How Long Does it Take?

Friday’s blog post is brought to you by Sunday.

I say that in half-jest, half-truth. While I try to blog each Friday, I have given myself permission to let it slide until Saturday or–very occasionally–Sunday. Dare I admit that I have, on occasion, missed it entirely? Yes, I admit it. If it’s not done by Sunday, no blog post. And that’s okay for me.

I’m not as organized with my blog as Anne Rainbow, for example, who plans out and writes her blog posts well in advance and schedules each to go online without her intervention unless she updates it with something recent that affects her original message. I admire that but don’t want to emulate it.

Note: I’m in a daily Zoom write-in with Anne and find that 8am time for me (4pm for her in the UK) great for writing. She’s a wonderful write-in host/coach and also is quite knowledgeable about Scrivener.

Blogging is a pleasure. I maintain my scheduling flexibility to keep it as such. My corporate life was far too full of deadlines. Training courses and materials, software documentation, bids and proposals, grants and ongoing related reports, newsletters, and more. Then add my ad hoc college teaching–outlines, tests, grading papers–bringing me back to all those papers I wrote as an English Lit major years earlier. Decades of writing deadlines dictated by others. If I’m writing a new story or revising one to create a better fit for the theme or audience, there’s usually a deadline. Thus, I have given myself permission to play with my own deadlines.

This does not mean I don’t set goals and target dates. I work well with deadlines. If there’s a target for completion, I break down the project into smaller completion points to avoid last-minute marathon sessions that lead to mistakes and omissions. This helps me push a draft to completion so others can review it critically and gives me time to Adjust, Repair, Improve.

That leads me to the title of this post: How Long Does it Take?

Original cover for Mother's Mountain
  Original cover for short story, Mother’s Mountain..

My current work-in-progress (WIP) is a short story, “Mother’s Mountain,” that I’m expanding into a novella. On the one hand, it feels as if it’s taking forever. On the other hand, while working on it (since Oct 2020) I have critiqued 6 novellas for my critique partner (we meet on Zoom weekly) and am now on the 7th; critiqued several dozen short stories (or book chapters) for others; completed a half dozen new stories–with another half dozen in progress; and reworked/revised several others, submitting a total of 10. During November 2020’s NaNoWriMo (in which I wrote 51,000 words), I worked on the novella and my trilogy-in-progress, wrote at least one short story, and drafted 9 fables/myths/legends. Eight of those are in progress, while the 9th (completed) is “Nanoni and shish-Ka-toomi,” for which I earned Honorable Mention in the 2021 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable short story competition. And I have the germ of a follow-up to that roiling around in my head.

Are All These Critiques Interruptions?

I’ve lived my life paying it forward and did so long before there was a phrase for it. Also, I’m a teacher at heart. These two factors would be enough to satisfy me in answering that question with No, they’re not interruptions.

Buried within that is the resounding truth that I have learned more from critiquing than from writing. Whether it’s another’s critique of my work, or my critique of someone else’s, the most significant improvements have come from my analysis of what’s on the page/screen in front of me. In order to help someone else understand why the sentence needs restructuring, I have to get the concept firmly in my head. And then it usually sticks. That improves my writing tremendously. So . . . what I’m doing for others has benefitted me greatly.

Sometimes, when my writing groove seems a bit off, I turn to critiquing. By the time I’ve read and analyzed someone else’s work, or even one of my own that has sat idle for several weeks, my rhythm is restored. My fingers fly across the keys, my brain aflare with ideas that flow onto the screen. How can that be called an interruption? It’s a return to order, to flow, to feeling the story.

“Buried within that is the resounding truth that I have learned more from critiquing than from writing.”

Claire A. Murray

Will I Ever Finish Mother’s Mountain?

One area where I got stuck in this as a novella was with much of what I wrote during NaNo. I love the new scenes that take place after my original short story ending. They work so well with the added characters and greater depth of the main characters that a novella enabled.

However, expanding a short story into a novella requires more than adding depth to your main characters and creating new characters. The story itself needs more. As a fantasy in a medieval-style setting, the short story worked without a lot of detail about the magic and place/setting. As a novella, everything needed more depth. However, as hard as I tried and as much as I wrote, something was still missing.

My subconscious worked overtime, I’m sure, for it gave me the answer as I was awakening early one morning. I now had the key mystical element that tied the people, the problem, and the solution together. This element resolved all those tiny and large loose threads that had plagued me for months.

However, I still could not write the transition between the original ending and the later scenes, as good as they were. Something was still wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, though. After much teeth-gnashing and nonproductive focus, I analyzed what made the original story work. It was the character arc.

Examining the Character Arc

Did the original character arc need embellishment? Was the new arc as good . . . and strong enough to be a more important focus than the original?

No . . . and No. The new arc is not better or stronger than the original. It is its own arc and deserves its own story. I have two stories here, not one. That realization set me back on track to finish the novella with the realization that I have a good follow-up short story or perhaps a second novella.

How Long is a Novella?

Depending on which source you check, a fiction novella can be anywhere from 8,000 to 40,000 words. Some publishers call anything between 8,000 and 20,000 words a novelette. As a short story, “Mother’s Mountain” was between 7,300 and 7,400 words, which is considered a long short story. I had originally planned to bring it to the 20,000 to 30,000 word range. By the time NaNo was finished, it was creeping up to 38,000 words. I started long, may as well finish long. Right?

What is the Right Length These Days?

A fiction novel is generally 60,000 to 85,000 or even 89,000 words. Exceptions occur depending on genre, with fantasy/epics ranging up to 110,000 or more words. I know authors whose mysteries are 80,000 to 90,000 words while many cozy authors remain closer to the 60,000 word range.

There’s no hard and fast rule. It’s more about what the reader is willing to purchase and how expensive it is for the publisher to print (more words equals more paper). If you’re working with a publisher, they’ll tell you what they want. For those indie authors publishing eBooks and print on demand (POD), the range is less firm. And it appears that novellas are becoming more popular, with many authors moving to the novella series model that satisfies readers’ desire for a shorter read yet more time with that world of characters.

Today, Mother’s Mountain is over 53,000 words and growing. I’ve returned to the beginning, reviewing it scene by scene, trimming, moving, adding, judging, and integrating the new element that ties all the pieces together. Chapters 1 and 2 are in critique again, and I’m polishing Chapter 3. Gee, only 18 or so more chapters to review.

The endless novella does have an end in sight, although it might come out as a short novel. Only time will tell.

Until next week, happy reading.

Claire A. Murray transplanted her New England life to Arizona in mid-2020 to write full time and has added painting to her creative endeavors. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, its New England, Guppy, Desert Sleuths, LA, and Grand Canyon chapters, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Anne Rainbow

    Thanks for the mention, Claire. I love the way your novella is morphing into shape – with your problem-solving technique allowing time for the answers to come when they are good and ready. A bit like your blog posting schedule?! Keep it up. We can all learn. from each other.

    1. Claire

      Thank you, Anne. Yes, morphing is a good term for what’s happened with the short story. I think one thing the writing community is doing well is helping each other.

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