80,000 Words

19 Mar

Today, I reached the 80,000-word mark of my work-in-progress. That’s a milestone of sorts, I think. Something resembling a book is beginning to emerge. The question remains, though – will it be any good?

My memory is hopeless. I think that it was Alain de Botton who wrote about the frustrations of a year spent working on a novel and not knowing whether it’ll be any good until all of that effort has been expended. He used a great metaphor to explain it, which I’ve forgotten, of course… Clearly this anecdote would work a little better if I could remember any of its details, but you get the picture. And when writing has to fit in around working to pay the bills and being a single dad, you can multiply the length of the process by a factor of three or four. That’s a long time to wait until finding out if your pistol was firing blanks.

The bitter experience of seven years spent on a manuscript that didn’t work out, time taken up by music journalism and writing a biography, the birth of my children – all of these things and more meant that I abandoned long form fiction for the better part of half a decade. Regular readers will know that my last novel took me six years to complete. And so it feels good to be this far advanced on another full-length project.


One of the images featured in the manuscript

I’ve placed a few short extracts on this blog. There are two extracts in Jamboree Bag, the sampler of my work available in paperback on Lulu. Other than that, I’ve not shown a word to anyone over the year and a half that I’ve been working on it. That is until a few weeks ago when I gave my friend, Rachel some 60,000 words to read. At the weekend, she got back to me about it. She’d enjoyed what she read but wasn’t keen on the way that the manuscript jumped between narratives. That just seems to be the way that I write these days. It’s how my last novel was structured. I enjoy the jumble of tumbling narrative streams. It feels to me a truer reflection of the real world, somehow. And Rachel coined a new term, for which I’m truly grateful.

So I now have 80,000 words and no real idea yet as to whether they’ve been wasted or not. In a sense, I know that they’ll not have been. Everything that you write adds experience and if you reflect properly on what worked and what didn’t, you’ll move forward as a writer. Still, it’s scant compensation for having spent years on what has turned out to be one big writing exercise. Ah, well… In the meantime, I’m going to leave you with the offending passage about a group of warrior-monks, origin of the term, ‘characteristic Paulisms’.

The Knights went to great lengths, then, to protect their rkn knowledge, to keep outsiders in darkness, knowing that otherwise it must prove the death knell for their order, consigning it to the knacker. The Brothers subscribed to a branch of Gnosticism, known to them as ‘Knostikismis’.  Others are known to have knelt down with them (King Knut and Joseph Knecht, Evel Kneivel and K-9, among others). A tightly-knit brotherhood, then, kneeling before the altar, wielding the ceremonial knives. 

Know and Zen, knaves travelled forth seeking knowingness, dressed in knickerbockers, hailing from Knightsbridge and Kniigsbørg. Resting a while upon a knoll, taking knick-knacks from their knapsacks, until trembling, knock-kneed, approaching at last the Knights’ temple. Rapping upon the knocker. Know answer. Twisting uselessly the great brass knob (there’s a knack to it). Go away, knidiot. Knocking on the door now with knotted knuckles. Get knotted, knasshole. 

Knot a word, then, to lighten this blackness. Knothing. Knot even in knine-hundred-and kninety-knine years. Knever.  

All text and images © PSR 2014


14 Responses to “80,000 Words”

  1. Michelle Mueller March 19, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    Congrats on hitting 80,000 words. How long do you think the novel will be when you’re finished?

    The old adage is that no writing is ever wasted, but I understand your worries. I spent ten years working on a novel that I ultimately threw away. It was an excellent learning experience, but it still stings when I think about all the time I spent writing and rewriting it, trying to get it to work on the page.

    Regardless, best wishes for your continued progress. Save the doubt for after you’ve finished it! 🙂

    • Paul Sutton Reeves March 19, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

      Hi Michelle. Thanks very much for dropping by and for your congratulations.

      I’m not exactly sure how long it’s going to be. I’m guessing somewhere between 90,000 and 100,000 – so in draft form, it’s perhaps not too far from the finishing line.

      Ten years! You’ve beaten my seven, though it’s probably a competition we’d rather not have staged. I know that those words aren’t wasted but it’s the opportunity cost of what one could have been writing, I guess, that hurts. How long was your novel and why did you abandon it?

      That’s sound advice about putting the doubts to one side – especially this far down the line!

      • Michelle Mueller March 19, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

        No problem. Reading about the progress of other writers often helps me to focus on reaching my own goals. You’re in the homestretch. The end is in sight!

        Well, to be fair, I was a teenager when I started it, so my writing process and style needed to develop. Since I was in a constant flux, it was hard for me to stick to one ‘version’ of the novel as my ‘voice’ would shift as I gained more experience. I have a couple of versions, each at about 50k words. I may return to the setting and characters after I’ve finished my current WIP. Maybe then I can see it from the perspective I need in order to finish it. I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

  2. Paul Sutton Reeves March 19, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    I totally agree on the usefulness of reading about other writers’ progress. And you’re right, the end is in sight!

    My first three efforts have been firmly consigned to the wheelie bin history! It sounds promising that you have something worth salvaging. Good luck with the current WIP.

  3. Mari Biella March 19, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    Congratulations on hitting 80,000 words. It’s heartening to get so far, and sickening to think that it might have been for nothing, but I think the mere fact that you’ve reached this point means that there’s surely hope. And I love the extract, by the way!

    I can relate to your worries that it all may turn out to be just a long writing exercise. I currently have a manuscript of over 100,000 words kicking around. All my former enthusiasm for it has evaporated, leaving me to wonder whether I want to salvage it or not. I still haven’t made up my mind. The thought that I might have put so much effort into something that won’t work sticks in my throat, but at the same time I’m painfully aware of its many defects…

  4. Paul Sutton Reeves March 19, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    Hi Mari and ta for the congrats and complimentary comments.

    Projects always fall short of what you envisaged, I think, unless you’re very easily pleased. It’s a question of how far short they fall that counts. I’ll finish this one in some form, I’m just fearful at present that it’s nowhere near the standard that I’d have liked it to be. We shall see…

    Yes, 100,000 of abandoned words is painful. My disowned ‘condition of England’ novel was over that length in unedited form. Is this the project that you said you feared might be rather silly? The conventional wisdom would be to put it aside for a few months and revisit it with fresh eyes. If it still seems silly then perhaps it’s best written off to experience. On the other hand, you may perceive its intrinsic merit and find a way forward with it (I think I’m talking to myself here too! – it may well be what I need to do). I have a suspicion that you’ll find the latter case to be true.

  5. www.laurensapala.com March 19, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    Congratulations Paul! 80,000 words is fantastic! And Mari, I am in your position right now. I’m editing a manuscript (around 90,000) words and my enthusiasm has completely evaporated and I’m not sure if I should even go on editing or just bury it in the boneyard.

    Ah well, I guess that’s the writing life 😉

    • Paul Sutton Reeves March 20, 2014 at 6:58 am #

      Hi Lauren and thanks for the congrats. I think that sometimes we do have to be brave enough to say that something didn’t work and to lay it to rest. Often though, it’s just a stage of the confidence roller-coaster that most writers ride. Having put the work aside for a period we can move it on again. Why have you lost confidence in your manuscript?

  6. masgautsen March 19, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    Congratulations! I enjoyed the extract, you surely have a way with words. Keep up the good work.

  7. David Ferland March 20, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    All I know is, keep going! Enjoyed the excerpt. Very clever and funny.

    • Paul Sutton Reeves March 20, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

      Hi David and thanks for your words of encouragement. That’s just what I intend to do!

  8. J.D.Hughes April 3, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    It doesn’t matter if the current 80,000 words are destined to become non-combatants stuck in barracks, dead soldiers lost in action or triumphant heroes storming the barricades, only that, eventually, you are happy enough to throw the best of the rest onto the battlefield. Your writing sample is too good to be counted amongst the dead, so get on with it, Paul 🙂

    Apologies for the fighting metaphor – currently on Vimy Ridge in WW1.

  9. Paul Sutton Reeves April 3, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    Thanks for your comments, Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes. It’s sage advice, J.D. – getting on with it rather than blogging about it! Field Marshal Montgomery wouldn’t have been caught messing around on WordPress while there was a third of a continent to be liberated…

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