What “Catch and Release” Taught Me (Part 1)

I learned a ton from writing, revising, and getting ready to publish my new short story “Catch and Release”. I figured it would help me, and maybe others, if I took time to record some of these experiences. I want to start with raw data that I found by using the features that Microsoft Word has to track documents.

Note that when I say x-amount of hours spent writing and revising, I’m talking about the total amount of time, not consecutive. Here’s an overview of the time spent writing and word counts:

I started writing this story on 6/28/14. The completed first draft took me approximately 19 hours to write (18 hours and 44 minutes according to Word). Strangely enough, it took me about 19 days to write the draft. The word count for this initial draft was 5,036.

My revised first draft was the result of about 90 more hours spent writing and revising. The word count increased slightly, to 5,212.

The second draft came after another nine hours of writing and revising. This was when the word count really started to go up–here it was 8,143 words.

Once I had this second draft, I sent it to Angela for editing. Based on her comments and suggestions, I expanded the story even further: I put in another 54 hours of writing and revising, and the word count jumped again to land at 10,608 words.

One more round of editing later, I had the final version of the story done on 3/13/15. The word count went down, but only by 100 words or so.

OK, so, why am I telling you all of this? What’s my point?

Normally, I come up with an idea for a story and find that, as time goes on, the idea grows far beyond its original scope. It’s something that I’ve tried to become more aware of lately, since I recognize the danger of letting every little story balloon into a big project. When I started writing “Catch and Release” I wanted it to be roughly the same length as my first published story, somewhere around 5,000 words. Looking back now, I’m not entirely sure why I was so set on that. My original estimate was wrong, by a good amount.

I tried to do something that I normally wouldn’t, writing a story with a very specific number of words as the target–and it didn’t work for me. The story is twice as long as I imagined it would be, but it took me a while to figure that out. This reinforced my long-held belief that, when it comes to fiction, word counts are really nothing to worry about until the story is already written. Setting goals is fine, but (at least for me) they should not be the only thing to guide the way.

The reason “Catch and Release” ended up twice its original length had nothing to do with my tendency to go overboard. This time, the story demanded it. My early drafts simply didn’t tell enough of the story. Too much vague dialogue, too many unanswered questions, and (most alarmingly) not enough character development. Characters are the essence of my stories, and so I could not leave this story the way it was, knowing that the characters I’d created were not alive within the text. A large chunk of those words that I added were written into the story as a way to put more of the characters on the pages. By taking the time needed to develop the characters more, I learned what this story was–as opposed to what I thought it was going to be–and ultimately that made for a better story.

I’ll be posting more on this topic soon, so check back here for more on the process behind writing “Catch and Release” and more info as we get closer to publication.

  1. Donna said:

    I’m excited!

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