Word Bloat, and a note on New Year’s Resolutions

Perception is everything. Sometimes the only thing.

I was working on the edit last night, and I realized that I’m a lot closer to the end of the first pass than I thought I was. To be precise, there are still a lot of pages between my current position and the end, but the big rewriting is nearly done, and from there it’s just a pruning of the hedges, a dusting of the shelves, and a putting to bed of the toddlers. Then it’s finally going to be time to show this thing to some actual people to actually read it. Those people will then hopefully have mercy on my soul and tell me only in the kindest of terms how many root canals they would rather sit through before they’d turn to my book.

But the end is in sight. Maybe still a pinprick on the horizon, but at least the horizon is no longer an endless blue expanse — it actually looks as if I may be coming back into harbor after all this time. And that’s awesome. Unfortunately, while I was noticing that the end is in sight, I also noticed the word count in the bottom corner of the document. It may be early in the game to be overly concerned with the word count on the novel as a whole, but like a chipped tooth that you can’t stop running your tongue over, I can’t put the number out of my head. The first draft was finished at roughly 89000 words. Now the thing is just a few hundred short of 100k.

It’s bloating. Slowly expanding in the middle, like a middle-aged married guy. And I worry that with the changes I’m making, it will continue to swell like a corpse in a pond if I don’t take measures to trim it down. It’s part and parcel of this whole editorial process, I suppose, for me to find yet another thing to smother my soul in doubt over.

So now, 40 pages shy of the end of the book, I’ve suddenly become draconian in my examination of the language of the thing. I wield my highlight and delete functions like twin poison-coated samurai swords. Which means I’m going to have to re-read the entire novel again making the same ruthless cuts, lest the first half sound like it was written by a living dictionary while the second half was written by a dictionary with all the adjectives and adverbs cut out.

But enough about the edit. It’s New Year’s Eve, which means it’s time to pop the champagne, break out the sparklers, and fall asleep at 9:30, because that’s how we roll in my house. It’s also time for resolutions, which is a tradition as idiotic as any we have in our funny old culture.

The date of Jan. 1 only has significance because we say it does. In the scope of the universe with all its bits of flying dust and nigh-endlessly burning gas and invisible particles and unfathomable tracts of empty space, the significance of one tiny planet making one revolution around one tiny sun has all the import of an ant fart in a hurricane. But somehow, and for some reason, we’ve decided that it’s a good date for “reinventing ourselves” and making vows that have as much likelihood of being fulfilled as my hair has of sprouting into a saucy pompadour atop my dome.

Here’s a hint for resolutions in general: if you’re making them for any reason at all other than because you find it of crucial importance to your life, you might as well write the resolution on a square of toilet tissue, and then use the toilet tissue for its designed purpose. Resolving to lose weight at the new year because that’s what everybody does? Yeah, you might as well just eat a dozen donuts now and save yourself the strife. Quitting smoking on your birthday? Go ahead and stop off for some new lighters on your drive home. If a resolution is worth making, it’s worth starting on it right fargoing now. As in, I resolve right now to stop griping about resolutions and go work on my novel.

See you next year.

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