Entry 68: A Word Count Win

March 19, 2018

Editor’s Note: This is the 68th installment in Van Jackson’s daily writing journal, “Nuke Your Darlings,” which tracks his six-month battle to write a new book on North Korea. Will he meet his deadline?

This weekend was crazy busy, again. Between the demands of life and the demands of work, it’s getting harder and harder to defend my writing time. I managed 930 or so words since Friday. But to get that I had to spend hours reading and re-reading the current chapter because the press of other tasks was making it feel like it had been days since I’d seen the manuscript even though I’ve been whittling away every single day.

I did spend a few minutes compiling all my chapters so far and tallying up the word count—71,000 words! Granted, I need to rewrite the intro chapter and thin out my footnoting, but I can’t believe I wrote that many words in, what, three and a half months? The good news is that I’ll definitely have my 80,000 words by the June 1 deadline. So I will have something to turn in.

Of course, they can’t just be any words. They have to be good words. It’s Cambridge. I have to deliver a gripping history that makes a contribution to the wider theoretical literature and to policy. No big deal, right? We’ll see. I’m haunted by the words of a well-wisher at the very beginning of this project—that he once wrote 80,000 words in three months but took a year and a half to revise it.

Despite feeling reasonably good about where things stand and where they’re going, and yet have lingering concerns about the fact that the final manuscript will have to pass through not only my editor but also a final round of peer review.

These last hurdles aren’t as nail-biting as they would be without an advance contract. By the time you’re working off of an advance book agreement the deck has been stacked in your favor. But anything could happen, and my confidence in my work might be misplaced.

Also, the manuscript is supposed to be a maximum of 90,000 words, and I still have two and half chapters to write, plus a brief lessons-learned type chapter at the end. All that will take 30,000 or so words, yet I only have 19,000 available, and that’s before indexing (which counts against the overall word count).


Van Jackson is a senior editor at War on the Rocks and an associate editor of the Texas National Security Review. He is also a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington, and the Defence & Strategy Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies.