Words Count

WORDS (2)One of my jobs is running a non-profit arts service organization. This past week has been about completing some online profiles and doing a grant. Both of these require specific wordsmithing. Max 200 words here, 2600 characters including spaces there. My manuscript is contracted to be 80,000 words. This weekend, I am pitching a book, and I needed to write a 50 word blurb in advance.

In the case of my book, I write short and use the edits to flesh it out–adding descriptions, writing clarifying scenes, in some cases fleshing out a subplot. That is part of my process, and now that I have written a few books I know I can do it. My novel writing friends know well that the hardest part of writing a novel is starting. The second hardest part is finishing.

Honing my narrative to fit a specific text block is another matter all together. Free flowing prose is gone. Instead, well written, terse statements that nonetheless evoke feelings of generosity and an air of competence is the norm. Trying to cut 13 words, after having cut 100, is brutal. A great skill to master, but brutal.

The 50 word pitch was the hardest of them all. I am trying to sell a book. I love this book. Love does not make you rational. Or able to explain why someone else should love it in 50 words. This weekend I give the pitch–I’ll let you know how it goes.

Do word counts paralyze you? How are you at wordsmithing?


J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series, including the Agatha nominated Just Killing Time. Julie Hennrikus runs StageSource.

23 thoughts on “Words Count

  1. Having recently written my first ever synopsis. I can not imagine how you have managed to use only fifty words. My synopsis took two weeks. It’s was harder than writing the book. I pray I never have to do anything like your doing.

  2. I’m guilty of setting out grant applications with confined word counts. It’s meant as a guide really – but so funny how expansive writers become without it. For a short report on a final piece of research which asked for up to 200 words we received the full 70 page report without so much as a summary. For the writer it was an all or nothing proposition.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this blog. It is very encouraging as I am stuck on the ending of my book. Write short, flesh it out in the edits. Good advice. Thank you

  4. The best thing that ever happened to me in terms of writing was when I was writing low word count grants. The motivation to do it ‘right’ was high – do it short but concise and convincingly in order to get the grant money! The opposite end of this was when I took up my first NaNoWriMo challenge. Spewing a glut of words for the sake of high word count was a good exercise in elaboration!
    We as creative artists, no matter our niche (I am a musician, first and foremost, then a writer) need to hone these types of skills in order to get our art ‘out there.’

  5. I feel your pain. Writing short is much harder for me than writing long. I’ve been participating in flash fiction challenges for a while now that have limits of 100, 175, 200 words — and wow, this practice has made a huge difference for me. My tendency continues to be to write long first (or on a good day, only “medium”) and then edit, but the paring down gets easier every time.

  6. When writing short stories or novellas, I like to keep the word count open-ended and just write the story that wants to be told. But for essays or creative nonfiction, I like to have a word limit-it sets up the parameters and I can get a better idea of the form I want the piece to take.

  7. Your post made me smile. I am just procrastinating from wordsmithing by reading other people’s post entries… I have five different shorter and longer pitches in the making, from an academic paper to an interview, a poster presentation, an online text on my artistic research project for a government site to a -ups, I momentarily forgot the last one- I know there is something else waiting in this weeks queue. Anyway. I love your statement “Trying to cut 13 words, after having cut 100, is brutal.” the most. So true. Success to you and happy writing.

  8. I am notoriously too wordy. As the one and only reporter for a local paper, I’m constantly being reminded “shorter stories, more stories”. I did pay for a freelancer sports writer who was wordier than me! No one wants to read an 800 word sports story (except the sports writer). I cut many of his stories down to the bare bones. After several of those edits, I realized how long my blogs were. Hmmmm….maybe this is why no one reads?

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