Never-ending Revision and the Curse of Word Count Watching

The biggest question: Do I work on my book or do I take down the Christmas tree?  Well, since the Halloween party decorations are still up, I guess Christmas can stick around for a bit.


As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently got feedback from an editor on my fantasy novel (in my world, anything under six months ago counts as recently).  After a brief discussion, it seems that, while he liked many things about the book, including the premise and the setup with the main character, the writing was coming across a little stiff.  It wasn’t a problem with the description exactly, but more the things I choose to describe and the way I draw the character’s eye (and therefore, the reader’s eye) through a scene.  The conversation was full of encouragement and positives, but I was a little frustrated knowing this meant yet another pass on this novel.  I very briefly toyed with giving up on it, but I had several of the people who have read it (a few who have read the whole trilogy) say they thought that would be a mistake.  So, here we go again.

I think one of the challenges I face with this novel is the scope of the world.  It is the first book in a written fantasy trilogy.  When you create the world in which the story takes place, you must know that world.  You must know what to describe and how to describe it in order to make that place real for your readers while not spending a ton of time on drawn out explanations or descriptions that don’t move the story.  Not an easy task.

Also, in this novel, I have three viewpoints, allowing me to track events going on in both of the relevant countries as well as giving insight into the different cultures and major characters involved.  Figuring out how to bring such a world to life and keep momentum across three viewpoints is a considerable challenge, but it is part of the craft and I believe I am getting the hang of it.

The biggest challenge I face in this edit pass, however, is the word count.  I put months of effort into reducing the overall word count and now the process of bringing the world to life threatens to raise that count again.  So far, I’ve had three failed starts.

The first effort, I was so busy watching word count that every time I added a word I found myself looking for one to remove.  I got through almost five chapters before admitting that I was doing more harm than good.

On the second try, I forced myself to stop recording the word count, though I still kept watching the numbers at the bottom of the page and holding back in my efforts.  This went on for almost three chapters.

I started over again.  This time, I struggled through the first two chapters and realized that I wasn’t sure I was doing what needed to be done.  I was making a few changes to the MC that I was happy with, changes that strengthened her as a character in the beginning and clarified her motivation for the decisions she makes later on.  These were good changes, but did not address the heart of the problem.

Time for research.  I spent hours skimming through novels I loved and looking at how they brought their world to life.  Then I spent several more hours reading from online articles and books on writing.  While this gave me a great many ideas, I still felt like I was grasping at something just beyond my reach.  When you’re as short as I am, you know exactly how annoying it is to need something just beyond your reach.

It was about this time that a newsletter article from Holly Lisle showed up in my e-mail talking about bringing the WHERE of your story to life.  That article and The Description Workshop it linked managed to click everything together for me.  Something I read there filled in the last piece of the puzzle and freed me to give another shot at making this novel everything it can be.

I learned some critical lessons on world creation, but I also learned that you must create a story, not a word count.  If you spend too much time worrying about word count, you can kill the creativity.  Write or edit the story, not the word count.  Length can always be worked out later.

Happy Writing!