I typed those glorious words in June last year after slogging through the first draft of my crime novel. It took 8 months, a tone of coffee and a good splash of procrastination to reach this pivotal moment. The only downside to this sparkling moment of achievement is that my goggle history looks like it belongs to a psychopath. But then, that’s the point isn’t it?
80 000 words.
The first draft.
I am currently in the fourth week of a Creative Writing masters program. Last week our lecturer shared that it took eight weeks to draft her debut novel, then six years to edit it. If that’s the standard ratio of first draft to novel, then my book launch will happen in 2039. (Yeah. I worked it out). Consider this your official ‘Save the date.’
I’m only ankle deep in my re-write but I can already see 40 000 words of drivel that can be cut. All those opening paragraph about lighting, the weather, or describing the room. Completely unnecessarily. Paragraphs used as warm ups to get into the story. Then there were all those conversations that went on too long or repeated information we already knew eg., character a giving character b the low down.
Then came the super tough edits. Like my opening line which I loved but, if my manuscript were sitting in that sad sack of a slush pile at any publishing house, it is likely that bored, starved for excitement, assistant editors would cringe at my opening cliché.
‘YES! But I acknowledge the cliché and make fun of it in the second sentence.’
Doesn’t matter. Cut it. Do you want to get published?
Now 80 000 and 40 000 words may mean nothing to you. You may not comprehend what those word counts actually look like. So here’s a comparison: at the low end, though far from lacking in quality, we have The Great Gatsby at 47 000 words. The recent The Fault in our Stars is 67 000. Middle range tomes like The Hobbit lock in at 95 000 words while epic stories A Tale of Two Cities and Schindler’s list are both 130 000.
Memoirs of a Geisha is 186 000!
Cutting 40 000 from my manuscript is essentially chopping a Great Gatsby from a Hobbit. It’s painful. That wound hurts motherf**ker.
Then I reworked the first chapter. Then the second and then the third. Polishing that little turd with fresh spit and a dirty rag every day.
It’s getting there. 25 000 words of better prose. Tighter, more vivid, a little more alive.
I like my new first page.