Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Life Jacket

No matter how much some things change, a manuscript page is still 8 1/2 by 11inches, paper or computer screen; it holds about two hundred fifty words of a double-spaced type face, a fact that holds many points of artistic and financial interest to you.

Word length is indeed a factor here, whether in relation to the number of words you have written while behaving as a writer, or the length of a manuscript you are coping with for editorial or production purposes.  For a writer, word length relates to the limitations imposed directly by an editor or indirectly as a statement of the approximate lengths of materials being accepted by said editor.  In that case, you are either over limit, under limit, or, as was the recent case with the publicity department of the publisher of your forthcoming title, right on target.  In another way, indeed, the Tao of this essay, word length relates to a calculus similar to the way "burn ratio" applies to a film director.  Number of words written as compared to number (and choice) of words appearing in the final version, as analog to the number of film frames exposed by the director compared to the number of frames appearing in the final print before the venture is released to the public.

As you write this, you involved in some final revisions of a book scheduled for publication in late July or early August of this year.  Your directive, as you interpret it from the editor, is to put some considerable new stuff in without fucking with the word length.  Her polite way of putting forth this suggestion was, "I couldn't be happier with the current word length."  This means some room is going to have to be made for the new stuff at the expense of stuff already there, looking for places to add the new stuff, which non-rent-paying tenants to evict, all without fucking with the word length which, according to your calculations, comes to 150,000.

You would not be in the position you are in if you were not a writer to some degree, nor is the position remarkable in its ability to cause you concern.  Going through these 150,000 words, you, already on record as a staunch enemy of such tropes as the comma splice and -ly adverbs, are appalled at the number of each to have wormed their way into the manuscript, nor your apparent forgetting of your resolve to purge all your writing of your most egregious habit word, the incessant use of that ugly -ly adverb "accordingly" as a way of beginning a sentence or, worse yet, paragraph.  It is all right to use an adverb to occasionally split an infinitive, which seems to you the most constructive use for the adverb, but matters ought, you argue, to stop there so that you can continue with the effect revision has upon you.  Revisiting earlier work has a simultaneous effect; it horrifies you with what you do not know at the same time it impresses you with what had not even suspected you did know, a situation that is constant in keeping you at the point of believing you are even.  Batting .500 is not a bad thing; you are grateful for the life jacket thrown you by that aspect of your personality with a modicum of faith in your choice of profession.

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