I talked about word count a few weeks back and how I was trying to set up a daily schedule that would get me a completed draft with time to revise and clean up before my deadline. I thought I’d post an update on that, and I figure it’ll serve as a good reference point for me for the future.
I’m fifteen days into the new book and about to hit 20,000 words. That’s 1300 words a day, although some days I do more, some days less–you get the idea. I’m shooting for 80,000 words or so for the rough draft, so I’m about 25% complete.
So far so good.
Fun fact: if I actually do maintain this pace or better, I will have a completed draft in a little over two months, which would be a record for me. I usually end up needing three or four months actual writing time, not taking into account research, outlining and other prep work. Another fun fact: revisions and clean up can take me anywhere from two weeks to a month, depending on how much work the draft needs. Two weeks if the draft is really clean; a month if I have to dismantle the beast and rebuild it from the ground up–or if it’s tax season.
And these are just estimates really. Each book I’ve written has been different. Also, real life, tight deadlines, no deadlines, story changes, secondary projects, and a whole host of other things can throw this schedule out the window, but that’s a general picture of what my process looks like.
I guess we’ll see where I am in another fifteen days or so.
Right now I pretty much hate my WIP, which is par for the course when I’m first drafting. I give myself permission to suck, so when it does, I get to revel in all the self-loathing goodness while powering through. Usually it doesn’t suck as bad as all that and once I finish it I get to do the rewriting, which is really where it’s at, as far as I’m concerned. However, on the current WIP, I’ve decided to scrap it. I’m writing a new outline and starting over from scratch. Well, it’ll be more like baking bread from a starter–some of the dough has already been fermenting on my counter for a week and just needs the right ingredients to be bread. Or something.
How did I get here? Why did I not just power through to the end like I normally do? Well, I’d spent a fair amount of time away from the draft, and that did kill my momentum a bit. But that’s not the biggest reason. When I looked over what I’d written and my notes on where the story was going next, well … I was bored. It didn’t excite me. Not in a “wow, this prose sort of sucks” way, but in a “wow, how much do I not want to write this?” way. It’s not that I don’t want to write this book or this story–I do. And it’s not that I don’t have other stories or books I want to work on. It do. But I don’t want to keep writing this book in this form.* So I’m rewriting the outline and reworking some plots. It helps that I’ve figured out some key back story and behind-the-scenes bits that will shape the story a bit more. Just writing this post is getting me excited to work on the outline and get started writing the book. It’s a good sign.
Write what makes you want to write more. Sometimes it really is as simple as that.
Elizabeth’s post has gotten me thinking about my own writing schedule as I prepare to start the new book. I’ve got a solid block of time to write the first draft, get it critiqued, revise it and submit, but I can’t get complacent. So, a writing schedule.
Normally, I’m the kind of person who, when on deadline, goes for the daily word count. I write every day if possible, hit a target of 1000 words, then done. Usually, that gets me a rough draft in three to three and a half months. Usually. Life has a way of throwing delays at me, but typically it never takes me longer than four months to complete a book. On this book, I’ve been thinking about trying for a higher word count, maybe 1300-1500 words a day, or even *gasp* some 2000 word days.
The problem is that sometimes I chafe under that threat of MUST WRITE EVERY DAY OR ELSE I WILL GET BEHIND OH GOD NO!!!!! Suddenly, the shiny objects that normally distract me (internet, video games, internet) become even shinier, and some days the writing becomes a chore. I’ve considered trying to set aside a block of time to write instead. Say, 8:00 to 9:30 every night is writing time. The benefit is that I know that I can quit at a designated hour and I still have time to do all the other things I might need or want to do. But the problem is that if I don’t hit a certain minimum word count during that time, I’ll feel guilty about stopping.
I know, horrible problem to have, right? And it’s not really a problem, just a question of structure. I want to get the most out of my writing time, so I’ll experiment and see what works for me and what doesn’t. The words still have to get on the page, but how they get there depends on the individual writer.
What about you? How do you structure your writing time?
I’ve been thinking a lot about art and illustration, specifically my utter lack of drawing skills. Normally, this is not a problem. I accepted a long time ago that I wasn’t destined to be the next Picasso or Dali, but lately, as I work on the world of The Mark of the Dragonfly, I wish that I had enough skill to do some basic sketches of some of the locations in my head.
I did manage to draw a very bad map of the world that came in handy while writing MotD. At the time I drew the very bad map, I only showed it to my writing group, swore them to secrecy about the extent of its awfulness, and rested peacefully in the knowledge that no one else would ever look upon it and mock.
Until one day my editor asked, innocently enough, did I happen to have a map of my world for reference?
So yeah, only my writing group, my editor at Random House, and possibly everyone else in the office have seen the evidence of my shame.
So, as I continue to develop the MotD world, I’m realizing I’m going to have to make some more bad maps. I can’t say what they’ll be maps of–and let’s be honest, even if you saw them, you probably still wouldn’t have a clue–but the locations look very cool inside my head, trust me.
But there are other reasons I wish I could draw, and that I had a better sense of color and depth. I think it would help me to better visualize certain locations and describe scenes if I could draw them. I know there are other authors out there who are very talented artists. James P. Davis is one, and Erin Morgenstern is another. It makes me want to take an Art 101 class, start from the beginning and maybe pick up just a bit of skill. I never really considered before how learning to draw might improve my writing, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about more and more.
Since I’m in the middle of book revisions, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to keep a story feeling fresh, to see it from different perspectives. This is difficult for me to do once I’ve read the story several times. I tend to get locked into my own version of the characters–I know why they act the way they do, I know how their dialog is supposed to be read and interpreted, and I know what they’re feeling when they have their inner struggles.
This knowing is also one of the biggest obstacles for me when it comes to revisions. I already know who these characters are, and each time I read through the story, that version of who they are gets reinforced. But my readers don’t have that inside knowledge, so I have to make sure that I communicate who my characters are with every tool I have available in the story. Because if I don’t, my readers might take away a very different impression of my protagonist or villain than the one I intended. I’ve said before this is why editors, crit partners, beta readers, etc. are so important. Even having just one person besides yourself read your story is helpful.
But what happens when it’s just me and the manuscript again? This is usually when I read the story out loud, which can be incredibly helpful, even if I lose my voice after a long session. Sometimes I go through and just follow one character arc from beginning to end, marking the parts in the book where they have personal revelations or struggles, when they’re at their weakest and strongest. How do they react to events in the story? How do they change as the story progresses? And sometimes I print out the book, put the red pen out of reach, and just settle in and read, trying to pretend that I plucked the book off a shelf and am experiencing it for the first time.
Whatever my method, even if I’ve done my job perfectly (go ahead and chuckle at that idea), readers still aren’t necessarily going to see my characters the way I do. They have their own lens through which they experience the story–part of the way they make it their own. And to be honest, I’m always fascinated to see what readers take away from a story. How it speaks to them, or doesn’t, is another part of the learning process.
You know what I wish I did? Make soundtracks for my books. Lots of folks I know make ’em–they fire up the same playlist every time they write or have certain songs they listen to while writing a particular POV character, that sort of thing. They use the music as sort of a muse to help them imagine and shape their stories. It’s part of their process.
And I just don’t. It’s one of those ideas that I think is so cool but I just never seem to get around to doing it.
Do I listen to music when I write? Sure. Most of the time I don’t need the background noise, but if I’m having a rough session and can’t get out of my own way long enough to get a meaningful amount of words on the page, putting on some tunes helps. While I don’t use the music to shape a narrative or to help me find a character’s voice, I find it occupies my brain enough to allow the words to flow. For the most part I stick with movie soundtracks, especially instrumental-heavy ones, since music with words distracts me. Sometimes when I’m writing an action scene I’ll throw on The Last Samurai soundtrack. Every once in a while the Duplicity soundtrack finds its way into the mix, as does The Social Network and Batman Begins.
But mostly, I write to silence. Or some sort of sports game playing in the other room.