The Word Count

The start of another teaching semester isn’t far off, and the novel I was working on during my fellowship last year is still only 4/5 of the way through a first draft, six months after the end of the Burns. I’ve been pecking away at it all year, in fits and starts as I take on other freelance contracts to earn a skinny dollar; as I hurtle from one child’s appointment or commitment to another; and also, confession, as I two-time: some days, tell the novel I’m actually pretty involved with poems at the moment. They seem to, you know, understand. They look me in the eye and listen.

Getting back into reading this incomplete first draft after more than a month away from it reminds me of why, when other writers say, “I’ve done x-thousand words today!” Or ‘I’ve written x-thousand words this week!” I always feel a slightly sulky, adolescent “So?” My novels take at least three major revisions, so I’m superstitious about first-draft crowing — things could always grind to a halt and the so-called novel just end up terminated. I always write far too much in that initial draft, and a lot of my rewriting isn’t about adding scenes but about making cuts and simplifying.

An early reader of one novel-in-progress said I should start a business selling off my first draft metaphors and similes to other writers — there being an oversupply. It’s a lesson I have to relearn every time, even though it’s a quirk I can quickly spot as an editor of other people’s work. I told my reader that the oversupply came from trying too hard to get to the essence of the experience, or the thing described; maybe it came from an innate insecurity. She was — um — unconvinced. Which is salient, because there I went again, over-analysing. The point wasn’t why, the point was, cut!

I have that voice usefully in my head as I re-read the 77,000 plus words (so?!) of the incomplete manuscript, and try to remind myself what the reticent, beleaguered father in the novel was about to do after our temporary separation. The unseemly brag at the end of a good writing stint at the moment won’t be “I wrote my 1000 words today!” It will be more like “I’ve lost 500! Woo-hoo!” and also, if I’m lucky, “I know what this guy was meant to do next!”

It’d be great fun to run a service supplying metaphors and similes to writers of underfed prose. But what to call the business? Firm Words? UpWords? (Nah, taken by the board game. Damn.) Em-bellish? Pimp my Prose? McMetaphors? Simply Similes? The Word Count! I could go on: but really this entry is a manifestation of having hit another stumbling block with Liam, the overworked, repressed father in what I sometimes call The Billy Book; knowing the post-school kerfuffle is nearly here, and trying to keep the writing muscles trained in the gap during which Liam has gone schtum

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2 Responses to The Word Count

  1. Sarah Laing says:

    I like the idea of a simile/metaphor service. Maybe you could make it like a photo library – we’d pay royalties on them. Or else you could team up with a letterpress printer and sell your beautifully typeset discarded metaphors on Etsy.

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