Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: More Word Count and Mother Tongue

This entry is part 61 of 68 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

It’s Sunday afternoon, a week after I finished one blog and started another.

In the first, I spoke about the word count of my upcoming novel – The Black Sheep’s Shadow and how it concerned me. I was slashing words left and right and, while I was sure it was improving the story, I had already trimmed 12,000 words, and I was afraid at the rate I was going the novel was going to drop from around 96,000 words to not much over 60,000 words.

If you want to read more of that, click here.

The very next day I had more to say about word count after I’d finished another couple of chapters.

I planned to write about this, before Amazon through a spanner in the works by emailing me. Leading to the now legendary (in my head at least) discussion on their shitty recommendations algorithms.

In the last week I’ve written maybe four more chapters (not sure exactly) and a strange thing has happened.)

As discussed last week, what I’m focusing on with this edit is making the story exactly what it needs to be, without worrying about what that does to the word count.

Still, it was concerning I was chopping one thousand words a chapter, and I went into editing after that blog nervous.

Then, a weird thing happened. The next two chapters I edited increased in words, rather than decreased.

Since then, only one chapter has reduced in length, the rest increasing. Most by a little, one doubling in size.

This should be good. I should be happy. I’m now hovering around 84,000 words and it’s looking like the word count might end up exactly where I want it to be.

But I haven’t been happy, which goes to show that writers never are.

See, it just felt so convenient that I’d worry about the word count dropping so dramatically then after I write down said worries, the process suddenly stops and even reverses.

You’ll look at the implication that this could be coincidence as nonsense, I’m sure. After all, I’m in charge of this project so surely I should know if I’m adding the words on purpose or not.

Well, I think I do. Indeed, I have not consciously been adding words, but that’s the problem. I worry subconsciously I’m adding words because I’m afraid of the book being too short.

Back end of last weekend, this was a real worry.

Luckily, the Amazon thing happened, and I’ve had time to reflect.

Remember, I’m going over each of these chapters four times, and that means there’s plenty of goes to work out if I’m doing the right thing for the edit.

And I think I am.

I believe this edit is going the way it needs to go.

I believe the story is going the right way.

Here’s what I think has happened.

When you sit down to start a new writing project, you always, as a writer, worry it isn’t going to be long enough, and, as a result, you end up writing loads and loads more than you need as you plough through the scenes.

This carries on for at least the first half then, I believe, things begin to change.

You’re halfway through, and starting to think about the climax. Everything is falling into place, and you can see where you’re going. You want the pace to pick up, both regarding the story and finishing.

You want this project done.

So as you crash towards the end things get left out, the story becomes flesh on the bones, your mind fills in the gaps, and your fingers stop bothering.

I edited the first half of my novel, and it was right there was so much crap in there. Right, I was able to cut 12,000 words. A lot of it wasn’t needed.

But equally, looking at the second half, I can see a lot of it is bare bones and needs fleshing out. The fact my worry came right in the middle of these two points is coincidence.

I hope.

Either way, I need to go on the way I’ve been doing it. Not worrying about whether I’m cutting or adding words. Worrying only about whether the words are the right ones for the story.

That’s always the hard part, but it’s going well.

I hope.


Bill Bryson and Me

Onto the review.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say, before reading Mother Tongue for this challenge, I had never read a Bill Bryson book.

I know I’ve not read one to completion, but with me, you can never say with any certainty what I have or have not started and discarded in the past.

Guessing would be a fool’s errand.

I am sure we read a snippet of a Bill Bryson book back in school – sixth form English Language I think. That would almost certainly have been this book but hey, who can say?

My father is a Bill Bryson fan. I remember his travel books about England and America being around when I was a kid, but they weren’t for me.

Until now.


Mother Tongue

Written by an American who has spent plenty of years living in England, Mother Tongue is the story of the English language. It’s History; its use around the world, the way it’s growing now.

Also, there’s a chapter on swearing.

It might not sound all that interesting – unless you’re into words and their etymology as I am – but I honestly think it has a broader market than word nerds.

For a start, this is no textbook or academic study. This is written as mass market. To appeal to people all over the world. There is nothing to confuse or perplex here.

Even most Americans will likely understand it.

Most of it.

Its language and tone are conversational, and it is clear Bill Bryson is writing about something that interests him, and he wants it to interest you, too.

Yes, specifically you. I felt very left out.

It’s well told. There are plenty of jokes throughout as well as numerous compelling anecdotes about the way English is used throughout the world.

Nothing is bogged down. This is the highlights package of the English language. It’s well written, humorous, and entertaining throughout.

It’s not just for language nuts, but for anyone with even a passing interest in the English language, Bill Bryson books, or just if you’re bored.

Worth a read.


Next Time

Will be a waste of time.

It’s not a fiction book.

Nor a biography.

Nor non-fiction about some fascinating topic.

It’s about workouts.

See you for that.

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International worst selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). Recently he is taking the internet by storm with his Man vs Bookshelf Challenge where he aims to read the 210 books on his bookshelf in 210 weeks, reviewing them on his blog and Goodreads along the way. He is also publishing books on Amazon, his most recent being the family suspense novel, Poor Choices, which you can find here.

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