Friday, April 25, 2008

Finished a rough draft

Tuesday, I unexpectedly finished writing my third to-be-unpublished novel. I say unexpectedly because even though I was rather sure I was going to be finishing up soon, there is an uncertainty principal involved. I knew that I was working on the last scene in the book. I'm never sure what will complete a scene: I know the end, I know the beginning, but I work out the steps to get there as I go.

But Tuesday, I sat down for lunch and opened up the document where I'd left it last, and wrote 545 words connecting the current scene to the last hundred pages or so of the book. Boom. I got a first draft.

When I dropped the last two sections into the "2nd draft" document, the whole thing was 688 pages long in standard manuscript format. 178,153 words, as counted by Word. Phew. The first thing I did was cut out a 14 page scene I had decided I no longer liked and write a new bridge, so before starting on my second draft, the whole thing is now 677 pages.

The metrics of writing are interesting to me. Many published authors suggest that if you write a certain number of words per day, you will inevitably succeed in you goal to become published. I have a certain amount of skepticism about this, but it is obvious that if you don't write, you will have no product to get sold. So I have worked hard to maintain a writing habit.

I try to write a page a day. 250 words. I feel good about that number. I feel especially good if I do more. I feel lousy if I do less.

When I started writing this third novel, after a couple of years of fussing around with short stories, I started with a couple of pages that I had written and liked the atmosphere of. The character was a young girl, and being new to fatherhood, I think she became a sort of stand in for how I was feeling about raising a girl into womanhood. She also reminded me a lot of a friend of mine from high school, long out of touch.

I had no real goal. Because the bit I'd started with had a sort of Victorian, Gothic Lolita feel, I decided I wanted to write a urban fantasy family saga with a lot of sprawling plot lines. I totted up some plot points that I would cover, and arbitrarily assigned 100 pages for each section. I was expecting to write an 800 page novel. At a page a day I expected it to take 800 days, or two years and change.

This January, at about 500 pages in, I decided that I was overwriting, that I was putting things in my novel that didn't need to be there. I decided I would write 30 pages to finish the section I was working on, 30 pages to fill out a half finished transitional section, and 30 pages to end the book, about 580 in total. Hah. I ended up writing my original 688 pages over 652 days.

At some point in the middle I decided to motivate myself by keeping a spreadsheet of my progress.

Starting with the word counts, file opened info, and last altered dates from the first couple of sections, I continued with my daily word count. Column B is word Count, C is the date I wrote, D is the number of days that word count "counted" for, and E is the percentage of my daily commitment. You can see how it varies.

There are two purple fields that contain manuscript counts. One is my main count (674.1), the other includes a section of pages out of order (703.1). I assume various rewrites done in the course of the book accounts for the variation from my final page count.

Boring! What matters to me is that both of those numbers are higher than the purple field in the Totals columns. Every single page count I have is higher than the number of days I spent writing the first draft. I applied myself more than my self appointed minimum. Not much, but more. I can do the church lady superiority dance!

Word count isn't everything, of course. I stopped to do a week's worth of cleanup on the first four hundred pages in November or thereabouts but I have yet to read all 677 pages in a row. For all I know, this is a totally overwritten piece of crap. But at least I have a lot of stuff to work with if I need to pare it down substantially.

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