Still pounding hard at the editing, trying to get as much done as I can while I can. This morning, after breakfast, I finished the “final” draft of Big Hair Day. It comes in at a little over 62k words.
To refresh, the final draft for me is the read it aloud draft, making sure everything works and I didn’t miss anything. Anywhere the tongue stumbles for reasons other than trying to concentrate too hard is worth a check. Usually for me, this winds up involving a few word choice tweaks and sentence arrangements here and there. Historical tracking tells me that the average story going from third to final draft picks up about 1.7% in overall length. This is about a thousand words on a 60k manuscript. Anything much more usually means that I’ve gone back and expanded or added a scene because something needs more explanation than I feel I’ve given it. Anything much less means that I did a lot more of what I’d consider later draft tweaking during the 2nd draft (fixing problems).
The biggest word gains come in whatever pass I fix all of the dictation issues (if any) because dictating in a car tends to provide a lot of background noise and gets messy, and in the 3rd draft. Add in that my initial draft tends to be a little light on descriptive action and sensory engagement. There’s usually a draft that picks up 8 or 10% in word count in spite of the occasional removed scene that’s just duplicating other effort.
All of this is a long pre-amble to say that Big Hair Day is a bit of an outlier. I didn’t add any scenes during the final draft, but a lot of spots where something didn’t quite work created a bit of a cascade to smooth things out. I’m happy with the final version, but it picked up a little over 1900 words moving to that final version, a 3.2% increase. Usually, almost every scene needs a sentence or two tweaked and we pick up a few words in the smoother version. This time, the tweaks I felt needed picked up a hundred or more words in half a dozen scenes and more than usual in the rest, but only for about the first half of the book, or a little more. The back half seemed much tighter, like I was paying just a little more attention in the third draft, a lot of scenes where I’d snip or add a word or two and that was all. Of the three main exceptions, two of them are what I’d consider the most important scenes in the book.
Whether the first half is a genre issue or just that it’s the first time I’ve worked in historical fiction, which amounts to the same thing, is an interesting, though probably not relevant question. That I got more comfortable with things as the book progressed seems obvious to me.
And yes, I consider a non-speculative story set in the mid-1980s to be historical fiction. The 1980s are recent history, depending on how old you are, but they’re still definitely history.
I’ll very likely have this one in manuscript to translate into an e-book and paperback sooner rather than later. My schedule calls for it to be a March 2021 release for me, but I don’t know that I really wait that long. I’ve got a totally awesome cover image picked out.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
How’s that for a longwinded post title?
It is a bit of a milestone, though, and means that I have one more 3rd draft to do in the set before moving to final. (I am planning to do the final draft of Big Hair Day first, though.)
Captain Pedersen’s story (this part of it, at least) now stands at 48,263 words. And while only 2/3 of the complete group is at a third draft status, I’m projecting the overall project to run up close to 150k words by the time it’s through the final draft.
As important to note, this whole set languished for a few years while I drafted other things and never had time to do any significant editing, like with so many other projects. Years as in the original first drafts of these stories were complete just before the end of 2012. I made some revision notes in 2013 and then a much bigger set of them in 2018, but I didn’t get around to the actual second draft until just after my place of work got shut down in late March. I’m very pleased with progress since then, and not just on this set of stories.
Whatever the other results and changes from the pandemic, I need to stay on the editing track to catch up. If I can find the time, I think I can do that. An hour a day would be a huge impact, but will still probably be most or all of my writing year after I’m finally back at work.
And that will mean that post-COVID will need to look a lot different for me than pre-COVID when it comes to creative pursuits.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
For the first couple of weeks of my personal shutdown, I was blogging every single day. My count suggests 21 days in a row and then a six-day gap before today. Make no mistake, I didn’t run out of things to say, though I’m not sure I’ll go back to a blog post every single day at this point, but I’ve been trying to focus my writing efforts.
What I’ve been doing is the second draft editing pass on a set of three interlinked short novels, each in the 42k-45k word range. This afternoon, I finished that draft on the second one and I intend to find time to start working through the third later today.
Second draft, for me, is fixing the plot holes, timelines, continuity issues and tidying up lingering dictation errors. And, in this case, a formula error in my tracking sheets – one short scene was being counted twice for some reason.
The third of the three books is, I think, in better shape than the second, and just shy of the first. Assuming I’ve caught all the issues, I don’t think it should take to long on the second draft stage. Then I have to make the decision whether it’s time to start in on the 2nd draft of the Troll World Quintet (which is going to be an integrated job, and a much longer one), or the third of a stand-alone novel. I’m leaning towards the stand alone, which I actually have two of to take care of the rest of the editing on, plus the third book of the Heroes Inc. trilogy. Plus…. well, plus a whole lot of other stuff. I feel a little guilty not drafting anything at the moment, but I really want to catch up on a lot of the “later than first draft” stuff that I need to get done.
As a side note, I’ve also found that martial arts are becoming my coping mechanism for the amount of time I’m spending at home alone. Yes, the kids are all home, but all have their own virtual social lives and sleep schedules. My wife works in an essential business, and I can only do so much housework each day, not that the list of projects is much shorter than it was when I had my last day of work four weeks ago.
But if I’m not smithing very many new words at the moment, I’m making words already smithed shinier and better.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
by Writing in September has been a little bit different than August. August, in spite of the fact that I was doing some editing, seemed to consist almost completely of first drafts and I wound up with a record number of words for a single month.
But is that the way I really want to do things?
A week or so into September, getting a little bored, and struggling, with Hero’s Life, I started to build my forecast for 2017.
I have this awesome spreadsheet that I put together in late July, and updated in August, that tells me what I’m supposed to accomplish each day on each project. When setting out September, I had already decided that I wanted to do less drafting on weekends in favor of more editing. On the face of things, this sounds like it’s going to make a huge impact in my overall word count, and it has when I compare September to August on an average daily basis, but not as huge as you might think.
Weekends are busy and writing time is at a premium. A lot of my drafting is done by dictation, and I frequently produce 2000 words or more in a day. Dictating during my commute, I let the computer, through Dragon Naturally Speaking, figure the words out. There’s more road noise than I’d like since I drive a tiny car, but I still get upwards of 90% accuracy, so long as I’m careful about where the microphone is. And that’s just a matter of training myself. So, just dictating, I should end about at about 10,000 words per week. Depending on the number of commuting days, that’s anywhere between 40 and 45,000 words for the month. For most of the projects I have planned, if I were focus exclusively on one thing at a time (Ha!), that means a first draft in two months or less.
But it is a numbers game.
I do a set of revision notes before the second draft. Revision notes are finding things that don’t work in the story. In the same pass, I’ll tidy up the worst of the dictation errors. Second draft is fixing all the problems I found in the revision notes pass and cleaning up the rest of the dictation. Which means the prose is already pretty good by the time I get to the third draft, i.e. the “make it pretty” draft. Here is where I make sure each sentence, paragraph, and scene what I want to do. The fourth, and in most cases final, is the read aloud draft. Reading things out loud makes me find things I missed. This is also where I go through and find certain little writing ticks.
So let’s say that I focus entirely on one thing and it’s a 60,000 word novel. Short, but makes for easy math. At 2000 words a day drafting, 60,000 words takes me 30 drafting days. We’ll call that six weeks, once we take out weekends. Revision notes are probably worth two weeks, a couple of chapters per day. Second draft, fixing things as I go, is worth about 1 day per 2,000 words of original story, but experience tells me that will probably be 2,200 words or a little more by the time I’m done. The third draft is slower, a lot slower, making things pretty, moving through maybe 1,000 words of story each day and turning it into 1,050-ish. Reading something aloud at a reasonable pace is about 10,000 words per hour, although much more than a half-hour is real work. But let’s get 6000 words in on that draft. Then, and only then is ready for somebody else to have a look at it. But we need to math now, and I’ll do it without worrying about story length changes due to edits.
First draft equals 30 drafting days. Six weeks.
Editing process: Pre-second draft equals 15 days. Second draft equals 30 days. Third draft equals 60 days. Final draft equals 10, or possibly as long as 15 days depending on how much else is going on and what I find to fix while reading.
So time for the story to exit my skull = 30 days.
Time to get from there to a final draft 15 + 30 + 60 + 15 = 120 days.
Four times as long.
That tiny equation convinced me to run the projection out to the end of 2018, just for fun, just to see what it looked like. And what it looked like is that Hero’s Life, which I’m within a chapter of finishing right now, probably won’t get to the top of the editing list until almost two years from now and will take four months to edit when it gets there.
Every new story I write will put the editing further behind.
Now, if my kids had all left home and I had no other real responsibilities and my job was stable and secure and didn’t require anything extra other than I show up to a little bit of work and go home, I could ramp up the amount of editing I’m doing without worrying about slowing down the drafting. I don’t really have that option.
So, less drafting, more editing.
And I’d like to catch up a little bit. Wherever I can squeeze the time, when I sit down at a computer at home, I’ll look to shave a day or two off of whatever editing pass is closest to being finished. I’m also going to be working on two different sets of edits at any given time. Sorry, I need variety. The new weekend objective is to get the target amount of editing done on everything I want to be anything and then spend an hour a day more on whatever draft of whatever story is closest to completion.
I still want to get 1000 words a day into whatever novel I’m working on, but only on weekdays. That goes for the short stories as well.
This changes how long it’s going to take me to tell all the stories currently on my list, never mind having new ideas, at least in terms of a first draft. But it will get each one to final draft a little quicker, I think.
Wish me luck.
Be well, everyone.by
by Earlier this week, I turned in revisions for a story appearing in an upcoming anthology from Robot Cowgirl Press. A little later than I wanted, but still well in advance of the deadline. There’s a sense of both relief and pleasure that goes along with that part of the process for me. It’s probably an even bigger deal with a novel (though I’ve yet to experience that), but it feels good with a short story.
But I’ve been thinking: I like getting the edits and doing the edits just as much as saying goodbye to the edits.
Actually, I love getting edits.
Yeah, I’m nuts, but I think it actually makes sense, at least for me.
Getting edits back from someone who wants to publish your story is a good thing. They already like it, and are just showing you some line edits or thoughts or observations you might consider to make it better. That’s the spirit to take things in: making a good story better.
I look forward to seeing the spots where I didn’t realize I’d used the passive voice or a continuous tense or where I’d forgotten how stating something as a positive is almost always better than as a negative (unless the negative itself is important). It’s nice to know when I’ve developed a new writing tick (“begin”), when I’ve let a character speak for too long without taking a breath, when I’ve picked a boring word, when I’ve used a word too often or too many times close together, or when I’ve overwritten something. (If the crashing plane is trailing smoke, you don’t really need to add “behind it”, right? No crashing plane in this story, just an example.)
These are all things I watch for (among others) when I’m doing my own editing and polishing, but it’s my story. I’m too close. I will miss things. I think that’s as much a reflection on human nature as on me specifically. Forest for the trees, and all that.
So when I get a set of edits back for a story, I’m eager to see what little bits of odd writing I missed so I can fix them. Sometimes, I’m surprised. Sometimes, I laugh. Always, I’m interested to see what the editor picked out.
(Once or twice in the past, I’ve had to bite my tongue. But that hasn’t been too hard, really. The comments pane of a Word document is the wrong place to argue grammar or personal philosophical viewpoints, even if the editor is wrong about the grammatical point or wants you to change part of a character’s voice so it doesn’t offend some bit of their religious views. But I digress. Surprise.)
Most are quick and easy changes. Some editors will even do part of the work for you, cutting or moving a few words here and there, changing a little punctuation. But the fun comes in figuring out how to fix the ones left over after you’ve gotten the easy stuff out of the way. The places where the editor has put meaty comments or suggestions in rather than things like “find a more interesting word here” or “you said this already so the second half of this sentence can be cut”. Things like, “I think this sentence undercuts your character/the point of your story.” Or, “This is kind of dull. How can you make it more active or interesting?”
Those are the best things about editing, the little moments where you’re working with the editor.
And the “with” is important. If you start to look at this as a conflict in any way, you’re putting yourself in a difficult to work with box and you’d be surprised how much stress there can be in editing. Start working against them, and they may remember your name the next time you submit. Even when you think they’re wrong (and you will at some point), keep it to yourself and find a way to make the suggestion work for you.
You’ll be happier for it in the long run. I know I have been.
Be well, everyone.by
by I like editing. There, I said it.
Many writers will raise an eyebrow or two at that. Some will express actual shock. Some people who profess to love writing or being writers also are free with the knowledge that they hate editing. But I like it. Sometimes I love it.
Working on my own fiction, I enjoy editing at least as much as drafting. Sometimes more. Every writer has their own process, unique to that person. Mine has a fair number of quirks to it, but I doubt that’s unusual. I also have an obsession with numbers that, in my experience, most people don’t share. More on that in a minute.
Typically, I work in four drafts. I may have talked about it before, but here’s a quick recap:
First Draft: the brain dump, getting the story out of my head and into the keyboard.
Then I let the story rest for a while so I can come back to it with fresh eyes and do a read through, making notes as I go on all the things, big or small, that don’t work or need explanation.
Second draft: the fix what’s broken draft. Take the notes, fix everything in them and anything else I find along the way.
Third draft: the make it pretty draft. The third draft is all about making the text readable, making it flow, making it sound good.
Final draft: the read it aloud and make sure I didn’t miss anything draft. Because I always have.
If it sounds like a long process, it can be, but thinking about the usual messiness of my first drafts, I’m always confused when I hear about someone finishing a story and sending it out the next day. By the end of the third draft, I’m almost always happy with the story
Oh right. Numbers.
First drafts are easy to measure. Subtract the number of words you start with from the number you finish with and that’s how many you’ve written this session. I can kind of do the same thing for revision notes, counting it as plotting, but it doesn’t seem to work so well for subsequent drafts. So how do I satisfy my obsession with numbers for those?
I could measure time, but that’s not so much an apples to apples comparison as it is apples to herring. I could just set amounts to edit for a given project or day, based on scene or chapter length. And I do this, but for targets, not productivity. It would be closer. Maybe apples to zucchini.
After struggling with the idea for a little while, I decided using the difference in word count works just fine. But what about when you cut things out and it winds up shorter? Simple, I take the absolute difference in word count instead. Starting with 5100 words and winding up with 5000 words is still a 100-word difference. The key is to remind myself that editing is part of the writing process, but it’s not the same things as drafting. Measuring it doesn’t have to be identical.
So I like the absolute difference measurement, even though it’s not ever going to produce a linear comparison. Depending on the editing that needs doing, and what draft I’m in, I could be adding or subtracting hundreds of words in a given session. And that’s okay. Either way, I still have a number to put to it.
And very occasionally, I manage to briefly entertain myself by spending an hour somewhere in the middle of a third draft, modifying sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, to come up with a net change of zero words.
At any rate, as long as I’m enjoying the story, every part of its construction is fun for me. When the words are flying out of my fingers into the keyboard, when I answer all of the questions and issues my read through produced, when I bash the awkward sentences into smooth ones, and when I hear the sound the story makes in my own ears. It’s all part of the process, and it’s all part of the fun.
Be well, everyone.by
by Added to the new fiction goal of 365k, the list of editing goals for this year looks a little absurd, but:
- Skip To My Luu needs some minor tweaking here and there. Just a couple of manners of speech and items that I think pull the reader a bit out of the story when they come up. A little smoothing out.
- Warforge: Caledonia is to go through its second draft. While I’m putting this into the Editing category of goals, the “fill in the gaps” story expansion that’s part of this draft needs, at a guess, 40,000-ish words. But the target on this one is the end of the year, so I’m not all that concerned about how quickly I work through this.
- Ancient Runes, a middling-far future SF story I started on January 1st 2009 and abandoned at 31,009 words on February 15th of the same year. I picked it up again in December 2011 and found it wasn’t as bad as I thought. On the 11th, I found the story started to make sense again and put some new words into it, a few every day until I typed the last paragraph on April 21st 2012. I’d like for this story to reach a state where it’s ready for beta readers by the end of the year.
- Tashiik Dreams, which I haven’t even written the first draft yet, I’d like to see into the second draft by the end of the year. Or maybe Dreams of Freedom, which is actually in progress already. One of the two. (Hmm. Looking at the title similarity suddenly, but the dreams are different.)
So lots of editing this year, too. But at a steady, measured pace, I hope.
Be well, everyone.by
by So I haven’t blogged much lately, but I have been getting some stuff done. Christmas, mostly, but a little bit of writing and related activities as well.
I’ve done most of the pre-writing I want to do for Dreams of Freedom and expect to start writing it somewhere between now and Christmas. The story is taking shape pretty well in my head and I hope that’s a good thing. Previous experience with detailed plotting has had me lose interest pretty quickly once I start writing. I’m usually better off only plotting three or four chapters ahead at most. Trying things a little differently this time, so we’ll see how it works.
I might have mentioned “Klaatu Barada Nikto, Baby!” somewhere, probably on Twitter. It’s a long novelette (or possibly short novella) pulling several ancient SF clichés together with a character who can only speak in slightly mangled SF TV and movie quotes. This is from an idea I had at least five years ago, and even wrote a little bit of at the time. The story has shifted but character never went away and I feel like it’s finally time to tell Klaatu’s story. So far, I’m about 6600 words in and feel like I’m at the midpoint, but we all know how good I am at projecting story length lately.
A couple of years ago, I wrote Warforge: Caledonia, calling it a novel made up of three interlinked novellas. It was fun to write, had concepts and characters I enjoyed, and seemed pretty good at the time. I put it away for a couple of months after the first draft and didn’t like it when I pulled it out again. Fast forward a couple of years, and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought, but needs work. I spent a little bit of time untangling the novellas before reading through critically to make revision notes for each. As part of the process, I added notes at a high level to fill in what I perceived to be the missing bits. The project needs some significant changes and additions, totally 30-50,000 words at a guess. Which <counting on fingers> is going to put all three stories outside novella range and into short novel territory at 40-50k. And when do I plan on doing this? An excellent question. Yes, I’m crazy.
You might have heard me complain on Twitter that I was having trouble with a story I intended to submit to an anthology. Well, I didn’t submit it and not because the story didn’t turn out well (I think it did), but because I beat the high end of the submission guidelines by 2,000 words. Natural Order has gone through two more drafts, and is better for both, but still comes in at just over 6,800 words. Considering my rough estimate for the original story was for 3.5-4k, that’s still on the long side. And I didn’t submit it; not because it wasn’t done on time (it could have been, but I let things go when it became clear I had no possibility of coming in under the max word count), but because I couldn’t justify to myself even asking the editors if they’d still like to see it. “Hey, I know your guidelines say you’d like things around 3-3.5k and will look at things up to 5, but my story is so good you should give it the space you’re planning to devote to two other stories.” Sure, that’ll go over well.
Perhaps it’s a sign of encroaching middle age, but I’m finally committing to keyboard some of the philosophical thoughts I’ve slowly developed over the course of almost forty-two years on this planet. I don’t expect them all to remain static, but there are a lot of small points I seem to feel the need to make more concrete. The Book of Lance so far contains about 2,000 words worth of point form notes. Eventually, it will encompass 40-ish short chapters. I don’t intend it for public consumption, but who knows.
So that’s what I’ve been up to in the last few weeks, aside from work, family, and getting Christmas organized (it’s a slam dunk this year, if I do say so myself).
Be well, everyone.by