Hidden Information and Expectations
This blog post was originally published on the old Word Foreword April 25th, 2017.
There are lots of tough moments in being a writer. In addition to struggling over word choice, sentence structure, etc. there are certain expectations that writers don’t necessarily know they’re supposed to follow, the most obvious one being word counts. Lots of genres have different agent and publisher expectations of word count. This information is readily available on the internet (through a few different outlets with a little wiggle room in answer). It’s not put in front of the author. Even in agent submission websites. They will say they’re looking for Science Fiction but the hidden information there is that they expect the manuscript to be between 90k and 125k. While a different website recommends a much narrower 100k to 115k words.
Another difficult thing for writers is removing work. Often writers will remove up to 50% of their original manuscript in order to get it to the goal, make things more fast paced, improve the flow of the manuscript or (literally) hundreds of other reasons. This is often referred to as “killing your darlings” because we’re a bunch of people who want to rub elbows and tell inside jokes.
This often comes after spending weeks or months writing a draft, reading it, making some minor changes, giving it to critique partners, etc. Then someone points out that “X doesn’t particularly make sense”. X happens to be something you peppered into your manuscript at the beginning, so you have to remove it or change it so it does make sense.
Sometimes, though, changing that element doesn’t work. You spend hours (or maybe days) talking with people about how to change that particular element and how you can make it work. Sometimes you need to just step back, look at the big picture, and kill your darlings. Save that element for a different project, or perhaps a sequel.
There’s a third option. Shelf the project. Make notes, so you don’t forget what you were trying to do. Put it on the shelf and wait. Wait a month. Three months. Do another project. Keep working. Pick up your problem project when you’re done. Yes, it means that the project will take longer. Shigeru Miyamoto, Director of Nintendo and designer of the Legend of Zelda games once said “A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever.” The same is true about books (and most other media, I imagine).
Here’s the important part; for readers and authors alike: this is okay. Books can be delayed. There’s a huge taboo in the world of entertainment right now about the delay of things. About how long it takes George R. R. Martin to write the next A Song of Ice and Fire books. About how far pushed back the next season of Westworld is. These are fine.
We like this content because of its quality. When we give less time to creators to spend on a project, we’re sacrificing quality for instant gratification. It took years to make Game of Thrones, and even more to make A Clash of Kings. There were two years a piece between the first three books, five years between A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows, and another six years before A Dance with Dragons! And it’s already been six years since then!
I have shelved a recent project. It broke my heart to do so. But the book will be better off in the long run because I did that. It was exhausting. I felt like a drug addict being walked in on while using. Like having all the puzzle pieces but not knowing the end result.
So a few weeks ago, I started something new.