Monday, January 31, 2011

New scene and tentative schedule

I wrote a new scene today totaling 1,000 words. That's the biggest new chunk that I have planned, though I wouldn't be surprised if during the rewrite I discover problems that make me develop scenes that long. But the outline calls for smaller additions here and there from now on.

That puts me one day behind the schedule I mentioned in the middle of last week. Oh, well. We're getting record snowfalls this winter, by the way, and it's been incredibly disruptive to every kind of schedule, not to mention just plain distracting. Wild weather has a way of making you want to look at the window all day and to dig around in the cupboards for comfort food.

From this point on, I expect to be tackling issues in the typescript in order. I'll start with the first scene and move through the book. I don't have any reliable way to guess how long the first rewrite (draft 2) will take.

But I'll venture a schedule anyway using this dubious logic: the book is outlined on a total of 55 note cards representing 55 episodes or events. Let's say it averages out to 55 scenes, even though some note cards elongate the time represented, and some of the note cards foreshorten the time represented. I haven't done a real account, but let's assume that 1/2 the cards have notes about some kind of significant revision that will require me to read the scene over carefully and think about it. Let's assume that on average that will exhaust the energy of one writing session, and that I average 5 sessions a week. That's 27 working days or 5 1/2 weeks starting tomorrow. Round up to make it 6 weeks starting from today.

That makes March 11 my target date to finish the second draft.

Here's an even more tentative schedule for the step after that. I'll make the next draft a polishing draft and try to cover 30 pages per working day. Roughly 2 1/2 weeks of that would give me a target of March 31 to finish that third draft. Then I'll have to move on to the serious and difficult task of reducing the length. Let's say I finish that next pass by the end of the college semester, which is the middle of May.

In other words I'm giving myself about 15 weeks to work through it three times and make three different kinds of rewrites and revisions with the hope that it will be in excellent shape by the end of that time and ready to start sharing with readers other than my wife.

That's a hell of a plan. It makes as much sense as any other plan and has about as much chance of working, which is not much.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Renaming characters

So the main thing I'm working on today is brainstorming new names for a couple of my characters. I guess you could call one a secondary character and one a minor character. Let's call them B and C for now.

They come as a team. They work together and are almost always together when they do appear. But B has a bigger influence on the main characters. C is just a bit player.

So the first thing about their names is that they are a little bit "Dickensian," in the sense that I use a little bit of phonetic and lexical horseplay to make the names reflect or comment upon their personalities. Like how someone dishonest and treacherous might be named Grift. That isn't my usual style, but in this story it's more appropriate and I'm having a little fun with it.

I came up with B and C's names before I really began writing the story and certainly before I got to the scenes where they first appear. Which means I had an idea of what they would be like from the very start and the names B and C to reflect that.

But then they emerged on the paper somewhat differently from planned, so now their original names no longer suit them. Thus the need to brainstorm new names.

This is also important because for now the working title uses the names of these characters, even though they aren't the major characters. They are guardians of a central mystery. It's sort of like if Harry Potter wasn't titled Harry Potter but The Hogwarts Academy. You'd have to be sure that the name Hogwarts was what you really wanted for the academy.

That's probably not a good example, because it seems pretty dumb to name the Harry Potter story after the school he attends. It seems to miss the main point. . . . The Wizard of Oz. That's a better example. It's Dorothy's story, but the thing she is pursuing or searching for is what the story is named after. That's more like the route I'm going in my working title. And the situation I'm in is like if Baum had originally used a working title like The Wizard of Topeka before the story took off in a little bit of a different direction and he decided to rename it.

So anyway, the working title that I've been using for the last five months is now suddenly something else. Which is kind of a big deal.

Events in the news: Egypt

I have the T.V. on in the other room while I work this morning listening to live reports from events in Cairo. It reminds me of doing something similar and also blogging about it during the protests in Tehran in June 2009. It's not conducive to work, obviously, but part of the benefit of working at home is that I get to be flexible and tune into news like this when I want to. I'm not going to beat myself up about it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back to work, starting second draft

I'm returning to work on the novel today after about 2 1/2 weeks off.

In spirit I'm starting the second draft. Technically, there was one significant scene that I went flying by and left unwritten so that I could get into the scenes that were holding me up from the ending. So my first order of business today was writing some new material to fill in a gap. The result is 1,700 words of new material and about 8 pages. For the sake of consistency in the count, we'll just count those as part of the second draft. Emotionally or psychologically, that's where I was before today anyway.

That will probably be the biggest single new chunk added, I suspect, but I expect the typescript to grow and grow by little pieces if the experience of my first book is any guide. That went from about 135,000 words in the first draft to 225,000 words in the second draft without me having the conscious intention of adding anything. Just scene by scene as I clarified, developed and dug in deeper the material grew. I expect the same to happen here, but hopefully not to such a great extent. One, it just can't. I need this to be a much shorter book. Two, I still hope that my first draft is in much better shape than the first draft of my other book and so won't need so much digging and developing.

Still, I can't let those hopes get in the way. If it needs developing, I have to get out my own way and let it develop and worry about the page count later.

Next up . . . I have the beginnings of a to-do list here, and the next thing I need to do is to change the names of a couple of my secondary characters who lend their names to the working title of the book. They've gone in a different direction from what I originally imagined and need different names to reflect that. My plan is to read over the scenes that develop them with an eye toward renaming them and possibly the book.

After that I need to write a new scene early in the book made necessary by the direction the conclusion went. Hopefully I'll finish those two errands by the end of the week.

After that I'll start at the beginning of the typescript and start working my way through the whole thing. At that point, I think I can make reasonable prediction of the timeline.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Losing two weeks

I didn't work any last week because I was away on vacation, and I don't think I'm going to work any this week because I'll be concentrating on other personal, household and paying job issues. I hate to be away from it, but I don't really think it's a problem. I shouldn't have any trouble generating momentum again, and the break is well timed in the sense that I'm transitioning from one draft to another. It's usually a good thing to let it sit for awhile. In fact, it's probably better to let is sit a long longer than two weeks, but I'm not going to do that.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Word count revision

I forgot that for the best comparison to the previous book I need to count about 10,000 words that were written, typed up and already thrown in the scrap pile. The typescript stands at 70,000 words now, but I need to give myself credit for 80,000 words of drafting to get there.

So that averages out to about 1,600 words per weekday over 10 weeks.


Still on a high from passing this milestone. I can see a dozen ways to discount it -- that's my superpower, actually -- but I'm concentrating on giving myself credit and enjoying it.

Let's tally it up . . .

First of all, comparing this to writing my first book is has some apples to oranges conversion problems. In this case, the first draft is in much better shape I believe. More objectively, the first draft is completely typed, whereas in the last book I called the manuscript the first draft and the process of typing it in (and revising some as I went along) the second draft. That typing took probably about two months, so this is comparing two different kinds of time lines.

Another way I'm better set up this time is my outline. I had put it all on note cards when I got stuck a few months ago, and I've been updating them as I went along. I spent this morning getting them in shape. There are about 60 of them with good descriptions of each scene and lots of good notes about what needs to be revised. They should help a lot in the next draft. I had a less focused and helpful outline for my first book. (Still do, actually. Maybe that's what I need to fix to get that book back on track again.)

So, in terms of time line . . . I'm calling the official start date Sept. 1, 2010. (I actually didn't do a good job dating my notes and manuscript the first couple weeks, but that's close.) The official end date is January 6, 2011. That's just about exactly 18 weeks including pauses and interruptions. Figure a week off for Christmas and another for Thanksgiving. I'll put about two weeks of planned pauses for paying work in the same category -- let's call those pauses -- to get 14 weeks intended to be devoted to this. Everything else -- dealing with plumber, oversleeping, morning meetings that couldn't be avoided -- we'll call an interruption to the plan and just part of what you have to expect during the writing process. I'll guess there were about 2 weeks worth of those. Figure another 2 weeks of fear, boredom, self-doubt and generalized terror of the blank page where I didn't make any progress. That leaves an estimated 10 weeks of actual writing. I count a week as M - F. In reality I sometimes caught up with some work on the weekends.

My first book book took about 22 weeks before the subtractions, including a 2 week vacation in the middle of it. (Again that's without counting the time to type it in after the first draft was written.)

Length . . . this one is much shorter. The document with everything in it and in order is 300 pages exactly and just over 71,000 words. (My goal was to keep it under 65,000 words.) That includes a few pages at least of editing notes, though, so I'm going to round down the word count to 70,000 exactly and call it 295 pages. That doesn't count all the brainstorming, notetaking, character sketching and discarded material not worth typing in.

The first book was 135,000 words in the first draft. (And I was trying to keep it under 100,000.) It now stands at about 95,000 I think.

So, in terms of pace, it's not super great when I figure it up. It's about 777 words per week day over 18 weeks. 1,400 words per weekday over 10 weeks. Really I should add back in my freakout days, which would make it 1,166 words per weekday over 12 weeks. So the average is somewhere between 45 minutes and 90 minutes of good writing on a typical working day. Which sounds slower than I remember the first book being, but, again, this first draft is in better shape at the end than in that case.

Well, this is what counts as celebrating for me. Pretty dorky. But I am reading the new autobiography of Mark Twain that was just published, which has a lot of discussion of working process and page counts and word counts, and it confirms for me, not for the first time, that other writers have this same kind of obsession.

I could make other comparisons to our working processes, but I better stop there before I embarrass myself.

Oh, by the way, no one is supposed to read this until a hundred years after my death.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I can't believe it.

It feels good.

I don't know what else to say.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Getting very close to the end of the first draft

I've lost track of what counts as new material and what's already been counted, but I can add in at least 1,500 words -- handwritten yesterday and typed in today.

That was key bridge material on the part that I've been struggling with, which feels good. It went a little more low key a direction than I wanted, and it creates some awkward seams that will take a lot of work to smooth out, but it gets me off the dime.

That puts me very close to calling my first draft done. I want to take care of those seams before I say I'm done with this section. And I need to draft the first half of the final scene. (The very very end of that scene and of the book I already wrote, but I skipped over the build up.)

I really want to finish by the end of this week, since I'm not going to be able to work on it at all next week and part of the following week. It would great to go into that break having passed this milestone. And I should be able to if I was focused, but there are some distractions around the house that are making it difficult the last couple weeks.

We'll see.