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Sunday, 3 May 2015

Progress Report on the Novel

I've been back on the novel writing for a month, and thought I'd share some reflections on how the story's going, as well as stuff I've learned in the doing.

First is to take stock of where I am, which I'm pretty happy with. I set myself a goal of between 27,000 and 30,000 words for April, which I scraped through with a last push between Sunday and Thursday of last week. It helped that I started a few days early, back in March, but I don't want to dismiss the effort that I put in - I didn't miss a single day between 29 March and 15 April (something I can't say about May so far...). In total I missed just six days of writing throughout the month, generally as a result of tiredness or poor time management (see, for an example of the latter, last week's blog).

On the plus side, most days I added about a thousand words to the manuscript. My best day was 11 April, when I knocked out 1,886 words. I wasn't able to hit these giddy heights every day, but even when I targeted a shorter writing time, I managed only three days where I was under 500 words. And the important thing is that I sat down on those days to do it.

As far as learnings, I took a new approach with this one. Whereas for previous novels I broke it all down into chapters at the start, this time I approached it more like I would a movie treatment, by dividing it into acts and inserting plot points to make transitions between the acts. It's made the manuscript look a little unwieldy, but I can admit that not worrying about chapter breaks for this draft means that I can simply tell the story as it comes. This is a suggestion I've adapted from both Terry Pratchett and Shelly King, who I heard give a talk at a local bookstore in March.

Another tactic that I used for the previous book has come in handy this time around. Following Rachel Aaron's suggestion on her own blog, whenever I sit down to write, I spend five minutes writing out what I intend to get done. As soon as the five minutes are done, I get to putting it down into past tense, third person narrative with dialogue and what-have-you. What I found interesting is that on one day I thought I didn't have time for this, so I tried to just sit down and write, but found that my brain wouldn't spit anything out. I ended up taking a couple of minutes to do it after all, and the words came a lot easier after I did.

I suppose the reason it works, as Aaron says, is that in those first five minutes you've figured out a lot of the beats and the back-and-forth of the scene, which means you can just get on with it. If you don't do it, you're spending a lot more time thinking about what comes next, determining whether or not it works, and deleting or back-tracking more than you need to. When I first came across her advice two years ago, it helped me knock out around a thousand words in an hour, which I consider to be pretty excellent going for nights when I've been to the gym, made dinner and only then sat down to write.

As far as what I'm actually writing, I'm not worrying about that overly much at this point. I try not to edit too much as I go along, especially in a first draft, although when something's been really glaring I've put in a marker to remind myself for when I start on the first round of revisions. I can say, though, that I'm quite happy with some of the character work that's been developing - that'll probably change after I've put the manuscript away for a while, but for now I'll take whatever wins I can.

And looking to the future, I'm aiming for 27-30 thousand words again. I'd also like to maintain a streak like last month's, although I'll have to be careful not to fall into the trap of letting myself do less than a thousand every night. The plan is to have the entire first draft done by the end of June (or thereabouts), so I've got my work cut out for me.

But on the other hand, I'm reminded of one of those motivational slogans the sales team in my old job had on their white board: If it was easy, it wouldn't be fun.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a thousand words to write.