I just read a post on a writer's forum from a guy who is working to outline his novel. He is wondering whether he should write the book, aiming at a specific word count. So many aspects of a novel can be considered prior to writing it. There are volumes of books written about issues like pacing, character profiling, narrative distance, length, genre attributes, formulas. Agents post blogs all over the internet, stating their needs and wants with clarity and volume. Publisher's Weekly posts trends, hot spots and areas to avoid.
There's so much friggin information on the internet about how to reach your target market, find an agent, get published, market your work. Writers are encouraged to grovel and beg, ass kiss, present their souls with humility and sheepish confidence. Queries are to be written with meticulous care, not too humble, not too familiar, not too off beat. We're to follow the agent's instructions and formulas to the letter but must be original, fresh, eye-grabbing. Conform, yet stand out in the crowd. What an order!
All of these mandates, all of these directives are, I think, more of a bitch list of irritants on the part of agents rather than an iron-clad formula for Getting In. Of course, when the time comes to seek representation, it's a good idea to follow the directions on the agent's web page when submitting a query. If he or she wants 3 chapters and a synopsis, do it. But drop the agony. It's boring.
It's easy for me to give advice, even though my first novel has never been published. But there are a lot of people out there who have a novel inside of them, but it never gets written because the writer's head is swimming with all of these rules and judgments. So, here it is. When writing a first draft of a novel, just go for it. Don't sweat the word count or what publishers think or want or look for. Don't worry about what agents think they want. I've come to the conclusion that they only know what they want when they see it. When I think about anything other than the central goal of Getting the Book Out of Me, I freeze up.
Giving It Over turned out to be right on the mark at 55,000 words, which is perfect for a YA novel. I didn't plan that. The story took just that long to tell. With my second novel, I've had the story in my head, but I clouded it with worries and stayed frozen for over 2 years. I kid you not. Every time I tried to write, I just went blank. I found out I was writing to the wrong audience, for one thing. My audience wasn't the prospective agent or the publishing houses or even my critique group. My audience is a gaggle of teen-aged girls...and myself.
I'm writing now, and I'm so grateful for that. I want the first draft to be the easy part. The first draft should be the filled with the pleasure of writing. It should take me back to the reason I started this process in the first place. Getting to The Zone, letting my characters surprise me, spending time with them and finding myself in them, tucking stories within stories. Once the first draft is written, I can give it a tummy tuck and apply makeup.
Writing! What a process! And we so often become our own stumbling blocks to doing it. Why do I have to remind myself so often that I love to write? I'm just as guilty as anyone of spending time on the agent blogs, dipping into PW, taking to heart what other writers tell me. I always come back to the real and enduring reason I write. Because I love to.