Confessions of a struggling wordsmith

I spent a month and a half to almost two months writing a simple short story. And in the process I did a rather poor job with the last day of the characters on the island where they met. Then there was the abrupt separation of the two and the brief description of what resulted from the long weekend on the island.

Then there is the fact that I have been struggling to compose any poetry. What little I have done has been in response to pieces written by others. Essentially, … that’s cheating. Legally it’s simply saying that the piece was inspired by another, but ethically it means that the other person has done 50% to 75% of the creative work, and I have just popped up with the last 25% on the other person’s coattail. Granted, all the words are truly mine, but the majority of the inspiration and contemplation came from the other person’s piece.

Then there is my most recent novel. I wrote the entire first draft within the 30 days of November, 2016. I managed to do an Alpha Read of the novel by the middle of December. Then I gave out four copies to people willing to do free Beta Reads. Of those four, one gave me back a copy with several rather simple edits, one gave me back a copy unread, one got fired from the job where I had contact with him, and one did a rather thorough markup with major work required for fixing.

I already applied the fixes required from the first Beta Read copy. The second copy was printed too tiny for the second Reader to be able to read, so that was a washout. The third copy is lost and gone forever. Such is life. The fourth is taking a long time, too long a time, to fix.

The fourth reader, among other simpler fixes marked, has marked a few paragraphs to be deleted in each of many of the chapters. When I originally wrote the story, each of the 30 chapters was between 1,700 and 1,800 words in length. To maintain a reasonable length and consistent chapter size, I feel compelled to maintain a 1,700 to 1,800 word length per chapter.

However, deleting a few paragraphs in a chapter drops the word count for that chapter by some 200 words. That means that I have to add another 200 words or so back into each of those chapters to maintain the size, but I have to be extremely careful to add words that fit and do not need to be deleted back out. That is extremely difficult at best.

I have completed 8 chapters so far. I have done the deletions and simple fixes to chapter 9, but I am having trouble adding any more text to the chapter. It is now so clear and straightforward that I can’t see where to add text or what text to add.

I’m thinking that the best thing to do at this point would be to continue on through the remaining 21 chapters deleting and doing the simple fixes marked. Then, after having reached the end, going back to chapter 9 and working through the chapters adding text where needed to bring the word count per chapter back up to the 1,700 to 1,800 level. While doing it that way probably will not make the adding of new text any easier, it will be a way of getting closer to having the editing done. Any progress is better than no progress, and having all the deleting and simple fixes done will make the editing seem like it is going much faster and easier. Hopefully, that will get the book to market much faster.

A man I worked for back in the day once told me that when you had a multi-part problem to solve, always solve the easiest part first. That way you will only have the easiest part left to fix. It will be the easiest part to fix because it will be the only part left to fix. When I was working for that man, That methodology was used quite often to solve problems we faced at the time. It proved to be an extremely effective way to approach things. I will see if it works in this context as well.

What about all y’all? Do you think this is a good approach? If not, how do you think I should go? Should I be so concerned about the word count per chapter, or should I just go with inconsistent chapter lengths and a story that will probably be less than 50,000 words? Less than 50,000 words is awfully short for a novel. Even with 50,000 words, it is a short novel. How would that affect the sale-ability of the novel?

Let me know what you think. Leave comments as appropriate.


2 thoughts on “Confessions of a struggling wordsmith

  1. I don’t think you should worry if each chapter is the same length. I have wrote many stories and I don’t worry about the length of the chapters. I write until the scene is complete. I think 50,000 is a decent size. Not every story needs to be 100,000 words. Maybe you should take a break from it for awhile and you might find you can add a whole new chapter to add to the word count, but don’t just add things to add them. Make sure what every you put adds value.


    1. Thank you for your suggestions. I have no intention of adding words just to add words. That is why I am being so careful to make sure what I add does not deserve being edited out again.

      I agree that 50,000 is a good length. However, if I do the deleting the fourth Beta Reader calls for, I would be noticeably below the 50,000 word level. That is why I need to make up for what is being deleted out. The thought of adding one or more chapters to make up the difference sounds good, but for me the story is already set at precisely 30 chapters, one for each day in National Novel Writing Month when the first draft was written.

      To be true to my approach to the challenge each year, I have precisely 30 chapters, one for each day, and each one is approximately equal to one day of writing, 1,667 to 1,700 words, to complete the challenge with the requisite 50,000+ words. Personally, I go for 1,700 to 1,800 words simply because it makes the math easier for me and ensures that I have 51,000 to 54,000 words to guarantee winning the challenge. It helps eliminate any problem caused by differences in my word counter versus the official National Novel Writing Month word counter.

      Once I have finished that first draft, that defines the story. I will not deviate significantly from that story. Of course, that means maintaining the 30 chapters pretty much as is, no adding or deleting chapters. Of course, others would take a vastly different approach to things, but that’s fine. If we were all the same, not all of us would be necessary, and I don’t want to be the one eliminated due to redundancy.

      If you check out my publications list, you will find that I already have 9 novels on the market. All nine of the novels had their very first draft done within the 30 days of November as a part of the annual National Novel Writing Month challenge. I have participated 10 times now, and I have won the challenge 10 times now. I am endeavoring to keep that pattern going. It is a fun way to trick myself into doing a novel a year.

      The one sticking point is that I have to get the novel to market before I can do another. That is why I only have 10 novels instead of 11. The 2014 novel did not make it to market until after National Novel Writing Month in 2015. I used the month to finish editing the 2014 novel rather than doing a new one. It was a hard novel to deal with for a number of reasons. The most significant being that about one third of the novel paints an extremely sad, though accurate, picture of my mother-in-law who then died in October of 2015.

      Thanks for taking an interest. And thanks again for your suggestions. Though I’m not sure how much use I will make of them, I greattly appreciate your sharing them with me.


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