You’re Going to Write What? – Part 7

scribbling-152216_640This is an ongoing series about BigAl’s first experience writing a book. Join him as he flies by the seat of his pants and figures things out as he goes. For a more complete explanation about the book and this series of posts, you can read the series introduction here.

Status Update

The last status I gave was mid-October in part 4 of this series. It must be time for an update. In that post I talked about finding time for writing. Between the day job, family obligations, and the time demands of keeping two websites afloat, I was finding it too easy to not write. In one of the comments of that post, Chris James suggested setting a minimum of 250 words a day and keeping a diary. Each day you record your word count in the diary and, if you didn’t make the word count you’d record why. The idea being that your reasons … er, excuses are likely to develop a pattern.

Ian Mathie suggested that this would turn writing into a chore. I think Ian is right. I also think he’s wrong. A lot of this depends on what is actually keeping you from writing. I had a pretty good idea that the problem wasn’t that I couldn’t find the time nor that I didn’t want to do it, but that I allowed too many distractions to intervene. If I didn’t allow myself the easy out (oops, no time left), I’d put my 250 words or more into the book instead of burning them and a lot more words into a pointless political discussion on Facebook or pontificating in a long comment on someone’s blog. Only you can decide if this is the right approach for you. I suspect for most people it isn’t, but for me it was.

I took Chris’s suggestion one … make that two steps further. I also added an appointment on my calendar in Microsoft Outlook for the end of my work day so it would start nagging me to put in my words. In addition, I recruited a friend who is normally up late, available on Facebook, and an excellent nag. Her job was to catch me at the computer not writing and prod me to finish my words via Facebook chat. I’d report when my words were done for the day. I think I might have gone a step too far. But it worked. I had a few days (actually two clusters of three or four days) when I was traveling or preparing to be away from home when I didn’t write. I thought I had a valid excuse. Other than those, I met the goal.

So now, where do I stand? In slighty more than three months after taking Chris’s advice, I’ve declared the first draft done with a word count of about 54,000. Thanks Chris, and thanks naggy friend.

What Comes Next?

I’m starting by taking a few weeks off, largely because I’ve had to hussle to get everything for both websites prepped in advance because I will be traveling. I know I’ll have less tech capability than I’d want to do some things on my normal schedule, so I wanted what I could get done in advance. When I return I’ll be diving into my first of probably a bazillion rounds of self-editing. In preparation I’ve done a couple of things.

First, I’ve read and re-read Cathy Speight’s post from a few years ago on self-editing. Second, midway through writing the first draft it hit me that there were certain words I know I overuse. I started making a list of those and other writing tics. Being aware of them, maybe I made them less often through the remainder of the first draft. However, I didn’t want to be too aware or it would slow down the writing process and, as I’ve seen advised many times, the point of the first draft is to get something rough committed, not to polish or overthink what you’re writing. In one of my self-editing passes I’ll be searching for and evaluating my usage of these favorite words. I suspect additional items will be added to that list during my first self-editing pass as well. Also on the agenda is reading all the IU posts with the self-editing tag for any help I can get with the process. Wow, one of those posts was actually written by me. How the heck did that happen? If any of you more experienced scribes have hints or other advice, I’m all (virtual) ears.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

35 thoughts on “You’re Going to Write What? – Part 7”

  1. I tried, I really did! I told him I wasn’t an old horse, but he didn’t believe me. Neigh, he didn’t! He knows I am older than he is… I’m not sure we can continue to be friends now.

    And I was just told “horses are very sexy animals.” (I stole that quote!) And it wasn’t from BigAl!!!

    And this actually cracked me up! “Wow, one of those posts was actually written by me. How the heck did that happen?”

    Well, I guess I just outed myself. I’m going to go sit in my corner now and sulk.

    *whispers to Kat, “Do you think they bought it? I can’t believe BigAl called you an old nag here!”

    1. LOL Nice way to deflect, Wazi. I’m pretty sure when he refers to me it’s as a workhorse and not another word commonly used in place of mule or donkey. 😛

  2. ProWritingAid! It catches all those overused and repeated words, in addition to about a dozen other things you’d rather not think about. The paid version is very affordable and includes a nifty Word plug-in. It’s not always right, but does a great job high-lighting potential problems.

    1. Thanks, Christina. I saw it mentioned in Gordon’s post yesterday, followed the link to the post he’d done on it, and immediately understood how it could help me.

  3. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me:

    When I sit down to write for the day, I back up to where I started my session the day before, whatever it is – a few hundred, or a few thousand words. Then, I read forward to where I ended that previous session, self-editing as I go. I find all sorts of things to correct – overused words, tense issue, plot strings that I thought I would develop, but now have decided to abandon, etc. Most helpfully, that phrase I was stuck on, and sat staring at for ten minutes the day before? More often than not, my subconscious delivers what I was actually trying to say.

    It doesn’t take me long to do this – maybe fifteen minutes for a lengthy session the day before, but that way, by the time I get to the end of the first draft, I’ve already made a first self-editing pass. This has made my “first drafts” so much cleaner, that it saves me one complete pass through the MS.

    Hey, maybe I should have saved this and written a post about it. Damn.

    1. Thanks, Shawn. I find when my blog comments reach a certain length it might be because I have a comment that wants to be a post. I’ve actually copy/pasted a few comments ready to post into a doc and saved them as my first draft of a post, then cancelled the comment more than one. 🙂

      I’ll do that sometimes (read what I wrote the prior day and make any obvious corrections) to help me get back into the right place for continuing. One thing that is different for this project than for a novel is that there isn’t a story that flows from one chapter to another. If I stopped in the middle of a chapter the prior day where I was talking about submission policies doing this would help and, assuming I hadn’t run out of things to say on the subject, it was easy to get going again once I actually sat down with that intent. It was when I was moving on to the next chapter where I had the biggest problems.

      1. I’ve found the same thing, which is why I try to never stop a session at the end of a chapter. That’s actually advice I picked up from Rachel Aaron in her book 2k to 10k, about upping your word count. It’s a book I highly recommend.

  4. Wow, thanks, Al. I remember making the daily word-count comment back in October, and then some weeks later, it occurred to me that I probably should have qualified it a little with my own experience of the research requirement. On some days it’s possible not to write because one has to research, so with my current WIP (which needs a ton of research) I’m working on a weekly word count increase of 5k words. For example, on one day I may not write anything because my time is taken up scouring ten or more Wiki pages and making notes, but the next day I write 1k words, so it balances out.

    Nevertheless, I’m very extremely happy for you that you’ve managed to thump down a nice lump of 54k words. You’ve achieved a special goal – I still remember completing the first draft of my first novel and it was the best feeling ever. It is now vitally important you pour yourself a glass of something with bubbles in it and take a moment to feel a little proud at having got the story out of your head and on to the page. You’ll have all the time you need to sweat over the editing.

    Regarding editing, I will say one thing: never has the American idiom “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” been more appropriate. You as the author may feel under pressure to correct every element of your first draft. It is important to contain this impulse. Yes, be critical; yes, listen to your betas; and yes, take a microscope to your grammar, word choice and sentence construction. But always keep in the back of your mind what inspired to write those words to begin with, and trust your own judgement. Once you’ve read your own work more than a few times, it will all read like one massive, predictable cliche, and it’s possible to fall into maudlin doubt about the whole project. That’s when you need to believe in your ability the most. Good luck!

    1. Thanks again, Chris. I think for me it came down to making myself accountable. Ultimately only to myself, but in a way that makes excuses harder to justify.

      As for editing, right now I worry less about me editing too much than not enough. I suspect that feeling is what can lead to editing too much though.

    2. Mr. James, I will have to say that BigAl was very dedicated to his 250 words a day. I did try to hound him to up the words to 300 a day but he refused. (Dangitall, I just made myself a dog!) However, I know for a fact that some days he wrote more words than he had committed himself to, but never less than. There were even some days he had his words written before I had a chance to nag. (Somebody stop me, I seem to have hoof in mouth disease…)

      1. I think, wazi, that you did an excellent job. Now we have to wait patiently to see if Al has indeed contracted author’s disease and is thinking about the plot and characters for his next book 🙂

        1. Except I don’t have plot and characters, Chris. I don’t see myself ever writing fiction. However, I will confess to having another non-fiction idea kicking around in the back of my brain.

          1. And actually as I think about it half a second longer, while not fiction, this idea actually does have a plot and characters. (Narrative non-fiction rather than a how-to-do like the current WIP.)

  5. Congrats, Al. It always feels good to get the first draft done.

    And using your writing words for your own book rather than Facebook comments is an excellent strategy! I’ll have to take your advice and do that more often.

    1. Thanks, RJ. With so many people on the internet who are wrong and need to be corrected, it’s tough sometimes to ignore them. 🙂

    2. Trust me Ms. Crayton, BigAl still bloviated on FB plenty of times. Just not during the time he set aside to work on his words for his book.

  6. Congratulations, Al – that’s awesome! I wouldn’t edit too heavily at this point. Give yourself a break and let the whole thing percolate for a while. There will be plenty of time later on for killing your darlings. 😉

  7. Congratulations, Al! Getting that first draft done is BIG, seriously big for many of the reasons you mentioned in the post. So glad it’s all come together for you at last.

    1. Thanks, Martin. When I consider how many half finished first drafts are sitting on hard drives all around the world, it puts this milestone into perspective.

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