As Long As it Needs to Be

A conversation occurring this morning, as a new colleague and I rushed to bash out some grant letters:

HIM: How long are you going to make your letter?

ME: As long as it needs to be.

After a beat, I realized that I sounded flippant, and explained that I was going to make it just long enough for organization A to get some money out of organization B.

When you sit down to write a grant request, you don’t say, “Okay, this little sucker is going to be 350 words long.” Truth be told, you probably don’t say anything. You just sit down and write until the objective is reached.

The same is true of writing a piece of fiction. True, you need to keep length considerations in mind when writing for a genre, but you don’t consciously sit down and tell yourself that your romance Love’s Tormenting Itch will be 51,725 words long. You plunge in and tell the story. And if it runs long for a romance, then you either cut it or try to sell it as a SuperRomance (it’s scary how much I know about marketing romance novels, isn’t it?).

A lot of times I can launch a pretty good guess of how long a novel will be after I’ve written a couple of chapters, but that’s after the fact kind of stuff.

So don’t worry about length, especially if you’re just starting out. Tell the story you want to tell first giving yourself the freedom to do that will result in a better product – and while this sounds like it contradicts my earlier advice to not throw everything in – just remember you can pare it down later so the storyline is more focused.

Then, if it isn’t as long as it needs to be, you can make it as long as it needs to be.

Listening: Icehouse, “Electric Blue” (via iPod Shuffle)


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