My original completed version of Project Torture was around 130,000 words. It spanned over 500 pages in my word document. This was a decade ago. I had trouble getting the file onto a hard disk to share with my mother because at over 800kb it was too big for the disk. I bought reams of paper; worrying about how many times I would have to print out the huge manuscript in the querying process. I never got very far in querying so I am happy to report I have ample paper stocked up ten years later.
I edited the hell out of Project Torture over the years. Made some tearful cuts. The further along time went the easier it was to hack up my work. I narrowed the story down to 126,000 words in the beginning of 2013. Then I became a true editor of my own work and hacked until the words bled off the page. Down the word count went. 116,000 was effortless to arrive at. Baffled me that I cut 10,000 words without altering much of the story. Got rid of those empty words that didn’t need to be in the manuscript.
I wasn’t done. I kept cutting. My final version is 105,000. I cringed, checking the word count frequently, watching my pages fall under 400. I had a lot to say, and I enjoy reading a thick book.
Now I’m reading that the average book is between 80,000 and 90,000 words. Under 70,000 is too small. Over 110,000 too big. Project Torture falls in the hefty but still manageable category. She is finally in the right range.
I think back to my few rejection letters. My word count alone probably awarded me a quick trip to the slush pile. That’s okay. Because they would have be right. At 120,000+ words Project Torture wasn’t ready. She wasn’t polished. She wasn’t shining. If she hadn’t been put in the slush pile immediately she would have ended up there later. Back then I was also too close to the work, the criticism too fresh, too raw.
I’m ready now. My advice to other aspiring writers. Write for yourself. Ignore the word count until you enter the editing stage. Then is the time to cut, or add, and make sure you fit in the right range. As I read from Writer’s Digest last week: it’s okay to break the rules. But you need to prove you know the rules first. You need to put your very best foot forward.
After ten years I believe I have made Project Torture the very best she can be. It’s time to put her forward and see what happens.