When people ask what stage I’m at in my next book, I always say things like “I’m 57% done.” The usual reply, “That’s great, H!” In their minds, I know they ask what the hell does that mean?!? Even some writer’s look at me mystified by this magic percentage that I seem to pulling out of thin air.
I’m not pulling it out of thin air. It’s a “percentage of a goal.” I use WriteWay writing software. When I start each book, I think about the length, for a Cain novel, this is standardized to 80,000 words. For a Dysfunctional novella, it’s 25,000. For a fantasy novel, it’s 65,000. These are goals, not set in stone numbers. Books always vary in length because each requires their own magical amount of words to tell the story. There’s no way for me to know what that number is going into it, so I set a goal.
Over the past few years, I’ve discovered telling someone I have 49,323 words done on my novel requires lots of explanation. If I tell them a percentage, it is pretty satisfactory. Percentages are easier to understand than word counts, if you aren’t a writer (although, some of my closest friends and family are slowly learning). The best part, every time I save my book file in WriteWay, the percentage of the goal automatically updates. It’s the last thing I check before I shut down the program.
But as I said, every book has a different amount of words needed to tell the story. At this moment, I have 50,000 words on Butchered Dreams. According to my goal, that means I need another 30,000 words. It’s not going to get another 30,000 words. I know, I’m writing it and the story isn’t going to require that many. If I end up with that many more words, I’m going to start repeating myself. I estimate it will be another 20,000 words, give or take.
This magical word count is different for every story. Cannibal Dreams ended up being 76,000 words. Meaning WriteWay kept telling me I need 4,000 more words to the 100% mark, but the story didn’t require another 4,000 words… so it didn’t get them. I have gone over this goal, but it’s more likely to fall a few thousand words short than a few thousand words long (Dark Cotillion is the major exception).
So, when a writer tells you they are Blah% done, it means that they have a word count goal in mind and they have achieved x amount of those words. When they finish, they may be a few thousand words short or a few thousand words long, but they’ve put in the needed magical amount of words to tell the movie.
(PS: I set my goals based on a German manual for writers that suggests “magical numbers” for each genre. These numbers were compiled from over a million published books in every genre to find “ideal genre length” to give writer’s an idea of how long their novels should be to improve marketability)