Friday, August 6, 2010

The Goldilocks Zone



When writing, the first thing I think about is how long my story should be. Do I want a short story? A novella? A full-blown Steven King-sized novel? Do I have the patience to write that much about one thing? Do I have enough stuff in mind to fill that kind of book?


All of these question are the wrong questions. What you should always be thinking about is your writing. Don't worry about page length or how heavy your book is going to be when it's published. You're really getting ahead of yourself.

When I was little, somebody showed me how to make a little booklet by taking four or five pages of 8.5 x 11 printer paper, folding it in half and putting three staples into the “spine.” This always resulted in eight or ten pages of booklet that I would draw or write on.


Typically I would only use the first two or three pages, leaving the rest completely blank. I always felt like I was wasting paper (probably because I was), but I never wanted to continue drawing in the last few pages of the booklet because that book was finished. The same kind of psychology happens when you're writing with the explicit purpose of filling pages. If you're filling pages just for the sake of it, those are the pages that people will either skim or read a dozen times on accident while thinking about lunch. You want every single word to be important, so why waste pages?

If someone gave you a nice Moleskine notebook and you decided that you were going to write an entire story in it, you'd discover:

  1. The story would end a few dozen pages before the end of the notebook, leaving room for doodles and grocery lists.

  2. The story would NOT end before the end of the book, meaning you'd have to write the spillover in another notebook or on the computer, meaning your story is inconveniently located in two places (or three or four).


You want to write the story until you say what you wanted to say. If it just keeps going and going then people are going to know it.

Your story might total five pages; it might total five hundred. Either way, don't try to stretch or shrink anything (unless you're trying to write something for a writing contest, in which case they'll almost definitely make you cut down the word-count.)

The Goldilocks Zone is this: Not to long and not too short; juuuuuust right.


  1. Those first couple of pictures cracked me up. I had to crane my head on the first one before I realized what he was standing next to was a book.

    I agree, over time I've had to come to accept that a story will end when it ends, regardless of what you've planned for it. Sometimes you even begin a story without really intending to. There's just something about a good moleskin notebook that makes you want to fill it full of interesting things.

    This concept could really apply to any artform. An old art teacher I had used to disapprove of how little time I spent on some pictures. Though I envy artists who can spend hours on a single drawing (and writers who to my mind put a lot more thought, effort, and patience into their stories) it's almost physically uncomfortable to continue any artistic process if it's finished, even if it's finished earlier or later than I would like.

  2. I loved your pictures!! All good point, so that is why you never finished your books when you were little. :)

  3. Maybe that's why I never write stories. My "stories" were always about a paragraph long. I'm too blunt.

  4. @Meg: "Once there was a knitter named Meg. She knitted a lot. The end."

  5. Ahh, hilarious pictures are making a comeback! I've missed your hilarious pictures.

    What's Stephen King say about ending a story? "Sooner or later every story comes out SOMEWHERE. Don't be anal about it." Sometimes they're short, and sometimes they're long.

    And sometimes they threaten to go out with a whimper, so you have to have somebody plant some C4 so THE WORLD BLOWS UP. Because explosions are fun. I've watched too many action movies.