Writing Process

Is It Really Necessary to Determine Your Estimated Word Count Prior to Writing?

A quick update on the short story writing challenge:

I’m happy to say that the short story writing challenge is going very well. It’s really given me an opportunity to hone my skills even further and strengthen some of my weaknesses. Having consistent feedback and critiquing has also been super helpful along the way!

So far the story is just over 10,000 words! I was aiming for 7,500, but…this specific story just needed more words to be told well. Which brings about the question: Is it really necessary to determine your estimated word count prior to writing?  

word count

When writing a book, or even a short story, I’ve always had an idea of how long I want the finished project to be. I would take my estimated final word count, divide by average number of scenes, and so on…

But does knowing the word count and scene count from the start really matter? What if you start writing a novel but the story can be told effectively in just 15,000 words—with even more impact? Then, you’ll have a novelette instead of a novel, and maybe adding more words for the sake of length would take something away from the story.

On the other hand, what if you start writing what you think is going to be a short story—maybe 5,000-7,500 words—but then 12,000 words into it you realize you’re only halfway there—the story needs more words to be told effectively?

I know for die-hard outliners it’s imperative to know the estimated number of scenes and words from the get-go. I understand that. But the more I write, the more I’m finding myself somewhere in the middle of being an outliner and pantser. I want to have a general idea of the story I’m writing, I want to see the arc of the story, but then I want to let the story take me where it wants to go. Knowing the general idea, the major points I need to hit, the arc, and where I want to begin and end up is my guide (my loose outline). You can read more about the process my co-author and I use in this article:

How We Use Fence Posts to Plan Our Writing

What I’m saying is that if there’s a story fighting to get out onto paper, then just write it. Don’t worry about trying to fit the story into specific parameters of word counts. Just write it and it will develop into what it’s supposed to be.

Have you ever started writing what you thought was going to be a short story but instead turned into a novel or vice-versa? Share in the comments below!

10 Tips on Self-Editing Your First Draft

Self-editing is challenging for most writers, but it’s a critical skill all writers must learn. You might be asking why you need to self-edit if you’re hiring a copy editor or proofreader. Self-editing is just the first (though very important) step in the editing process, and the more polished your manuscript, the better chance of success your book has.

Click here for a copy of the Self-Editing Checklist. 

Below are 10 Tips on Self-Editing Your First Draft.

  1. Show Don’t Tell: Look for phrases that are telling or talking down to your readers and replace them with phrases that are showing instead. For example, don’t describe an emotion, show it through body language, action, dialogue, etc.

  2. Reduce Qualifying Words: Qualifying words include well, look, listen, and oh. While they do have a place in dialogue, making it realistic in some cases, it is important not to overuse these words.

    Example:

    “Well, considering it’s been unseasonably cold outside…”

    Instead say:   “Considering it’s been unseasonably cold outside.”

  3. Tighten Your Writing: If a word is not necessary to the meaning of a sentence, remove it.

  4. Delete “That”: That is a filler word and in most cases (not all, of course) is unnecessary. Try removing that and if the sentence still makes sense, leave it out!

  5. Eliminate Word Repetition: Word repetition pulls readers away from your story.

    Example:

    Incorrect:       I knew this had to be the door I was looking for, so I unlocked the door. 

    Correct:          I knew this had to be the door I was looking for, so I unlocked it.

  6. Motivation-Reaction Sequence: Be sure things happen in logical order ¾ thought – action – speech.

  7. Fact Check: While writing, we often run into things that need fact checking. When this happens, insert a capital R (for research) inside brackets following the word or phrase that needs researching. Now is the time to do a search for all the symbols [R] and complete your fact checking.

  8. Read Your Writing Aloud: By reading your writing aloud, or having a program such as Adobe Reader read your writing to you, you will hear things in your story you didn’t pick up as you were writing. This will allow you to “see” the whole picture more clearly and pick up glaring grammar errors.

  9. Big Picture:

    • Conflict

    • Plot

    • Pacing

    • Settings

    • POV

    • Characters

  10. Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling: You’ll want to run through your manuscript looking for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Don’t worry if you miss something; this is only the first pass before you send it off to the copy editor.

Self-editing doesn’t have to be a dreaded or daunting task. Below, I’ve put together a list of 10 tips for self-editing your first draft as well as a convenient checklist for self-editing.

By taking a systematic approach, you will catch many issues without feeling overwhelmed, and you’ll give your manuscript the chance to shine!

What does your self-editing process look like? Comment below.