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The Scope of Writing a Novel – Rethinking Word Counts

Read Time: 2 min

One of my goals for 2009 is to take one of my three novel outlines and finish a full draft. I've chosen that book.

I'll be spending the New Year focused on writing a mystery that I outlined back around 2004. I'd say it's been shelved long enough now. (This is one I outlined using the Marshall Plan, for anyone that followed my reviews of various outlining programs.)

I've already spent some time fleshing out my characters and making some plot changes (rather change things in the outline than draft it and have to re-work the actual draft, especially in a mystery where I have to be careful about things like clue placement).

After another week of updates and some reworking, I'll be starting the draft. I'm estimating this novel to be around 70,000 words (with the expectation that I may cut some of it in the editing process).

When I think about it that way, I understand why I let it sit for so long. So now I'm trying to make myself think about it differently.

For example, here's one way I could think of it:

I published an e-book last year. It took several months to finish, but that's because I worked very slowly on it (as in not working in consecutive days - there was a lot of time in between starting and finishing where I didn't actually work on writing it). That, plus the bonus materials I created for it, came to a little over 35,000 words.

So in other words, the novel draft will simply be like writing two e-books. Wow - 2 sounds much more achievable than 70k, right?

I'm also looking at it in three parts - the first quarter, the last quarter, and the half in between. Knowing me, I probably won't write it in order - I haven't decided yet if I'll start with the beginning or the ending. Still though, that makes it even easier - When I start, I'll just be worrying about 17.5k words for one of those sections (the equivalent to the typical work I do for just one of my clients every two months). I'm not looking to break speed records here - I'm just looking to finish it by year's end. So if I work at the same speed as those client projects, it would happen in about 8 months. I'm certain I'll be spending more time though - making 6 months more realistic if I stick to it.

My point is this - even a huge overall goal can seem infinitely more achievable just by breaking it down or thinking about it in a different way. I'll soon be choosing a tool to track my wordcount / progress here on this blog (and some of my other ones).

What do you do to keep yourself focused and moving when drafting a manuscript? Do you prefer looking at the total wordcount, or is there another way you think about the project to make it more manageable (even if just in your head)?

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