Them Word Count Blues

I didn’t plan to mention the other thing that made writing hard for me over the past week, but then I realized that, seeing this a blog about writing, it’s probably good to write about the doubts and fears that crop up every once in a while.

At the beginning of the year, I crowed about the fact that my word count for Willow would probably be less than I thought. Instead of over 800k words, I figured I may finish around 440k, which seems much more manageable. But then I started looking around the net for advice on high word counts, and this is what I found:

“Most authors need to stay in the 100-120k range.”
“Your first book needs to be a stand-alone novel, not a cliff-hanger series.”
“Publishers will not invest time in a thick book. Most agents will not even consider it.”

Oy, my morale!

All of a sudden, my excitement for cutting my word count down shriveled up. It didn’t help that I had a nasty cold and not getting much writing done. Granted, I can divide the book in half–the optimistic part of me said immediately, “Well, it just means that you have written two books instead of one!” But the more pragmatic part of me only shook my head. Even if I did cut the book in half, wouldn’t that mean that book one is ending on a cliffhanger? Actually, the way I’m writing the series (I guess I really can’t call it a trilogy anymore, can I) all except the end pretty much end the same way–not exactly on a cliffhanger note; there is a stretch of time between the books), but you will need to get the next book to see what happens next.

I do realize that I’m obsessing over a first draft, that it’s way too early for me to even consider word count. I’ve always been of the opinion that if there’s a book inside you, then you write it out until you reach the end of the book. Then stop. But now, whenever I approach Willow and start writing, I think to myself, Would this chapter be considered in the first book or the second? Where did I past the stopping point for the first book? What’s the point in continuing to write Willow if I already wrote 100k words? Should I stop and revise the first part and call that a book?

It’s been making writing extremely hard as of late. And I really hate that.

Last week, I decided to start reading Stephen King’s On Writing. I’ll tell you my thoughts when I finish it, but one of the things he does is compares writing a story to finding a fossil in dirt. It’s up to a writer to start excavating it, using whatever tools he or she has in their disposal. In my case, the fossil is a lot bigger than I thought. I could cut the fossil in half and start processing it, but then I wouldn’t see the fossil for what it is. Half of it would be still buried underground, and until I get that other half, I won’t have the entire fossil.

That’s what I gotta tell myself when I approach Willow these next few weeks. Willow is just in its first draft. Maybe conventional wisdom says I can only write 100k and call that a book, but for me, the story isn’t finished until that point where I know it will be finished. Until I reach that point, I need to keep writing it out and not worry about word count right now. Once I finish the story, once I finish digging the fossil out, then I can look at all the parts and figure out what goes where, what can be tossed, what can be rewritten and what can be shortened. Then, I’ll be able to create two fossils out of one, but now is not the time. Now is the time to unearth the story and dig it out.

And that’s the other thing. Writing Willow has been so much fun. When I sit myself in the chair and start writing, I’m seeing the events spill out onto the page as if for the first time. It’s been pretty much the same cooped up in my head, but still, sometimes what comes out is a complete surprise to me. It’s as if I’m watching a TV show, and my mind constantly asks, “So what happens next? What happens next?” My hands type out the results and I lean closer to the screen, completely involved in the story. I love finding out what happens next in Willow. If I stop to revise now, I’ll lose my momentum.

So I’m sticking to my plan. Finish Willow, then revise, revise, revise. Maybe I’ll search for advice on writing epic stories. I didn’t mean for Willow to become an Epic. I wanted it to be a trilogy at most. But what am I to do? Any of you epic writers out there, you mind helping a sister out with some advice? I sure could use it.

Then again, getting advice made me horribly depressed. Maybe I should just stick to Stephen King for now.