Another look on the target indicator

In the process of writing a novel, there is a time when you start with empty pages and work to fill them. You pile up words, and the word (or character) target is something above you.

This is the writing of the first draft.

But later comes a time, when you want to cut from what you have written. You want to make the whole text shorter in order to make it more concise, more precise, more to the point. (Don’t take my word for it, listen to Stephen King: In “On Writing”, he advises us to rigorosly cut 10% in the rewriting process. He coins the formula “new version = old version - 10%”. (Yes, Stephen King. The master of brick-sized novels. We don’t know how his manuscripts look before they go to print, do we?))

It would be nice if someone invented a type of indicator that shows as well how much you’re above the target.

Actually, I use word targets only in the reworking stage: When writing the first draft, I just hammer along and do not care for how much it is. But during rewriting, it is really helpful to have precide goals. The first draft is 5.500 words, well, then the second draft has to have only 5.000. The impact of knowing “I still have to cut 80 words” is simply stronger than just saying “I should cut a little” - most likely you will cut three fluffy words and leave the rest as it is.

Writing this, another idea came to me: What if (supposed I had one wish free) there was an indicator that simply shows the difference between the size of actual text and the size of its last saved snapshot - in percent? You’d have a small number in the footer saying “+20%” or “-10%” and you’d know your direction.

Hmm. I’d like this even more. This way, you don’t have to calculate numbers, don’t have to type them in somewhere - all you have to do is to make a snapshot and start cutting and rewriting.

I think this would be pretty distracting if it were part of the indicator (I’m assuming that by
“target indicator”, you mean the visual bar and target symbol in the footer bar). Isn’t this info already shown in the word count and project targets/statistics?

When I’m writing a first draft, I want as few distractions as possible. The indicator bar/target is nice and unobtrusive, giving a quick visual overview. Rewriting is a much more considered and thoughtful process, so having project statistics open, and/or checking the actual word count in the footer bar, isn’t a problem (in fact, it’s an integral part of the process).

Actually, during the last week I worked on an article that was too long for the constraints given. I chunked it in pieces, did some math with them (sort of “this part has 1.345 words, 80% of that is 1345*0.8 = 1076 words”), typed numbers in the word target field and started reworking. I’ve cut here and there, deleted sentences, rewrote sentences in order to get them shorter (which made them more precise as well) and so on. It was a help to have this “Words: 1.201/1.076” signal in the footer, the progress bar however was no help at all, because once you’re above the target, it’s simply full. So I thought of a bar that maybe starts again in another color, once it is full. ( 0 words -> progress bar is white. 50% of target achieved -> progress bar is half blue. 100% target -> progress bar is completely blue. 50% over target -> progress bar is red in the left half, blue in the right half.) In the outline view, you’d see at a glance which parts are too long.

On the other hand, you’re maybe right about the role of the progress bar: That it is more an unintrusive motivation aid in the eye’s corner. The one in the footer certainly is.

OK. I put the idea of an automatic comparison with the last snapshot on the idea list. And press thumbs for Keith… that one day soon, he’ll hand his finished novel manuscript over to a publisher and the editor tells him (because editors use to tell this to all writers): “Great - but can you please make it a bit shorter? Let’s say, 10%?” :laughing:

No, problem! Remove the “and”, “or”, “the” and “like” and you’ve removed your 10%. What’s that? You mean the content is more important than the actual wordcount? But it’s 28453 words today and my editor said it had to be 28453 - 10% = 28453-2845= 25608! That’s 25608, not 25609 or 25607. Screw content, the numbers are more important!! :open_mouth: :wink:

You better do not mess with Stephen King. If it works for him, it won’t do us no harm. :stuck_out_tongue:

Though I understand Andreas’s point, I find the current indicator works fine for me. One ideally writes knowing what general “genre” his or her work is closest to matching, so a publisher’s preference for that “genre” in terms of word count is already known. Which gives the writer a general target. Even literary works generally fall within a range in terms of production and marketability on the publisher’s end, not to mention that YA, middle grade, young readers, etc., all have their base word count standards. With those in mind, I’ve never found that my first drafts so exceed the average ranges that I need to excessively cut for length. For plot clarity, dialogue crispness, narrative coherence, etc., yes, definitely (at least in my case ), but seldom for length in and of itself.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Just try it yourself: Take any text, make it 10% shorter and compare it to the original. Sure, there are texts that cannot be improved by shortening (you won’t shorten the Bible, for example), but in most cases you’ll find your shortened version better, especially if the original is a first draft.

Again: This is just a suggestion. I feel no need to argue about it.

No argument intended. Revisions almost always improve my work. My comments go to the need of a target indicator when one’s over target, which imho can lead to cutting for length not content. As you said, a suggestion nothing more. Cheers and good fortune with the writing.