Scope Creep

Courtesy Valve

Let’s say we have an idea. You might have the nugget of a story, the core of a sweeping epic. How best do you bring the narrative to life? You could just start tossing words on the wall and see what sticks. However, the problem with shoulder-rushing your way into a new project without a plan is that it can quickly grow out of control.

This is something known as ‘scope creep’ in circles of design firms. The best way to control it is to lay down a few ground rules. You give yourself a deadline, set parameters for the project, and make plans for what might happen if those parameters or that deadline get exceeded.

It’s the same for writing. Before you begin a story, one of the best things to do (in my opinion) is to lay down a projected word count. This is particularly important for shorter forms of fiction. If you want to write a short story of no more than 2000 words, only to finish writing and find that your story ended up being 2345 words in length, that’s 345 words you need to cut. It helps maintain your focus on the end goal of the narrative and makes the editorial process easier.

Let me turn the mike over to y’all. How do you control scope creep in your writing? Are there things you do before, during or after you write to keep things on the right track?


  1. I’m a very work shy writer, so I usually don’t get beyond the 2000 word limit before putting on my hat and going home for the day. Usually, I follow a “10%” rule, in which I am permited to write 10% more or less than the set word limit. This works fairly well If I can’t be bothered to beef up my text with 200 words of waffle, or I don’t want to delete those treasured 200 words of magnificent prose.

  2. Actually Scope Creep is a Project Management term, this is when the scope gets inflated by new requirements that should’ve been included in the original project plan, or by new requirements that are resulting from changes initiated by the customers to which the Project Manager says yes.

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