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A Personal Revelation: Never Dictate The Length of Your Writing Ahead of Time

Had one of those eye-openers just now. Every story I’ve crapped-the-bed on has been a piece I’ve dictated the length of ahead of time. Two novellas are unfinished, and stopped after about the five to fifteen page mark. And it was only just earlier, while I was thinking of the novellas I’ve never followed through on, that I realized why.
Let’s say you have work to do. Here are two ways someone can tell you to do said work.
“You have two hours of work to do, get to it.”
Or…
“You have some work to do, get to it.”
Which of these two statements do you think will motivate you to start the work first? I’m willing to bet it’s the statement without the number in it. The one without the time dictated to you. Even if it will take two hours, do you really want to hear about it ahead of time?
Expectations can be a real bitch when writing.
Length decision ahead of time nearly led to me not finishing my first novel. I’d decided ahead of time the book would be three hundred plus pages. However, upon working on the book, I realized by the hundred page mark that it was half-way finished. I would have to piddle around if I ever hoped to get to three hundred pages, and that wasn’t the type of book I was writing. It was a first person account of a serial killing spree. It was a letter as well, and two hundred pages for a letter was plenty. By the by, it ended up being two hundred pages, but I never really decided that was how long it was going to be. In order to finish the story, I let the story itself dictate how long it was going to be. If it was to only be one hundred fifty pages, so be it. Just ended up being two hundred.
This doesn’t just apply to fiction. It applies to reviews, editorials, and other forms of non-fiction as well.
There are obvious limits to this form of free for all writing length. If you’re submitting to an anthology, and it’s a seven thousand word limit, it’s perfectly okay to try to keep it under seven thousand. All I’m saying is, if it goes over, you have the option to go with it, and see where the story takes you. Plenty of anthologies to submit to, after all. Ditto when it comes to non-fiction articles, or reviews. If you end up going over the word limit, perhaps keep it going, and see if you can get the article somewhere else, that doesn’t have the lower word count. Besides, if you really want to get a piece placed in a certain anthology, or magazine, or website, you can always perform the ancient art of the cut. Being amazingly brief, I’ve yet to have to perform this ritual of old.
So go at the page, but try not to have any preconceptions. If you’re anything like me, they’ll be wrong anyway.
I experimented with outlines at one point in my fiction. I’ve since given up doing anything other than a very rough outline, and do you want to know why, kiddies? Because, I’d always end up writing something different than in the damn outline! Often, it seems I work better making things up as I go along. A character will think something, and then say something based on the thought. This will cause the other character with him to do something. So, something as simple as one character’s mind wandering can completely change the direction of your tale.
Let the whimsy commence!

3 Responses to A Personal Revelation: Never Dictate The Length of Your Writing Ahead of Time

  1. Great points in here, you should always just write the story as you are happy with it. Too little to fit a word count and you might not add in something important. Too long and you might pad it a tad too much.

  2. Very good insite. Thanks for sharing with us.

    Cheers

  3. It was in-site insight.
    How many of you are there?
    Do you have a split personality?


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