Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dreadnought and Shuttle: writing metrics

The final scenes and project wordcount in y-Writer

Folks ask me about my writing process and while the details of working on DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE are fresh in my mind, I thought I would share them on the blog.

I've been writing novels now for 11 years, since I began my first one in 2004, on a friendly dare from my husband. That book took me a year to draft and is in all likelihood, unsalvagable. But not a waste, as I learned an enormous amount about organizing and completing a novel from writing it.

Since then, I've completed 10 additional novels and have published 5 of them. Over the past few years, I've been able to routinely move through initial idea/brainstorming to finished first draft in approximately 5 months. For DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE, I began the writing in the middle of July and finished in the middle of December.

I've noticed some interesting things along the way, that seem to hold true for my process in general.

According to the metrics stored in y-Writer, it took me 158 days to write this novel. During that time period, I actually wrote 96 of those days. So if you play with the averages, that would equal 604 words a day over 158 day span, or 995 words per actual writing day.

Since my usual goal is to write 1,000 words a day, for an average of 5,000 words a week, I'm pretty happy with those numbers. It shows my ability to be consistent over a long stretch of time.

But the numbers - especially the averages - don't tell the whole story. When I look at my day to day productivity over the course of writing a novel, I see some interesting patterns emerge.

I'm a slow starter.

I tend to do a small amount of pre-planning. Instead of formal outlining, I come up with an overall blurb for the story - the 10,000 foot view - which helps keep me on track. Since this book is part of a series, I have an advantage in that I know most of the characters quite well and have a good feel for the world the stories take place in.

Once I have the big picture view, I break it up into rough quadrants, with some key scenes that may/will have to happen in each part of the story and a rough sense of the ending.  Then I start to write.

I tend to hit my first 'wall' somewhere in the 25 - 50% mark of the story. The writing slows down and I have to review both my big picture and what I've planned for each of the major segments. It can take me days to weeks of struggling and re-organizing before I find my way out of that particular wilderness.

For D and S, what I did was take a closer look at each individual character's POV scenes and read the story as I had it by character. That helped me develop each of the three plot threads as separate stories before I returned to braid them back together in the larger narrative.

Once I got past the 50% mark, the writing sped up again through the third quartile. Then I hit my second 'wall' at the 75% mark. That's when I needed to make sure all the storylines met in a way that was logical and worked with the timescale.

For that, I had to add the day/time to each scene in y-Writer. Not to add to the finished narrative, but to make sure the passage of time made sense as I was writing it. The other challenge was to make sure I didn't have any problems with what each character knew or didn't know and when. Again, this is a particular issue in mulitple POV novel with more than one major storyline.

Once I settled that, I was able to fly through the final 25%, writing over 25,000 words in two weeks.

What's interesting to me is that pattern applies to every one of the last several novels I have written.

I know writers who work with very different processes: Some who do formal scene/chapter outlines for the entire story before setting hand to keyboard. Others who simply write to explore and find the story with no planning at the outset at all.

There is no right or wrong way to do this act of creation. There is only the way that works for any given writer on any given project. This is the way that seems to work for me.

I also know writers who can switch gears and work on multiple projects at the same time. That also doesn't match my process. I'm a 'serial monogamist' in my writing life, though I can work on different parts of the process across multiple projects. For example, I can edit/revise one and draft another. Or draft one and work on formatting/production of another. But I find it impossible to draft more than a single project at one time.

So what's next for me?

A few days off, for starters. My writing space is a complete shambles and I have some mundane life tasks that have to be done. Now that D and S is out with beta readers, I can let those characters rest for a bit. My  next project will be a short story set 40 years before the events of these present books, and then it's full steam ahead on a new kind of project - a weird thriller - in collaboration with writer Rick Wayne.

Sometime in the New Year, I'd be up for doing a piece on how I use y-Writer to draft a novel. Stay tuned!


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  1. I always like seeing how the process works for other writers, and yours sounds particularly elegant. I'm more of a snowballer; I start small and try to pace myself, but the bigger the story grows the more I want to write, and the faster I fly through the story. Which is probably why I'm plagued with rushed endings; when I can see the finish line I always sprint. :) Hope your days off are filled with some fun, too.

  2. That's a good idea to put notes on the time/date, seeing as I sometimes can't keep that straight. I attempted to use yWriter once, but that's because outlines that are too, er, electronic never seem to work for me. Mostly my outlines are drawn wildly in a vague timeline with a jubilee of pens on a giant posterboard (I'm a visual learner/organizer).

    I'm looking forward to seeing how you use yWriter! Maybe I'll steal a few ideas... ;)