The Curse of Fifty Thousand Words

I don’t know if this is true for all authors (feel free to chime in writer types) but for me, there’s a number. This number haunts me. I didn’t realize the importance of this number or its significance until I was a third of the way through with As Dragons. And I don’t completely understand it yet.

But, for all three of my books, fifty thousand words is some roadblock, some bollard, or boogeyman that rises up in front of all my progress - all the evidence to the contrary - and says, "You suck." I hit 50k words and all the optimism and excitement I had for a project evaporates.

Suddenly, my book is crap. Grade A garbage. It’s shit. Everything I’ve written should be buried like nuclear waste - labeled hazardous to protect future generations.

I hit the brakes and get weepy. I tell my husband, “That’s it. I’m done. I’m done writing. I hate it. I’m going back to drawing. I’m terrible at this.”

It happened with my first book, but it wasn’t so upsetting. I felt like I’d tried to write a book and I’d failed. I was sad, but so what? I’ve failed lots of hobbies. You’ll never see my knitting in a gallery or adorning a model. I’m just fucking awful at it.  If writing turned out the same way, I could accept that. Yes, my story meant the world to me, but if just lived inside me, oh well.

After a few days or moping and feeling sorry for myself, I woke up needing to write. I sat down and pounded out five thousand words over a Saturday and that was that. I had other moments of doubt, for sure, but none as deep and visceral as the 50k mark.

When the exact same thing happened when I was working on my second book, I got suspicious. Especially when As Dragons from Sleep finished up at 160k words. Fifty thousand words was about half way through the first book. But for the second, it was barely a third. So I reminded myself it about the last time and rode it out. I put the book away, went for a walk, cried a little (okay a lot) and then got on with it.

Now, here I sit with Fear and Bitter Thorns right at 51352 words. And it's happened again. Right on cue. Bone crushing self-doubt.

Why bother? Why spend all this time working on a crappy book that sucks? WHY?

I think, for me, the doubt creeps in when I’ve written down the bare bones of the story. I have all these words but it doesn’t read like a story. Fifty thousand of them! Fifty thousand words and my book reads like a collection of episodes with no arc.

After three books, though, I think I know the problem.

I don’t write in order. I skip around. I write the ending, then work on the middle, the beginning, a hot love scene I’ve been turning over in my head. So after writing 50k words, I think I should have a book. But I don’t because it all needs to be stitched together. There are gaps, chasms I haven’t figured out how to cross, rivers I haven’t found a way to ford. And they’re intimidating, they’re there every time I load up my file. Reminding me with their blank space, "Hey! Something goes here, dummy!"

Judgy little fucks.

The good news? After three books and a novella, I know I can find solutions. I have to step away, do some drawing, go for a bike ride and the pieces will fall into place.

So that adage about shut up and write? Yeah.

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