Double and Something

Those not involved with writing books might be surprised to know that authors rarely talk about page count, but instead think in terms of how many words we have written. Editors want to know how many pages the published book will be, and this is easier to estimate with word count, since there are varying numbers of words on a page.

But it’s really a pretty simple calculation. I have now doubled the number of words I have written since my last post, when I reported reaching the 10,000 word mark. There are approximately 300 Times New Roman 12 words on a full page of text, meaning that at 20,000 words I am roughly on page 60. The same formula of about 300 words a page seems to carry over into a published book, so I have a good tactile sense of where the reader’s bookmark would be if he or she set down the book as published at this point.

What this means is that, assuming a target length of no more than 350 pages, the reader will be roughly one-sixth of the way through my new novel. That’s sobering. I know that as a reader I am either deeply into a book or losing interest by this point. But as I write, I am so involved in every scene that I know I may not be a terribly good judge of what it will be like for someone coming to it from the outside. someone who is, of course, going through the book far more quickly than I can write it.

Is enough happening, plot-wise at 60 pages? Have I developed at least the main character’s personality and story enough for a reader to want to stick with the book? Am I spending too much time on things that I don’t see going anywhere as far as the overall story is concerned?

It’s really hard to stay confident. Doubts creep in about many things. Am I taking too long establishing the background? How long will the reader wait for a big, pivotal event? Should I be hurrying up? Will the reader be able to see, hear, smell what I am sensing as I write? Should I be slowing down?

It’s always a good idea in the critical stage where I am still getting used to the characters and story myself, to stop writing new text and go back and read the old. Start to finish without stopping isn’t possible, for I find things to tinker with on every page, but I try to read as quickly as possible, to get an inkling of what the experience might be like for fresh eyes.

Fresh eyes are perhaps the most critical thing a novelist must write a book without. The words aren’t even completely fresh as they flow out of the keys onto the screen, because often we’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about where a scene needs to go or what a chapter has to accomplish. To a certain extent, it’s already written in our heads, and now it’s about showing up at work to do what we know is on our desk.

Often a scene doesn’t work out the way we thought, and that’s very exciting, but once the words are out in the world, we can never look at them for the first time again. That’s for our readers to do. But I have learned to have at least a little pity on myself and squelch my concerns about the quality of my first pass at a book. The sixty pages I re-read yesterday are nothing any reader will ever see. What they will see will be richer, more compelling, more vivid, more exciting because I will grow as I write. But do I have a story? Do I have an interesting heroine? Oh, you bet I do!