Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When to listen to your gut

I've had it set in my head since I started the current WIP that it would be 80,000 words. Don't ask me how I arrived at that number - it's very scientific, you writerly types wouldn't understand -  but that's the word count I've been aiming for. And I was rocking right along until about four days ago, when I wrapped up a mini-plot and  realized I'd hit a dead end. I had No. Where. To. Go.

I took a few days off to let some ideas roll around. I was pretty much waiting for that divine inspiration to strike me as I was grocery shopping/showering/eating a sandwich, but it never came. I even tried going back to the page and forcing myself to write, hoping a plotline would magically jump out of the bushes and ambush my brain (I'm pretty sure that's how creativity works). I had the end, I was about 55K words in, but I had noooooooothing to tie the two together.

And then it did hit me last night. This word count goal that I'd arbitrarily chosen (scientific arbitration, totally different) wasn't the right word count for the story. At least, not for this round. I was beating myself up trying to come up with a new storyline, when in reality that new storyline would only serve to slacken the tension and pacing. I'd set everything up to end well, it just so happens that it will end about 10K words earlier than expected.

Which, if we look at words like a budget, isn't half bad. And since I like money, I like looking at words like a budget. And the nice thing about a budget is that when you don't spend that money, it's there for the spending later. If I want to add a scene, or bulk up a scene, or add a new character, or flesh out a character, I've got the room. And the real odds are I left something unexplained, or I need more foreshadowing, or more description. Some people write too much; apparently I write too little.

Since I've let myself off the hook the words have been flying across the page, tumbling over each other to get to the end. I feel better, they feel better, you feel better (just go with me on this). I had to go with my gut that this story just wasn't meant to be 80K words, at least not on the first draft.

When have you had to go with your gut in a story? Are you glad you did? Do you wish you'd listened sooner? Are you grossed out with all this talk of guts?


Tere Kirkland said...

Yes! I purposely under-wrote one story, winding up with a 55K word ms after a first draft. Now it's around 66K, which is about a thousand words over what I thought it would take to tell the story when I first started. I was surprised at how fast my word count went up during the second draft, so I think you're doing awesome.

Short is not bad—it takes up less space on a shelf, so booksellers are all over that. And it's cheaper to print out when it's short. That's only like half of an ink cartridge. ;)

I think you could work on something else for a month (planning to NaNo?), then print it out and read it with fresh eyes. I bet you'll find lots of little places to add things like character development and mood, incorporate setting description into the narrative, etc.

Good luck!

Lola Sharp said...

I go with my gut on ALL things in life, every day. My instincts/guts never lead me astray.

Have a wonderful week! :)

Melissa Gill said...

Yep, I think you just have to go with your gut.

Melissa Gill said...

It's hard to tell how many words you're going to wind up with. You just have to go with your gut.

Christina Lee said...

Yes, it was the right thing to do. I always aim low on my YA's knowing I'll fill it all in during revisions!

Lydia Kang said...

Where did my comment go?
Ah well.
Guts don't gross me out. But I need some guts lately...I've been all over the place with my WIP and I need to take a stand!

Marieke said...

I go with my gut too, pretty much all the time! If I don't do so when writing the story just goes wrong :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Same thing happened to me. I was planning for my new wip to be around 75,000 but I'll be happy if it's between 60-65 K judging from how it's going right now. :D