Writers and Word Counts (Just my thoughts)
For me, the question is more about pace than numbers. “Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable”– and its research–took three years, but I did write and publish two other long short stories, as well as poems, in that time. I have been a member of three excellent writers’ groups, The Muse Center in Norfolk, Virginia, Charlotte Writers in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Kelly Writers House at U Penn in Philadelphia. Writers talk about word counts, of course. My way is to find the pace that suits you, rather like letting your horse adapt the right pace for that horse’s health, the rider, and the particular journey. Experiment. If my horse has a steep hill to climb, slower is only right. Are fast dances better than slow dances? Are sculptures in soft materials better than those in slow, hard-to-work stone? The danger in either too fast or too slow is that the pace might defeat the story and the writer. If I were to write only a couple paragraphs a day, I’d lose any sense of my characters and their challenges. It might be like stringing out a message to a friend, a few phrases a day.
I can’t imagine wearing a button saying either, “This novel took me ten years. It must be worth at least $17.95, paperback,” or “I’m amazed how quickly I finished this up! $17.95, please.”
The game is not afoot. The Better-Every-Day world of 1895 is gone, even hard to recall as WWI ends. From his rural cottage, Holmes no longer provokes Scotland Yard’s envy or his landlady’s impatience, but neither is he content with the study of bees. August 1920 finds him filling out entry papers at a nearly defunct psychiatric clinic on the Normandy coast. England’s new Dangerous Drugs Act declares his cocaine use illegal and he aims to quit entirely. Confronted by a question as to his “treatment goal,” Holmes hesitates, aware that his real goal far exceeds the capacity of any clinic. His scribbled response, “no more solutions, but one true resolution,” seems more a vow than a goal to his psychiatrist, Pierre Joubert. The doctor is right. Like a tiny explosion unaccountably shifting a far-reaching landscape, the simple words churn desperate action and interlocking mystery into the lives of Holmes’ friends and enemies both.
Susanne Dutton is a Philadelphian writing fiction and poetry. She’s the one who hid during high school gym, produced an alternative newspaper and exchanged notes in Tolkien’s Elfish language with her few friends. While earning her B.A. in English, she drove a shabby Ford Falcon with a changing array of homemade bumper strips: Art for Art’s Sake, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Free Bosie from the Scorn of History. Later, her interests in myth and depth psychology led to graduate and postgraduate degrees in counseling.
Nowadays, having outlived her mortgage and her professional counseling life, she aims herself at her desk most days; where she tangles with whatever story she can’t get out of her head.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Susanne grew up in the SF Bay Area, has two grown children, and lives with her husband in an old Philadelphia house, built of the stones dug from the ground where it sits.