If you’re just joining us, you might be interested to know that I’m long-winded and I don’t care.
That is, I didn’t care until I decided to ‘moonlight’ in guidebook writing. Up to that point, I had managed to consistently find (or be found by) gigs where word count limits were completely nonexistent or just a nudge-nudge suggestion. I loafed in this enabling environment for about a year, happily babbling away, sometimes in excess of 1,000 words over the suggested (but not really, you big lug!) word count limits.
Enter Lonely Planet, where if you submit a manuscript even one stinking word over the word count limit you are slapped on the back of the hand (via email) and sent to the corner to think about your impertinence and write (ironically) one thousand times ‘I will not exceed my word count, no matter how critically important or brilliantly witty the text in question may be’.
Here’s my back-story; I spent several cumulative days in February trapped here in Iasi by successive snow storms and inefficient snow removal systems when I should have been out doing road research. I literally couldn’t leave the city. Armed Federales said so. In the throes of a premature deadline freak-out, I decided to use this time wisely and write all the new text that had been requested from me in my brief.
A ‘brief’ is exactly what it sounds like; information and ‘suggestions’ direct from editors about what they’d like to see in your manuscript when you turn it in. Being fresh-faced and falling over myself to please them (I’m still sorta like this actually, which may be why I’m being flown to San Francisco in September, while other authors are just getting t-shirts and foam beer-can holders), I didn’t understand how to decode and prioritize the brief into the bits that they’d like to see in the manuscript, or else, and the bits that I could blow off if time, space and the elements prevented me from including them.
I wrote an entire chapter, my longest one, while gripped in this subservient daze and lo’ and behold, the first draft was 2,367 words over-length. Among other things, I wrote a whole new section on an as yet unmentioned attraction, divided up another section into two sections, bulking them both up and wrote two of those reader-loving box texts. It wasn’t until months later that I looked at my word count extents and realized that the editors had only budgeted a measly 319 additional words in the chapter to accommodate these reams of new content. I believe my exact words were:
‘Mother [expletive, expletive, expletive] evil [expletive, expletive, expletive] sadistic [expletive, expletive, expletive] gasp! [expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive, expletive] and the horse you rode in on!!!!!!!’.
To be fair, I really can’t blame them (much). As I said, I was still too obedient and clueless to realize that there was no way I could have added all that new content. If I had taken the time to a) look at my new word count before starting the writing and b) learned the difference between suggested new content and required new content (suggested new content starts with ‘Consider adding…’, required new content starts with ‘Add…’), I wouldn’t be in the situation that I’m in now.
So, I’m effed. I’m resorting to desperate tactics, some of which may not fly at LP, including, but not limited to, word count transfers from other chapters and creative formatting of those tiny words and icons and shit that, even though they are so minuscule and inconsequential, still all get applied to that heart-wrenching word count limit.
Additionally, I’ve become a master at hyphenating words. Go ahead, test me. I’ll hyphenate you so fast, you won’t know what hit you. They will call me ‘The Hyphenator’ on three continents and editors assigned to my manuscripts will need years of expensive therapy and suffer irrational fears of everything horizontal.
So, in-closing, in my now-style-distinguishing, long-winded-manner, my-advice to all-you guidebook-writers out there is to not-write a-single-goddamn-thing until you know precisely where-you-stand-on-word-count, because as unpleasant as writing-stuff-at-the-last-minute-to-fulfill-your-content-obligations can be, it doesn’t even register on the Unpleasantness-Scale like having to cut-words-you-painstakingly-researched-and-crafted-to-hit-your-word-count-limit.