INTRO TO WIP WEDNESDAYS
I’m starting a new blogging segment I’m calling WIP Wednesday. This is WIP Wednesday #1. I don’t plan to post every single Wednesday but occasionally will be writing about my latest work-in-progress on Wednesdays.
This year I’ve been posting weekly about my dialogue challenge, and I’ve found setting a blogging goal related to my creative writing is a great motivator. This isn’t that exactly. Unless I’m doing a weekly post, an occasional update on my next WIP isn’t going to really motive me not to procrastinate if for some reason I am procrastinating. Instead, I hope this new segment will be more topical in nature, letting people know some aspect of what I’m working on as opposed to what I used to do pre-dialogue days, which was only really post when a story of mine was published somewhere.
Since I’ve already been posting like crazy about the dialogues, expect my WIP Wednesday posts to be mostly focused on the novel. Though there will probably be WIP posts about the dialogues once they are ready to be compiled into a short story collection, but I wouldn’t expect any such posts in the near future.
For my first WIP Wednesday, the focus is going to be on word count.
I just did a recount of the latest drafts of all the chapters in my novel-in-progress, and I’ve got 89,191 words typed up. Now I write everything by hand and only a small portion of the chapter I’m working on is actually typed up. Using a conservative estimate, I’m without a doubt over 90 thousand words.
When I began writing I feared that my book would be too short to count as a novel. I worried I didn’t have enough to say—enough words—to tell a novel-length story. After all, I write lots of flash fiction and my debut book was a novella of less than 40 thousand words (at least after my editor got through with it).
The goal for my current WIP was at least 80 thousand words. I tried to focus on just writing—not word count—and repeated the mantra, A story will be as long as it needs to be, whenever anxiety about my novel’s length cropped up. Truth be told, I failed to brush away my worries and instead have been keeping track of my chapter’s lengths. Here’s the current breakdown:
Prologue: 623 words
Chapter 1: 17,082 word
Chapter 2: 10,943 words
Chapter 3: 8,359 words
Chapter 4: 6,404 words
Chapter 5: 10,034 words
Chapter 6: 5,389 words
Chapter 7: 4,647 words typed (This is the chapter I’m currently writing.)
Chapter 8: 25,710 words
Now that I know I’ve reached the magical 80 thousand, I feel relief because I have certainty that this work is long enough and, with more to write, will stay long enough even after editing. I believe I have something like four more full chapters left to write, including the one I’m currently writing. So I can calculate the average of my completed chapters (not the prologue or chapter 7) at 11,989 words. At only 4 more chapters, that’s 47,956 words left to write if I hit that average. Add this predicted total chapter length of the next 4 chapters to my completed chapters and we’ve got a 132,500 word book.
I have no way of knowing right now if I’m going to be spot on, way short, or a lot longer than this guess. At the lowest, my chapters should be 5 thousand words. I’ve read in places that 5K is a good word count for chapters in most books for adults. As you can see, my chapters are all above 5 thousand words. I think 5K is a good chapter length myself, but that’s not how this book decided to structure itself. It’s perfectly possible that I could end up with four 20 thousand word chapters to finish off my book or, much less likely, end the book with four 5 thousand word chapters.
Isn’t over 100K words too long for a novel?
According to this reedsy article, my book is likely to be a little on the long side for literary fiction. 80 to 100 thousand is the sweet spot. And while the sweet spot is a good place to be because it’s more likely to be accepted by agents and publishing houses, it’s also shorter than I hoped my novel would be. You see, while I fretted about reaching that magical 80K, I felt my book needed to be bigger. It might be best to remember that the sweet spot exists for a reason, but it’s also good to remember the mantra, A story will be as long as it needs to be. And I always felt this story needed to be longer than the minimum. Ideally, I really wanted it to be at least 120 thousand words.
Why break the “rules” of novel-length, especially when it’s your first novel?
That’s a great question? The simple answer is the same as my mantra. But it might also have to do with genre; though to be honest, I really don’t know. To me, my book is literary fiction. But a friend of mine said the book I’ve described to him is a systems novel, a genre of both literary and speculative novels.
I don’t know if he’s correct or not, but one trait that some systems novels have is bulk. Word counts in lit fic systems novels are often way larger than my guesstimate of 130K. So if my friend is right, then maybe the word count this thing is bound to be is closer to correct for its genre (though the mantra takes precedence IMO over any other correctness criteria). My friend is smart, so he’s probably right. But whatever the genre, I feel like the more words for this particular book, the better. You can look up articles on systems novels and, after the book out, decide for yourselves if it’s one, and while you’re at it, you’ll probably make a decision on how you feel about the long chapters in my book.
TL;DR Announcing a new blogging segment: WIP Wednesday. I’ll be posting these occasionally. My current WIP, a novel, is at 90K words and could get past 130K words. This is long, but it might be the right word count for the book’s genre, a literary systems novel, if it’s even its actual genre. In the end, A story will be as long as it needs to be.
Share a little about your WIP in the comments and don’t forget to drop a link to your website so we can follow you.