About the author

Conrad Williams is the author of the novels Head Injuries, London Revenant, The Unblemished, One, Decay Inevitable and Blonde on a Stick; the novellas Nearly People, Game, The Scalding Rooms and Rain and a collection of short fiction, Use Once then Destroy. He lives in Manchester, UK.

All content on this site is © Conrad Williams.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Novel territory

698 words

I hit the 70,000 word mark today. It has tended to be the magic number for me, the word count I aimed for when writing my first novel, ID, at the age of 20 (a novel that will never be released from the darkest pits of my archive folders), and just managed to stagger over before completion. For me, 70K means I've hit novel territory. I made book-length. Which is arrant nonsense, of course*, but psychologically, for me, it ticks every box. Once I hit 70K, I tend to relax a bit, catch my second wind, and ease on through to the finish.

Writer and editor Peter Crowther, in a panel at Fantasycon, recently explained how he carves up these categories. For him, up to 10K is a short story; 10-20K is a long short story, or 'novelette'; 20-40K is a novella; 40-60K is a short novel and 60K+ is a novel. These are good yardsticks to keep in mind, but it's best to play fast and loose with them. A lot of writers, especially novice writers, get hung up on word counts (I still do, as evidenced by this blog post). Seventy thousand words is a psychological – and, let's face it, physical – barrier to work towards. The argument that 'it's as long as it is' doesn't quite cut it when you're trying to write a novel, especially one you want to see hit the shelves. Publishers and readers generally like to see some bang for their buck.

What do you think? Do you have your little word counter clicking along as you type? Do you, like Graham Greene, obsessively count the words by hand? Or do you ignore the numbers and simply work until you feel it's finished? I'd be interested to hear from you.

* Look at the novels of Gwendoline Riley, for example. Her first, brilliant, novel, Cold Water, is 25,000 words long, give or take. A novella, really, if you were being strict. Is it a novel, though, in terms of theme and substance and gravitas? Well, that's a different argument...

3 comments:

Keith Brooke said...

I'm an obsessive word-counter - targets for each day, targets overall. I'm also pretty good at estimating in advance: "This one'll be an 8,000-worder" or 100,000 or whatever. When I started my most recent YA novel I had in mind that it'd probably be about 52k words. I think it came in at 52,200! Not sure what that says about me.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Whenever I'm writing the first draft of a novel I'm worried it won't be long enough. Then I can usually relax once I get past 50k. Of course that means nothing really because there will be lots of hacking and rewriting in subsequent drafts, but I suppose that's a magic number I'm happy to see because then I relax afterwards.

Mark West said...

I tend to panic about the length, then go sailing by with nary a worry. I usually check the word count of each chapter, but that can differ. In fact, reading your blog, I'm considering doing daily word counts now!