Last Work

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Starting work on a novel (or any large project) combines an act of creation with an act of destruction. With limited time, the pursuit of an idea goes hand in hand with all of the ideas that aren’t pursued. Every idea is brought to life on the battlefield of a thousand dead ones. Considering a novel tends to take someone not pursuing it full time at least a year to complete, the rest becomes simple math. Life expectancy – current age = the number of novels left. At best, one can throw away other pursuits in an attempt to increase the pace, but then one is left cut off from source of material: life and living. As the next novel writing period creeps up on me, I have to wonder: If this were the last year of my life, which one would I create (and which ones would I destroy)?

Frequently Rowling

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Frequency (a quick sketch and Photoshop treatment to avoid using the same old same old frequency wave)

This is a bit of an extension on the previous post about “just” showing up too much. While it’s probably old news to everyone but me, the method used by Peter Millican of Oxford University and Patrick Juola of Duquesne University to discover J.K. Rowling was in fact the author of the Cuckoo’s Calling demonstrates how identifiable an author is by the word choices, and the frequency of those choices that they make. I’ve always been big on macros, and found this one to be helpful in ferreting out overused “weak” words and phrases. For those writers who haven’t used macros, you should be aware of them because, even if you don’t care about word frequency, you never know when a macro could save days of valuable time you could use to write. Essentially anything in Word (or Excel) you find yourself doing over, and over, and over again is a prime candidate. There are plenty of good introductions on the Net, but to help anyone curious on how to use the frequency macro by Allen Wyatt that I linked to, here’s a quick tutorial.

Old Word

0) Make sure to save and back up the document you want to analyze

1) Open the document you want to analyze in Word

2) In the menu bar, select Tools

3) Select the “Macro” list item (it might be hidden away if you haven’t used it before)

4) Select the “Visual Basic Editor”

5) Double click on your document in the left hand window

6) Paste the macro above into the editor window

7) If your version of Word is really old, it might complain about the two lines with the “_” at the end (they’ll be marked in red), so delete those “_”s and bring the next line together with the first one.
ex) j = MsgBox(“The maximum array size has been exceeded. Increase maxwords.”, vbOKOnly)
and
ex) j = MsgBox(“There were ” & Trim(Str(WordNum)) & ” different words “, vbOKOnly, “Finished”)

8) Look for the icon with the VCR/DVD player style “Play” button at the top and click it

9) Sort by FREQ frequency

10) Word will stop responding for a bit, but in a minute or so, you’ll have a list of the words you used in the document

New Word

0 and 1) Same as above

2) Go to the Developer Tab, if it’s not there, turn it on.

3) Select the Developer Tab (see the link in 2 for help if needed)

4) Select the Visual Basic icon on the left

5-10) Same as above

Did You…?

This is a public service announcement.
Did you remember to save your document?
Did you remember to back it up on the USB drive and another computer without checking “Yes” to overwrite all?
Did you remember to save your document?

This is prompted by what may have been the cause of a little lost work. (either that or I’m crazy…well, not so much “or”) Despite having statistics tracked to the end of last October, the last draft of my second novel that I possess is dated mid-October. This means a) I misplaced or mistakenly deleted the final, final draft or b) I imagined the last two weeks of work. My guess is that I had it finished and renamed the file, then went back later and deleted that file thinking it was the backup, when in fact it was the final version. I made the discovery this morning on the train ride to work when I sat down to my notebook and decided to return to editing the second novel only to find out things weren’t quite right.
Which brings me back to my public service announcement.
Did you really remember to save your document and back it up?

Just a Bad Habit

Just finished the copy edits and manuscript formatting on the third novel today. Feels nice to be able to tuck it away, ready for submission!
One of the things I had to edit down last week were all of the “just“s. Maybe I was just being paranoid, but on the last read it felt like I just had too many justs. Not sure why the word comes so easily to me. My frame of mind must just be trying to limit everything. In any case, after getting rid of most of them, the document just feels stronger. (as it would with getting rid of any adjectives or adverbs, for example, reread that paragraph without all of the “just”s)

Getting to Know You

I’m sure every author feels that they have a special connection to their characters. The process that gives birth to the people that populate a book tends to foster that connection. Not only do those characters go through the many trials by fire that make it into the final draft, but they’re also forced to plunge through all of the raging infernos and hop over all of the tiny matchsticks that the author discards on their way to telling “the story.” A single character may have been shot to death, stabbed to death, frozen to death and topped by a maraschino cherry, divorced by three different husbands with three different names and personalities all in the course of providing a tragedy worth telling. In the course of this torture, one can really see what the people subjected to it are made of, and in some ways, they become more real than real.

Plot and Theme, the Enemies of Character?

In Michael Chabon’s essay “On Daemons & Dust”, he mentions that plot and theme are the enemies of character. It’s an interesting statement that a little fiction writing can force someone to appreciate. Almost every paragraph involves an authorial decision, “Do I let this character be real” = deep and uncontrollable or “Do I take control of the character and make him or her dance to the plot or themes that I wish to lay down as author and story architect?” Different authors, even different works by the same authors fiddle around with the xs and ys of this x + y = z = story equation, but it’s always a dilemma.  It’s sometimes possible to accomplish both, but not often because it’s typically a binary proposition: control a character or do not control a character. Too many competing desires, too little authorial control and the story melts into meandering chaos (recognize chaos? it’s also known as real life). Too shallow the desires, too heavy the author’s hand and the story turns into a lecturing parable complete with axe to grind. The most enjoyable stories do the best they can at both, while recognizing that they can never and should never imitate life too closely and recognizing that no one wants a lecture.

2013 Book Fair

The Japanese publishing industry’s book fair was an interesting experience. Seeing thousands and thousands of new books with nothing but an outward-facing spine to show for the months or years their authors and editors put into them, languishing on the shelves of countless publishers had me thinking about the struggle publishers (not just in books, but movies, music, and games) are facing in a world drowning in ideas. The entertainment markets are quickly shifting from a “thing”-based approach to a “person”-based (or “story”-based) approach, and, because corporations prefer to deal in “things” (IP, products, mascots, etc.) because they don’t talk back, they don’t ask for raises, and they don’t mind being used and abused, they are losing a piece of the pie. Meanwhile, for consumers who have come to appreciate the “person” or the “story”, “things” have come to feel more like what they really are – dead.

It

Finished reading A Child Called It. Parents have incredible power over their children. For a child who doesn’t have a solid core to keep out the monsters, a bad parent can easily transform the world into something horrific – a nightmare overlay which no one but the child can see, separating them from the rest of society which sees a different place, no matter how hard they look.

Third Book Stats

I’ve finally finished the fourth draft of my latest novel-length story, which I started on November 1st of last year, as I’ve done in years past. Considering I finished the fourth draft of my previous novel-length story in October of last year, I’ve gotten a lot faster. Some of that is due to more experience with planning, some of it is better initial writing = less editing, and some of it is moving into a better writing routine. This time around, I took detailed notes on how long I spent on the different parts, so I’m posting those statistics in case you find them interesting or instructive. One thing of note is that editing takes a whole lot longer than writing (which it should).

1st Draft (writing to get it done!)
Started Nov 1st, 2012 and Finished Dec 13th, 2012
Total Word Count: 75,741 words
Words by NaNoWriMo Nov 30th Deadline: 66,770 words
Total Hours Spent: 53.8 hours (3,228 minutes)
Average Pace: 23.5 words / minute
Best Pace: 37.9 words / minute on my old 10 minute train ride to work
* other train days were similarly high pace, but likely lower quality because of the rushed nature
Worst Pace: 11.6 words / minute working from home
* other “working from home” days were similarly bad

Second Draft  (edit to fill in scenes, address “notes for later”, and redo the outline):
Started December 18th, 2012 and Finished March 18th, 2013
New Total Word Count: 86,456 words
* more due to fleshing out certain events & characters which I had left rough
Total Hours Spent: 49.8 hours (2,985 minutes)
Average Pace: 28.9 words / minute

Third Draft (edit for content and flow):
Started March 19th, 2013 and Finished June 7th, 2013
New Total Word Count: ? words
* I didn’t keep a copy of the third draft because it tied so closely into the fourth,
but assuming it’s halfway in length between the 2nd and 4th, I’ll put it at 91,776 words
Total Hours Spent: 56.8 hours (3,409 minutes)
Average Pace: 26.9 words / minute

Fourth Draft (edit for consistency and wording):
Started June 10th, 2013 and Finished July 1st, 2013
New Total Word Count: 97,095
* Most of these words were required to improve the flow of certain sections or to address consistency issues
Total Hours Spent: 23.3 (1,400 mins)
Average Pace: 69.4 words / minute

Project Total:
Started on November 1st, 2012 and Finished on July 1st, 2013
Total Hours Spent: 183.7 hours (11022 minutes)
Total Words: 97,095 (roughly 389 pages at the industry standard 250 words / page)
Total Avg Words / Minute: 8.8 words / minute

Of course this still leaves a good old fashioned copy edit to ferret out mistakes, which will likely take about two weeks.

Previous Book Word Count: 99,348 words