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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It's Only Words

It took some time, but I seem to have finally gotten some writing mojo back. I finished up the first draft for a short story I plan on submitting to an anthology, and I'm starting to get super excited about the projects I intend to work on next.

Writing for anthologies is always an interesting exercise. This time around, my biggest challenge was the word count. This call specified a range of 2500 to 5000 words, which I consider a pretty good length: long enough to develop a plot and characters, but short enough that it doesn't become a massive undertaking.

Here's a confession: I was never all that good at estimating word count for myself. For many of my longer words, I just sat down and started writing, and wherever I wound up, I wound up. I mean, when I'm sifting through the ideas in my brain, I can usually differentiate between, say, "short story idea" and "novel idea", but I was never one for saying, "Okay, I am going to write X and it will come out to be approximately 60,000 words." To give an example, I figured The Fall of the Midnight Scorpions would end up being around the same length as its predecessor...and then it went about 10K longer. Oops. But since I didn't have any strict guidelines for it, no big deal.

So this anthology submission. I liked the theme, I mulled over some ideas, and came up with something that made me say, "Oh, I can definitely tell that story in 2500 to 5000 words!" I started off and everything went according to plan...until I started encroaching upon the 3000th word and realized I still had a lot of story to tell. Eeek.

I soldiered on, and when I didn't feel like writing new words, I went back to cut some of the previous ones to give myself some wiggle room. The 4000th word came and went and I started sweating again. When I only had the final scene to go, I did the only thing that could save my sanity and let the prose just flow out of my fingers: I turned off the word count display.

I merrily wrote the conclusion of this fun little story without concentrating on the bottom corner of the screen. (All right, I confess that I cheated and peeked twice just to see where I was.) I wrote the last word, capped it off with a period, and right-clicked for the results.


It was getting late at night, but no way was I going to bed without finding 15 unnecessary words to chop. I did a quick skim, got rid of them, and now the story's waiting at 5000 words on the nose for revisions and edits. (And, uh, a spell check, because I haven't done that yet.) My editing usually involves more cutting than adding, so I'm feeling pretty confident that I'll keep it under 5000.

And if it doesn't get picked up after all that? Maybe I'll add the 15+ words back in and release it as a freebie. ;)


  1. Yay, mojo!

    I've always just kind of winged my short stories. They're not my strong suit. I usually had a problem with them being too short. I think you're really good at them though.

    You know, turning the word count off was the best thing I've ever done for my writing! I just check in at the end of the session for my spreadsheet. I do a lot better that way.

  2. Like you, my editing also involves cutting rather than adding. Typically.

    It's so wacky, the range of words people are looking for when it comes to short stories. Some markets seem to consider below 4k to be akin to flash, which is interesting to me.