Notes From an Underwriter

When you think of a writer, you normally envision someone who can bang out thousands of words without breaking a sweat. While writing isn't truly effortless for anyone, there are a lot of writers who end up creating monster first drafts that have to be slashed into some semblance of a respectable word count range.

However, there are others who have the opposite problem -- those who turn green with envy when the aforementioned overwriters complain about their 100,000+-word first drafts. Maybe you're one of them, in which case, come sit next to someone who understands *pats seat next to me*


I've already written a post with tips for underwriters, so I won't repeat that stuff here. However, I am going to share my own struggles with word count, which hopefully will prove that anyone, even the most minimalistic underwriter, can reach a decent word count with enough revising.


The first manuscript that I tried querying in earnest was a YA Fantasy. I wrote the initial draft in a notebook in the span of three weeks, and typed it up after I was finished. It's painful how much shorter a book looks when you transfer it from your large, messy handwriting into Times New Roman 12pt.

Any guesses as to how short that first draft was?

25,000 words. For a YA novel.


Of course, that's laughably short, but I was determined to make it a proper novel length. I revised and added and expanded until I hit 30k. Then 40k. I almost wept with joy when an extra subplot pushed me over 50k. By the time I submitted that manuscript to a contest called #TeenPit*, my manuscript was sitting pretty at 65,000 words. Still a bit lean for a YA Fantasy, but I never even dreamed I could write that much.

#TeenPit was the launching pad that landed me in the Pitch Wars class of 2017, and my awesome mentor (Laurie Dennison) recommended I age my manuscript down to MG. We cut 4,000 words during revisions, making the final word count of THE DREAMON 61,000 words. For an MG Fantasy, that's right in the sweet spot. Victory!!


For my second manuscript (which I'm polishing up to query), I set myself a word count goal of 70,000 words for the first draft. Even that's a little short for a YA Sci-Fi, but it would be the longest thing I'd ever written, and there was a small part of me that didn't even believe I could do that. The number of drafts got a bit hazy after a while, since I was using Scrivener and writing a lot of it out of order, but by the time I was ready for critique partners (about my third draft), I'd hit 73,000 words.

Of course, I was thrilled at this. But it gets better. After a couple of rounds of revising with CP notes, which beefed up worldbuilding and tension, my WIP is currently 83,247 words (it may fluctuate a bit from there before I query it, but hopefully not by much). As someone who's always had to worry about whether my low word counts would be an auto-reject, this is HUGE.


My main point is, don't discount yourself if your first drafts are skeletal. You CAN beef up that word count, and make your book tons better in the process!


* If you're a young writer, I HIGHLY recommend entering #TeenPit. Info for 2019 can be found here.

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