Before I understood the importance of word counts when it came to publishing, I decided that, for my first “major” book project (called Pride of the Nation, which sounds like a KKK pamphlet) that I would count words. My daily word count was 500 words, which quickly turned into 1,000. Some time later, after I abandoned the project for some reason or another, I opened the folder and expected to see at least 100,000 words- it was around 30,000, a number I found laughable.
Back then, I believed word counts were something worthy of boasting. Stephanie Meyer (I know, I know) said Twilight was 300,000 words when she queried it. I can top that, I thought. Then 2010 came around with another project, The Girl Who Ate the Poisoned Apple, which I blogged about on Dancing Riceball, Part I. I grew up while writing that manuscript; I researched, followed published and aspiring writers’ blogs, and realized something:
I write plenty of unnecessary shit.
Granted, this was a fact I realized before 2010, when I gave NaNoWriMo another go and completed my manuscript. NaNo was instrumental in my writing. To reach my goal of 50,000 words in a month, I wrote nearly 2,000 words everyday. I wasn’t proud when I posted my last word count and received my certificate of completion. Why? Because that story, Graffiti, was only three chapters long. I know books don’t have a set requirement of chapters, but the fact that I had three that literately had nothing happening in them- I knew something was wrong.
So when I finished the first draft of the Poisoned Apple, I was in trouble. From memory, young adult books range from 60,000 – 80,000 words. Anything higher, especially 100,000 words, and you’re entering into literary territory. I’m talking sweeping epics, family dramas and other thought-provoking shit. The first draft of the Poisoned Apple topped 170,000 words. All this for a slice-of-life story. The book would’ve been better at 70,000. I still queried it, and it was rejected. All agents who responded said something along the lines of It’s interesting, but it’s not for us. I know the hefty word count, which I reduced to a still whopping 130,000, was enough to scare people away (among other things about the story).
I’m playing it smart with this current manuscript. With my NaNoWriMo in June project, I’m planning on writing 4,000 words a day. If I stick with this, it’ll give me a word count of around 120,000, which I’m hoping won’t happen. The purpose of writing 4,000 words is to see if I can do it and how much story I cover- meaning that if it takes me, on average, 4,000 words to cover one chapter, then I might be in trouble. (Now that I think about it, wouldn’t it make more sense if I stuck to 2,000 words?). I googled average length of chapters and found a number around 2,500. Even though chapter lengths and their numbers varies, I’m hoping this will keep my overall word count goal to a maximum 85,000 words. Checking the word counts for my chapters won’t be something set in stone, but I’m hoping it’ll be enough to curve me away from writing unnecessary, filler words. Like with this post- I’m sure I could’ve chopped some things away.