A Few Words About Words

I’m seeing lots of tweets and blog posts about word count these days. What’s interesting to me is there seems to be a lot of angst about cutting down manuscripts to hit the sweet spot of “not more than” 90,000 words for mysteries and thrillers. I wish that was my problem. Cutting is easy. At least for me. I’ve spent years learning to tailor reports and presentations to executives: make your point, make your ask, take questions, using as few words as possible. On the one hand, it’s made me great at pitching. One-age synopsis? No problem. However, my first drafts tend to run under 50K words. My challenge during revisions is beefing up the word count without slowing the pace. Or adding too much fast-paced action and giving the reader a heart attack. So what do I do? Ignoring the word count seems to work well for me. In first drafts, I just get the thoughts down in any crappy way I can. During revisions, I clean it up. I take out the placeholder bad sentences I bashed out in a rush because my commuter train was pulling into my station, like “MC and other person argue about x.” Those placeholders get turned into full scenes. I’ve learned to remove technical jargon and replace the terms with normal human words to convey the same ideas. Subplots get beefed up, others get dropped. And so on. My wonderful agent also has a way of asking a simple question that inspires me to add new scenes or add depth to existing scenes. By the time I finish with the major revisions, I end up in the right neighborhood for the desired word count. I guess my secret is no secret, I just try to relax and tell the story. The words find a way.

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