How Many Words Does It Take To Write A Book?

IMG_6794The Words that Formed The Wardrobe Girl

 

Word count. Writers are addicted to their word count. That little self-help tool that ticks over in the tool bar of your document pushing you towards that much sought after sign off – The End.

But when is enough, enough and how will you know?

There are no easy answers to those questions (sorry if I was holding out false hope there). There are lots of ifs, buts, maybes and how long is a piece of string kind of responses. Sometimes it’s dependent on genre, so if you’re writing a picture book, 400 crisply chosen, precise words maybe all you need, but a Scifi or Fantasy epic may need 120,000 words to paint the world and tell the story.

My book, The Wardrobe Girl, is just 94,000 words, but I’d say I probably wrote at least 200,00 to achieve the 94,000 words that made it into the published copy. My first draft came in at 105,000 words, but there were many rewrites and scrunched up sheets of paper on the way. Most of those words were handwritten (I’m an old-fashioned pencil/pen and paper girl) before they made it onto a word document. Although, I have allowed myself some artistic license there – I never scrunch up my sheets of paper and I’ve never had an overflowing waste paper basket, the Hollywood shorthand for writer at work, trying to breakthrough writer’s block. Oh no, we have blogs for that these days!

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My words are kept, usually between the covers of a Moleskine. I carry a notepad with me ready to write down any conversational gems I overhear or to take note of someone’s outfit, or idiosyncracy. The journals are my starting point for the writing, although, for some reason book 2 is currently being written on a blank foolscap pad – I’m not sure if this working for me, I’ll let you know. Sometimes my words are retrieved or used elsewhere. It might just be a phrase I’ve highlighted or a whole paragraph. Sometimes a whole scene has been resurrected. I know there’s all kinds of software that does it for you, but 1, I’d have to learn how to use it and 2, I like to have physical access to them.

But, how did I know when enough was enough?

I didn’t really. I reached a point where I knew it still needed work, but wasn’t sure how to quite go about it. With the encouragement of a friend, the wonderful writer A.D. Scott, I submitted my manuscript to her agent, and now mine, Sheila Drummond. The word count was sitting at about 96,500 at this stage, but I couldn’t see where to lose those 6,500 words to hit the magical 90,000 word mark for my genre – contemporary women’s fiction (aka – chick lit). Sheila reassured me that when a publisher got hold of it I would have all the guidance I needed.

And she was right.

Although the rewriting isn’t necessarily any easier during the editing process, at least you have some guidance and all those tracking changes down the side. You know where to cut, massage and completely rewrite. But without any words, you can’t do any of those things.

So how many words? As many as it takes. Listen to your intuition, because those gut instincts are you usually right. Don’t be scared to write it big and write it ugly, those words can be refined. In the end, the answer always comes down to the same thing. Write. Put one word down after another and you will form a sentence and the sentences will eventually a become your book.

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The Final Pages, My Work is Done

 

The Readers' Copy

The Readers’ Copy

I have finally finished.

After years of writing, rewriting and editing, my book is typeset and will head off to the printers on Friday.

I feel such a strange mix of emotions. Relief, excitement, anticipation and, strangely, sadness.

I’ve put so much into the writing of this book that letting go, waiting to hand it over to the public is almost with a sense of loss. Everything I could do is done and now my characters and the world they inhabit will face the reality of bookshop shelves, bedside tables, coffee stains, dog-eared corners and critics. But isn’t that what I wanted? Absolutely!

To reach this final stage, I’ve travelled a funnel-shaped journey. It started with the big picture, a splashing of colour and movement in big, bold strokes. Each draft or version – there were 47 before it went to my agent, Sheila Drummond and then onto Beverley Cousins at Random House – was a process of refinement, of whittling down and narrowing my focus. By the time I reached the final pages, I was assessing the worth of an individual phrase or word, correcting punctuation with a brush of sable-like fineness. I know it’s a better book for the process and I am sure I have learnt much along the way, although I feel too close still to articulate it all.

But I will say this. Trust your gut instincts. If it feels wrong, whether it’s a word, an action, a whole passage or plot line, it probably is. Write it big and and ugly in the first draft. If you have words on a page you can begin to edit, without words you have nothing. Let yourself fall in love with your characters and then listen to what they are telling you, let them off your leash so they can roam. Listen to your editor, agent, publisher, they all want the best for your book. they won’t give advice that will make it worse or destroy the integrity of your work. But, if you really disagree and can justify why, then stick to your guns.

Next up for me is the publicity and that is going to something else again!

Hitting Your Mark - the first draft

Hitting Your Mark – the first draft

When Bridget Jones crash lands on the set of Home and Away…

If you’re reading this, then let me tell you some amazing news. No, no, come closer I want to be sure you hear. Sitting comfortably? Good.

 

My book has been picked up by Beverley Cousins of Random House Australia and is going to published next April!!!

Hitting Your Mark - the first draft

Hitting Your Mark – the first draft

Sorry, I didn’t mean to squeal with delight quite so loudly into your ear. But you did hear, didn’t you?

Unbelievable. It really does happen. All that scratching away in the State Library of NSW, removed from the distractions of Facebook, Twitter,  the internet, the washing, ironing and assorted other household tasks I hate doing but just screamed for attention when I should’ve been writing. The editing, the rewriting, the frustration, the tears, the staring out of windows waiting for the right word, the rewriting, the workshops, writing groups – did I mention the rewriting? And lets not forget the self doubt which was almost paralysing sometimes. It’s all come to fruition.

'Pretty Beach'

‘Pretty Beach’

And unlike you, I wasn’t sitting comfortably, reading my computer screen, oh no. I had spent half a day travelling from Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand and was waiting at Brisbane Domestic Airport for the flight home to Sydney when my 6 year old announced she was desperate for the toilet. I was on the phone to my 23 year old daughter who was accessing my emails for me as I stood in the cubicle wondering if my gorgeous agent, Sheila Drummond had sent The Message. So, I discovered my dream had become a reality standing in a toilet cubicle, with my young daughter demanding that I pass the toilet paper she couldn’t reach! Oh yes, life’s all glamour for us soon-to-be- published authors.

Details? Yes, okay, I’m getting there – I was just basking in the glow of my dream. My book will be published by Random House Australia, next April – 2014, just in time for Mothers Day. It will be found in the Commercial Women’s Fiction section of your local bookstore. At the moment it’s titled ‘Pretty Beach Rescued‘ but that’s bound to change. The elevator pitch for my novel is just the same as this blog post – when Bridget Jones crash lands on the set of Home and Away.

Palm Beach aka Pretty Beach

Palm Beach aka Pretty Beach

Before I had my youngest daughter (I have 3 altogether 25, 23 and 6), I worked in the film and TV industry, including 5½ years on the long-running Australian soap opera, Home and Away and my inspiration for my novel comes from my time at Home and Away.  And as the opening paragraph of my synopsis explains:-

Pretty Beach Rescued has all the elements that make chick-lit ‘behind-the-scenes’ of the media industry novels, such as Bridget Jones Diary and The Devil Wears Prada resonate with the reader: men, gossip, complications, family drama, embarrassing predicaments and, of course, an inside look into the production of the media piece in question – in this case the TV show Pretty Beach Rescue, which is recognisably modelled on Home and Away. The novel is a fun, easy, sink-you-nails-into read with refreshing wit, vivid and aptly filmic descriptions.

"Pretty Beach Again"

“Pretty Beach Again”

But as they say, stay tuned, I’ll be writing about my experiences in the world of publishing and the process from contract to publication, which is still a bit of mystery to me! And I’ll also give you some inside gossip about my characters, particularly the gorgeous, if somewhat clumsy,  Tess Appleby, my heroine.

From Dream to Reality

 

Yesterday I took a step closer to becoming a published author. I signed an Author’s Agreement with Literary Agent, Sheila Drummond. It’s really all rather surreal. After years of scrawling notes in my Moleskine notebboks, cheap supermarket exercise books, scraps of paper, the back of theatre programmes and finally typing away at my laptop, I’m starting to reap the rewards.

It’s exciting, daunting, overwhelming and absolutely nerve-wracking. But there’s no time for sitting back and basking in the moment. I have to immediately start book two.

It’s no longer enough to have one good book in you, there has to be at least 2, preferably 3 and can you write a book a year? That was a wake-up call!

All this time of nurturing my dream, writing, rewriting, rewriting the rewriting all to create one book and now, today with book number one barely out of my system, I have to start creating a new world to inhabit for the next year. New characters to fall in love with, care about, dislike, wonder about their lives before I met them.

And how to begin? For me it’s with an empty page and a pencil, a thought and then start scrawling and see if ti leads me anywhere. Then I’ll take another blank page and start covering it in visual images, pictures from newspapers, magazines, real estate catalogues, images I’ve Googled and build a representation of the world and characters.

But at the end of the day, it will be all about the writing. Will it be easier this time? I don’t know. Now I’m out of my comfort zone. It’s no longer a closely guarded dream, it’s a reality. Now I have an agent to answer to, not just a monthly writing group. There will be publishers wondering if I’m worth their investment in time and money. At the end of the day, whether you publish with a traditional publishing house or self-publish, you have to confront the reality of the business that allows our work to be read, and that is what we want isn’t it?

And now the empty pages beckon, time to start work.