I know I’ve posted about this before, but as my followers have grown over the last year I thought I would post about it again. Yesterday, on one of the Facebook sites where I post my tearoom chats, I read a question by a young writer.

They were asking about the number of words you should write in a day? This saddens me. Another question that often pops up across the internet is about what should be the word count for your novel? I always take a deep breath when I see these types of questions. Especially, when a competition breaks out in the comment box between the writers to who has the biggest novel. 🤦‍♀️

Why, you might be asking do these sort of questions make me sad or sigh heavily. Think about for a moment. Ask yourself this, what is the writer focusing on? What is important to them?

Size isn’t everything.

Ernest Hemingway was asked why he rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms 39 times. His reply was to get the words right. Hemingway wasn’t worried about how long his novel was, or how many words he wrote in the day. His focus was on telling the story and making sure he used the best words to do it.

What does this tell us? Where should our focus be? Writing is only half of the job we do when telling our stories. Yes, we must get our ideas down, and once we’ve done that then we need to work our magic. This is the point at which we need to clear out all weak or unnecessary words. I promise you, you will find them.

Sentences that start with: It was, I was etc. By losing the word was you can show through evidence, and action by tightening your sentences. This will help you increase the pace of your story and tighter the tension that the reader will experience. This is what will keep them turning the pages, as they will want to know what happens next in your story.

Seeking the Dark was the first novel I wrote. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to start a chapter, or where was the best place to end it. The problem is you can’t know where to cut your story until you written it out in full. There’s a difference between the idea you have in your head and the final draft.

If I learnt anything on my writing journey it is the secret to good writing. And what’s that? It doesn’t start with just an idea, it isn’t even in the first draft. The secret is found in the editing and the amount of time you’re willing to invest in creating your own magic.

This is the difference between your work being accepted or rejected. Skipping editing or just giving it a light read through before sending it off isn’t always enough. The more time you invest in editing, means less time the publisher or editor will need to spend on your work. This means they are more than likely to accept it, if it is what they are looking for.

So in answer to the two questions about how many words should you write in a day, and how long should your novel be, my answer is the same. It’s up to you. Write as much as you want, but edit like there’s no tomorrow.

Writing isn’t a competition about how big someone’s novel is or how many words they write in a day. It’s all about the quality of their writing. It’s all about how much time you are willing to invest in editing.

Getting the Words Right: How to Revise, Edit & Rewrite by Theodore A.Rees Cheney is the best book I’ve read that explains how the edit and improve your writing.

This is my old copy, from 1983, but I’m sure it has been updated.

4 Comments

  1. There is one by the same author available on Kindle, titled ‘Getting the Words Right (39 ways to improve your writing)’. I’m not sure if this is the same one. It’s broken down into three sections: Section One: Reduce, Section Two: Rearrange, Section Three: Reword. Does that sound like the same book as yours?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Paula, and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve found that once you get that first draft done, then the real work/fun begins where you take the raw story and enhance it to the best of one’s ability. I recently started a series of stories I wanted to limit to 500 words. Early on I realized I was cutting my nose off to spite my own face. Some of them needed to be longer, so I went with the flow. It’s best to follow our instincts, I think, striving for the end result being the best story we can write. Thanks for the post and reminding me of that.

    Liked by 1 person

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