When I finally had a New York editor – who agreed to meet me at the Algonquin just to humor me – I got to ask the one question that had been plaguing me for years.
How long is a chapter?
My editor was kind and lovely and smart. I expected to be given the key to unlock all the mysteries of writing. Instead she said, You’re the writer – you decide.
After piles of rejections and rewrites, after following protocols and trying to get it right, could it really be I had the answer all along?
Years later I was struggling with a draft of a novel that wasn’t quite right. I complained (okay maybe whined) to a friend that the book wasn’t very good.
He, too, was kind and wise. I was sure he’d understand. Instead he said, You’re the writer – make it better.
No buts, he said. It’s really that simple.
These days there’s so much good advice online about character arcs and pacing and narrative drive and showing not telling and protagonists with agency, it’s enough to overwhelm anyone tackling a book.
I get questions all the time about what to cut and what to add and is it interesting. And yes, more often than you’d think, authors want to know – how long is a chapter?
My answer is and always should be – You’re the writer - you decide. And if it isn’t good – make it better.
Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash
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