled the individual chapters into one large document, printed it out, and put it in a binder. Two binders, actually. It was that thick. Which brings us to the next question: What happens when your novel’s first draft is nearly 400,000 words?
The answer is a dirty, four letter word: EDIT. (If some of you find that too offensive, I suppose you could say: REWRITE).
And edit, oh, excuse me, rewrite, I did. I cut out everything I thought needed to go. I whittled it down to a whopping 325,000 words. That’s something. It really is. But it’s not enough. From everything I’d read in blogs and magazines about the publishing industry, most novels need to be between 100,000-120,000 words. So, you can see where I might have a problem.
Then I entrusted the novel into my friend’s hands. She is an aspiring editor, and, boy, the literary world will be truly blessed to have her. Together, chapter by chapter, we combed through the novel, line by line, seeing what could go and what needed to be brought out more. Doing this, we’ve erased another several thousand words. As of now, the novel stands at 287,000 words. My novel is losing weight, but it’s still a difficult, strenuous process. But each full edit, each step in the process, I’m growing. I’m seeing that it’s okay to kill my darlings, as John Green would say. There is more where that came from. Nothing is ever fully lost. You can save those gems you love and share them with your audience later, or re-work them into another work. The important thing is to write the best story you can from beginning to end, the story that conveys the theme you want the reader to understand. Keep the endgame in mind.
Now, I’ve printed my novel out again- the 287,000 word one- and have entrusted it to two friends- both exceptional readers whose opinions I value- and together, we’re hoping to bring this novel under 200,000 words. I carry on to the inspiring mantra of that Little Engine: I think I can. I think I can.