Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: Lynn Biederstadt

Is Counting Words An Important Part of Being A Writer?

If you’re not a writer, Word Count may sound like some child’s game, yet many writers consider it critical to their craft.

There are a ton of widgets to count words and many quite respectable software tools for writers include word count functionality.

If you’re a freelance writer, not adhering to the required word count can stop your money-flow.

If you submit manuscripts for traditional publishing, word count ranges need serious consideration.

But, apart from the space constraints of certain newspapers and magazines, why would publishers enforce word count limits?

And, with the new opportunities of self-publishing, one might think that word count would be losing importance as something a creative writer needs to consider

Johanna Harness, in her blog post, Why Word Count Matters, begins by saying, “Why should you care about word count? Honestly, you shouldn’t—not at first anyway.”

Later in her post she says:

“So we can just self-publish and forget all about word counts, right?


“Well, we can—just not if we want readers.

“Story length is based on reader expectations.”

Then, there’s a post about word count from BookEnds, LLC, a literary agency, that says they’re “going to try to make this the complete guide to word count post”.

After giving some word-count-ranges for various genres and echoing Ms. Harness about reader-expectation, they go on to say:

“The other thing to consider is that as long as we’re still selling books primarily in a paper format, it’s an expense issue. A book costs more if it has more pages and somewhere along the line those costs have to be passed on to readers.”

So, there are some of the representative opinions suggesting writers should sweat over how many words there are in their creative works

However, there are other opinions.

Thanks to my best friend, I can share a quote from The Cambridge History of Australian Literature that gives a touch-point to the controversy in one country over the “proper” length of short stories.

The Bulletin was an influential publication that restricted word count.

The Cambridge History says, “In restricting stories to about 3000 words or less, the Bulletin set a pattern that persisted in newspapers and magazines for most of the next century.”

Australia is rich in short story competitions and I found an article in The Write StuffAre Aussie short story writers an endangered species?—in which Geoffrey Dean, who was Tasmania’s most celebrated short-story writer, says:

“How strange it was, I thought to myself as I made myself my afternoon cup of tea, that the federal capital Canberra, the seat of government, the city that turns over more words in a week than the average city would wear in a year, insists on so few words when it comes to word competitions. Was this some kind of reaction against poly-verbiage – an attempt, as it were, to substitute quality for quantity in the word game? Or was it simply that Canberra’s Ivory Tower dwellers were so out of touch with the real world they no longer knew how long a good short story needed to be.

“When 3,000 words went by on my word counter, I began to realise that not only had this story written itself out of the majority of story competitions in the country, it was now in danger of writing itself out of the prospects of publication in any of the staunch old standbys, the literary magazines.”

And the last bit of evidence in this blog-trial over the fate of word count belongs to Lynn Biederstadt, who’s given me permission to reproduce her post called By Numbers << that link being where you can go to leave her a Comment :-)

Not a dig at my writing brothers and sisters. Not nearly. Instead, call it a curiosity:

Word counts.

Whether as the landmark measurement of yearly writers’ events or as a passing note on FaceBook, the posting of the day’s output seems to wield an almost mystical importance. I’ve done it myself. I’ve never been quite sure why.

The number of words achieved through the intellectual and emotional wrestling match that is the day at the page seems a strange yardstick for triumph, as if we were marking an ascent of Everest rather than the quality of output. Sure, it indicates the dedication of the day. But what is it really?

Writing a novel is a marathon made up of a series of sprints—work (and in this I am speaking of those of us who write while holding full-time jobs) fit into dedicated weekends and the hours carved into weekday work nights. And perhaps that’s what bothers me.

The number is a passionless one. Numbers always are. Yes, it is the evidence of the accomplishments of altitude or mileage, but not a sign of what getting there cost…the hours and hours of lonely roadwork, the toll of altitude sickness in the strictly solo climb.

For all its exultant joy, Writing is emotionally expensive for those of us who do it. It is often the choice between a weekend day spent working and a trip to the movies; between breaking the back of a feisty chapter and dinner with friends. It is—especially, I reckon, for those of us who write for a living—a constant battle against brain drain. Noting the progress of a living story as if it were a tote board of output seems to under-serve both the breathing characters and labor pains that brought them into the world.

As I said, I have, in the past, joined my compadres in the observance. Not sure that I’ll do it any more. Writing is more to me than a creative odometer…it’s the way we get there.

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Some Questions for The Serious Writer . . .

There are few other blogs I follow—would like to follow more—far too busy being a writer… Lynn Biederstadt

One other writer I do follow is Lynn Biederstadt of Sky Diaries.

In fact, I’m as careful to leave comments on each of her blog posts as I am to reply to comments here.

I feel the aloneness of being a writer—not loneliness—and feel I should reach across space and let her know I “understand”

Her recent post, The Van Gogh Teach, begins with her visit to the Van Gogh exhibit in Denver, Colorado.

She goes on to explain a lesson the experience gave her, saying:

“A lesson, as so often happens, made up of many questions.”

I appreciate all her posts but this one has questions about writers dealing with the issue of Recognition—Van Gogh not receiving much in his lifetime.

I’m going to put some of Lynn’s questions here but do follow the link and read the whole post.

Apart from seeing the questions in her finely-crafted context you’ll also receive a bit of the painter’s biography

Some of Lynn’s questions for serious writers:

After relating some of Van Gogh’s struggle, Lynn asks, “…what does that say about those of us who, in our art, are visited by promise but not, perhaps, by the confidence of brilliance?”

“What do we tell ourselves in the ticking interim as we wait for recognition to find us?”

“Who gets to decide what’s brilliant and what isn’t?”

“Are the determiners the thousand gatekeepers who stand between the art and the recognition of it?”

“If we each hold the exquisite ability to call success to ourselves, should that determination not have been enough to cut him some cosmic slack?”

“At what point does the doggedly original become the unquestionably wonderful?”

“When does nonconformism claim a rightful, righteous place in a shiny world?”

“What inner angel do you call upon to keep going despite yourselftoward the impossible, the sublime, the transcendent?”

There are more questions; and, if you feel the urge to answer a few, please take this link and let Lynn know what you think
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For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
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Want To Get Off The Rollercoaster?

I’m a writer and we tend to have emotional highs and lows—seems to come with the dedication to writing stories.

I’m sure painters have something similar. I’d venture the guess that all creative folk do

Lynn Biederstadt‘s blog, Sky Diaries,  says, when describing itself: “A journey that’s kinda like Life.”

So, perhaps, everyone can relate to this post. Still, creative types seem to have more “thrilling” rollercoaster-living.

In one of Lynn’s recent posts, she said:

“We create. We imagine. We doubt. We doubt some more. And then what?

“How do we pick ourselves up and move forward? How do we proceed in the knowledge that the feedback didn’t come…the next gig didn’t follow…the blog went unread…the piece was rejected?

“Falling into that emotional not-so-grand canyon is too easy. We walk at the cliffs’ edges of ourselves, along uncharted paths that can—and do—too easily crumble away under our feet. Rejection (or, more often, the resounding echo of our voices into the nothingness of response) is devastating. And that lack of recognition is always present, or about to be.”

Lynn offers what she calls a “solution of the moment”—Conscious Joy.

I urge you to read that post. I hope you’ll leave Lynn a comment. I can dream, if you have ways to modulate the intensity of the up-and-down cycles of the creative life, that you’ll also come back here and share them with me :-)
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

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