Wanted: Twenty Thousand Words


“How many words does your manuscript have?” asks the editor.

“About forty thousand,” I answer.

“Well, you’re short twenty thousand words,” she says.

I slump in my chair. We’re talking about a manuscript I submitted for my second book. Twenty thousand more words? And not just any words. No fluff. No verbal garbage. No verbiage. But words that add something.

I spend a few days in a writer’s funk. Ideas do not come running towards me like a friendly dog with its tongue hanging out. I must not look for them. Pretend I’m not interested. Then when I’m taking out the garbage, an idea raises its hand.

Today I think: why start from zero? Go to my previous blogs. Maybe there are some that can be expanded or further developed. So I read through this year’s blogs and make a list. I feel better already. Having a list is a start. Isn’t it? If I develop some blog pieces, I figure they will give me another four thousand words. Only sixteen thousand to go.

Of course, the best source of inspiration is life itself. My life is not exactly action packed. I look over my day: cycling at the gym, doctor appointment and more Donald Trump on CNN…. I certainly don’t want to go there. I have an appointment with Andrés to get my hair trimmed. Can I write about haircuts? Hmmm. Maybe something will spark an idea while I’m on the metro. This is beginning to sound like fluff….

The trip on the metro and the visit to the hairdresser provide no inspiration but, as I walk along, I’m reminded that I mustn’t try so hard. The trouble is that it’s not just ideas that play hard to get. Words avoid me. My word retrieval problem grows with the passing years. Those elusive words on the tip of my tongue get lost in the labyrinths of my cerebral cortex. With my peers we laugh and joke about those lost words. But the experience is really quite frightening. What will I be like at eighty or ninety?

Rereading pieces I’ve written sometimes offers consolation. Did I really write that?! It’s not so bad. And look at the sparkling words I magically pulled out of my hat!

Those sixty thousand words will come, one word at a time, or as writer Annie Lamott says “bird by bird.”

bird by bird


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