I have an on-going frustration with the length of things. In school, all my papers were longer than I thought they needed to be. (Unless it was a creative writing assignment. Then I distinctly remember raising my hand after being told the minimum page length, and asking “Is there a maximum?”) Everything was too long. Papers were too long, assignments were too long. I hated trying to fill page lengths. I had that problem in college as well; I’d finish papers in too few pages and have to pad it out. (I got pretty good at that, though.)
But now I’m having an opposite problem.
In my creative writing, I was told when I was younger that I added too much detail in, and needed to be more concise. This isn’t terribly surprising; I was a talkative child and had never met a detail I didn’t like. So I spent several years trying to narrow down my writing so that I was telling what needed to be told and nothing else. (Some days I wonder why I dislike(d) journalism so much.) But when I got into graduate school, I realized that something was up.
We’d be given twenty minutes to free-write. Most of my classmates would write a page, maybe a bit more.
I’d write three and a half pages and still have time to edit.
It wasn’t so much that I’d cut things out and kept it like that, I’d cut things out and then learned to type faster and just fill my work with even more words. Writing short fiction of any kind was a massive challenge, flash fiction even more impossible. I struggled to keep things within the realms I was asked to. (On the other hand, my academic papers floundered far before they were long enough to live on their own.) I didn’t think anything of it; that was something to take care of in the editing sphere. I didn’t need to worry about it.
Though I’ve been told I shouldn’t, I’m starting to worry about it.
Son of the Revolution, the long-term working title of the novel I’ve been working on since 2009 and my probable graduate school manuscript, is too long. My graduate program asks students for a 150-250 page manuscript at the end of their fiction degree, and SotR was running somewhere around 320, I think. I understand that this is long. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s about 80-90,000 words long. That’s a pretty standard length for a novel. I’m going through and trimming things down, but I have no real belief that it’s going to get within the standards my school wants. You can have novels longer than that, but you need to get your mentor’s permission. I’m hoping to at least cut it to 300 or so, so that it’s not egregious, but I’m still frustrated.
This novel has been through the mill. I’ve cut my darlings, I’ve cut adverbs, I’ve cut entire side plots. I’m down to the base of the novel, and I don’t know where else I can cut.
So why am I doing this?
Because I like the challenge? No. It drives me nuts. I have a manuscript, and yes it probably still needs tweaking, but everyone’s told me so far that I need to add in more description, not that I need to take extraneous things out. That, of course, wouldn’t suit my hopes in the least. So I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.
In the end, I’m going to have to do what I can and then walk up to whoever I manage to get for my manuscript semester and make puppy dog eyes until they let me not destroy my novel. (One of my previous mentors told me that I needed to cut it down to 150 pages. I laughed in his face. Quite literally.) But the arbitrary length requirements frustrate me. I understand the reasoning; they’ve gotten pretty long manuscripts before, and they don’t want to put a mentor under that kind of stress again.
Then again, maybe I’m just overthinking it.
Run afoul of a page or word limit before? How long do you think a book should be? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.