Category Archives: Writing

Fifth Book Stats

This will come as a surprise to those of you who know my writing style, but I’ve finished a fifth novel-length story, and it’s not even National Novel Writing Month. My first non-NaNoWrimo book was an experiment to see if I could write the story I chickened out of writing last year in favor of something more familiar. The experiment turned out well, and even without the NaNoWrimo pressure, it got done within a month. A young adult dark fantasy novel, it does a lot of things that pushed me as a writer. One of those things was writing a novel-length story in first-person POV. I used to use first-person all the time when writing short stories, but when I moved to novel-length, I made the switch to third-person limited and haven’t gone back since.

One of the biggest difficulties is keeping the character voice consistent. Because the character is now speaking through you as the writer, you end up casting your current moods and attitudes onto the character, which isn’t fair to the character because they’ve only had a few hours of novel-life to cope with what could be weeks of your life. I think I managed to keep it under control, but the first edits will reveal how well I did.

As usual, I kept detailed stats on the writing of the novel in case it sheds some light on the novel writing process, and, after five of them, it might shed some light on how a writer’s speed, etc. evolves over the years. I’ll add more statistics after I finish all of the editing drafts, so for now, this is just for the raw first draft.

Here we go with the statistics!

FIRST DRAFT
Time: 1975 mins (32.9 hours)
Words:  51,086 words (~204 pages)
Pace: 25.9 wds /minute
*vs. 24.7 wds / minute on Book Four
*vs. 23.5 wds / minute on Book Three
Fastest Pace: 37.0 wds / minute, working outside
*edges out my previous record of 36.9 on Book Four
Slowest Pace: 18.2 wds / minute, also working outside
*much faster than my slowest 8.9 on Book Four

For more details on the other books, check out the previous posts on Book Four and Book Three.

Fourth Book Stats

It has been some time since my last post, but that has mainly been to keep my pace up in finishing the fourth novel started last November. I managed to beat out my previous novel’s fourth edit by three months, so I’m moving considerably faster than I used to! I think the primary contributing factor has been a longer commute. I no longer live and work in Tokyo, but have to commute from a place called Tsukuba, which gives me about 50 minutes each way on the train to write (and saves me coffee money, though I miss mornings writing in a cafe with a glass of iced joe). Not all of the additional speed is from the commute time though, as the statistics I’m posting should show. Like the last time, I took detailed notes on everything (word counts, minutes spent on the different drafts, etc.) so I’m posting them in case anyone finds them interesting.

First Draft (writing to get it done!)
Started Nov 1st, 2013 and Finished Nov 26th, 2013 (vs Nov 1st, 2012 – Dec 13th, 2012 for Novel #3)
Total Word Count: 78,939 words (vs. 75,741 words for Novel #3)
Total Hours Spent: 53.2 hours (vs. 53.8 hours for Novel #3)
Average Pace: 24.7 words / minute (vs. 23.5 for Novel #3)
Best Pace: 35.1 words / minute on one morning train ride (vs. 37.9 words / minute for Novel #3)
Worst Pace: 6.9 words / minute on a difficult section during a work break

Second Draft  (edit to fill in scenes, address “notes for later”):
Started November 26th, 2013 and Finished January 15th, 2014 (vs. December 18th – March 18th for Novel #3)
New Total Word Count: 85,353 words (vs. 86,456 words for Novel #3)
* this time around I didn’t have empty scene holders or anything specific left undone, making the second draft much quicker
Total Hours Spent: 37.5 hours (vs. 49.8 hours for Novel #3)
Average Pace: 37.9 words / minute (vs. 28.9 words / minute for Novel #3)

Third Draft (edit for content and flow):
Started January 16th, 2014 and Finished Feburary 27th, 2014 (vs. March 19th – June 7th for Novel #3)
New Total Word Count: 89,846 words (word count for third draft of Novel #3 is nowhere to be found, but likely around 91K)
Total Hours Spent: 49.3 hours (vs. 56.8 hours for Novel #3)
Average Pace: 25.4 words / minute (vs. 26.9 words / minute for Novel #3)

Fourth Draft (edit for consistency and wording):
Started February 28th, 2014 and Finished March 30th, 2014 (vs. June 10th – July 1st for Novel #3)
New Total Word Count: 87,797 words (vs. 97,095 words for Novel #3)
* Unlike Novel #3, I actually managed to trim the length down with better wording, etc.
  and I also used a few software programs to do the check (Cliche Cleaner and Editor, highly recommended!)
  so the Fourth Draft this time represents a lot more work
Total Hours Spent: 33.1 hours (vs. 23.3 hours for Novel #3)
Average Pace: 44.2 words / minute (vs. 69.4 words / minute for Novel #3)

Project Total:
Started on November 1st, 2013 and Finished on March 30th, 2014 (vs. November 1st – July 1st for Novel #3)
Total Hours Spent: 173.1 hours (vs. 183.7 hours for Novel #3)
Total Words: 87,797 = ~351 pages (vs. 97,095 ~ 388 pages for Novel #3) (at the industry standard 250 words / page)
Total Avg Words / Minute: 8.4 words / minute (vs. 8.8 words / minute for Novel #3)

Unlike the previous novel, this count includes a copy edit and grammar check with software tools, so the end count is a bit like comparing passion fruit and kiwis. One other thing I can say which dramatically improved the writing time was breaking away from the NaNoWrimo habit of “just keep writing” and instead, fixing problems as they came up. That meant problems could be addressed before they wove their way deep into the story rather than waiting until the second or third draft and holding my head in pain as I try to rebuild the house of cards every fix knocks down. If you’re just starting out, I would definitely recommend going the NaNoWrimo way, because getting the first draft of your first novel done is the most important thing, but if you have one or two victories under your belt, consider doing a little more outline-level plot fixing as you go. It will save you time later!!!

The subject matter of this novel was back to Science Fiction from Horror, which was in some ways more comfortable and in some ways more difficult. For me, the things that are more difficult about writing Sci-Fi are: getting the science right (or at least doing my best to investigate where research is going), getting the tone right (aliens, AI, etc. are a much wider cast of characters than modern humans), and formality. The things that were more difficult about writing horror (at least the last novel were): getting the facts straight (I had to spend hours looking up video formats, etc. just to get a few details right), getting the characters to loosen up while still sounding like real people, and getting the tension right. I like both genres a lot, which is why I alternate between them, but they definitely have their differences! My next step will likely be going back to horror, but going for a much more challenging-to-write main character (a teenage girl) and audience (YA). I’ll also be looking at getting a website set up, so I hope to see you there when it’s ready! I’ll keep this blog updated as I get started on the next project and the site.

Writing Tools

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Although the main tool I was planning to discuss was something for ferreting out cliches and overused expressions, the timing was right for kicking off with this article on the preferred writing tools of some famous authors. I’m sure that not many modern publishers would appreciate an envelope stuffed with hundreds of pages of loose-leaf paper smothered in barely legible fountain pen ink, so anymore analog tools are the luxury of someone who wants to retype all of their work or someone already so famous that they could scribble a novel on a roll of toilet paper and receive offers for it, but the idea of buckling down with a fountain pen or a pencil and a notepad does carry a romance that’s difficult to obtain with a computer – the same tool that does everything from calculate taxes to display videos of cats falling off of sofas.

Though analog tools have fallen out of favor, the specialization that something that cannot be reprogrammed, such as a fountain pen and an empty sheet of paper, provides is not only romantic, it makes the tool legitimately well-suited for the job it was designed for: writing. The empty piece of paper doesn’t offer the allure of escape. It gets filled with thoughts or it stays blank, whereas a computer display can easily flip from Word to the news that Ben Affleck is going to be the next Batman (I think he’ll do a good job btw). Whether the writer does actually flip to the news of Batman = Daredevil or not doesn’t matter, the fact that the option is available is what makes writing on a computer a dangerous activity because we are trained through hours of flipping back and forth to treat anything perceived through the computer in short bursts, which is why reading on one is so difficult. Even on my writing computer, which is not attached to the internet, it’s likely that some attention is lost to the flipping habit, so the ye old fountain pen approach is quite attractive. Alas, it is impractical.

Though it’s not all bad. Aside from not having to smear white out all over mistakes, the other advantage computers provide is providing tools that cover repetitive tasks or data analysis. I’ve mentioned a few before, but one that I found recently that’s interesting is Cliche Cleaner. It’s rare I buy tools, but this one might be worth it. It not only checks text for overused expressions from the public domain = cliches, it also checks text for overused expressions from the author = repetition. On a few tests, it tore through a few bits of writing like an editor worth his or her weight in gold (cliche attack). The fountain pen might have its uses, but the computer’s no slouch (argh, another one).

The other option that has been popping up more and more among writers is dictation. Not dictation software, but dictation into recording devices while on the go and using those audio files to transcribe what was said. In my case, that’s not an attractive option because my stream of thought doesn’t flow in one direction and any attempt to record me speaking to myself would leave me trying to decipher the ramblings of a crazy man at the end of my walk through the woods, but it might be worth a try for more organized folks. The powerful advantage that the approach offers is the ability to hear how words sound strung together long before the editing process begins – potentially saving hours of work later at the cost of an initial transcription investment. A boon, especially in a dialog rich work.

In a perfect world, I could dictate to a robot that writes with a fountain pen while double checking my work. Eh, who am I kidding? If I was shooting for perfect, I might as well throw in a brain-wave reading robot which would dictate to the other robot for me. Until then, I’ll have to make do with Cliche Cleaner and macros.

Short or Long Story?

Once in a while I come across a novel that should have been a short story or a short story that should have been a novel. What seems to be the problem is:

A short story that should have been a long story =
a character-focused story that doesn’t pan out because, like an awkward date between two people that don’t know anything about each other, the character hasn’t fed the reader enough reasons to care

A long story that should have been a short story =
a plot-focused story that hangs on the empty framework of shallow characters and drags with a Monty Python-style “Get on with it” chorus chiming in every chapter

Although there are examples of short stories with a rich character (note the singular) and plenty of examples of novels that keep the pages turning on the power of their world or story alone, they are the rare case. In general, it’s safer to decide:
“Is this about how a character adapts to challenges and grows?” = Long Story
“Is this about a cool idea I want to explore?” = Short Story

Writing with Style

This jumps back to the earlier post about JK Rowling being recently outed by her style, but there is a site that will analyze a few paragraphs of work and tell what famous author’s writing style the writing resembles.
I Write Like
Of course I have no idea what sort of algorithm is behind the decision, how many authors are covered, etc. so it’s not to be taken too seriously, but it can be fun, especially if given a few years worth of work. According to what I’ve done so far:
1st Novel – Dan Brown
2nd Novel – James Joyce
3rd Novel – P.G. Wodehouse
Quite an odd progression in style (and a bit hard to swallow, but interesting nonetheless). Style is like a fingerprint, it’s so unique that, even if similarities exist, no two people write alike. And, more enlightening, as writing reflects growth, no person writes like they did yesterday, which makes it so much better than a fingeprint.

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.