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The Close of the Year - and a Novel - The Motive Center
December 31st, 2005
12:22 pm

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The Close of the Year - and a Novel
As noted a while ago, I've been experimenting with a linear novel-writing approach--writing from first to last, no skipping around as I usually do (and many other writers do too). I set some strict rules for myself, but left some flexibility as well.

1. I had to write every day I had been in town 24 hours (I've been traveling 30+% the past few months). The "24-hours" restriction was to allow for jet lag!

2. I set no minimum length, but tried to write until I reached a natural break--either being too tired to continue, or when I hit a plotting wall, defined as a point where I was too tempted to skip ahead! In most cases that turned out to be about 600 words; my lowest was probably around 100 words (haven't checked in detail), my longest was thousands.

3. And, of course, I had to write in order. I couldn't skip around. I did sometimes go back to the beginning to restart after a long trip, and add in a line or two, but that was going back, not forward, and I always picked up at the end and continued to write.


It was surprisingly effective for me, because it forced me to solve problems as they happened instead of writing all the cool scenes and then losing steam in connecting them up. Plotting is hard for me, because when creating instead of analyzing I tend to go to the most obvious, straight-line answer and then can't think of alternatives as well. Many mystery writers (including my wife Toni) can hold multiple alternatives in their heads, and sort of tug at the plot. I can analyze someone else's work that way, but not mine.

On 21 December, I reached a major milestone: I completed a first draft, of 64,024 words. I did a complete read-through thereafter, fixing some minor inconsistencies and inserting names, stuff like that (I didn't want to slow myself down, so I would insert a QQQ or something like that, that would be easy to find). Yesterday, on 30 December, I have a fixed first draft, or second if you prefer (who can tell, with word processors?) of 64,897 words.

It's still a little short, but I found--again to my surprise--that instead of what I usually do, which is overwrite and then cut, the linear approach forced a very tight series of events, which then I can expand upon with dialogue, exposition, and so forth. In other words, I kept writing about things happening--one action after another. (Some of the action included dialogue, so it's not like a thriller novel, except in spots.) I'm rather pleased!

I started roughly the 2nd of August, where I had a 2900 word burst of a starting point, and finished the first tweaked draft the 30th December, which means that writing entirely on the side, with numerous breaks for travel, I managed a novel-length work in five months. Not NaNoWriMo, but not bad! Since you can sustain a contract with a mystery publisher by generating a novel every nine months to a year, I could theoretically do that or even a bit better, though I do think I will need some editing yet, to refine voice and so forth. (It's in a Southern US idiom, which is not my own, though I grew up in North Carolina.)

I've given it to Toni to read through, and we'll see if she likes it too. I'd do that anyway, since Toni and I always read each other's stuff and advise (Toni's joke is that I suggest something about which she says "oh, that's ludicrous. No way," and then, 24 hours later, she'll come up with the same idea, but now it's brilliant...), but it is generally a good principle to show your work to someone else (I like editors--they can be more objective), and having another published writer in the house is more than convenient!

I neglected the LJ a good bit during this period, because when it came to a decision between "write LJ" and "write novel," it was "write novel" every time! Some of this was that dirty word "discipline," but more of it was that I enjoyed the process--which is exactly what I was shooting for, of course.

I'll try to get back on track on the LJ while Toni reads the book!

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From:agilebrit
Date:December 31st, 2005 10:20 am (UTC)
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Very shiny! Congrats; what a huge accomplishment. I struggle to write 500 words in a week, but I think that may be because I have too many distractions. What I ought to do is take an hour a day, lock myself in a room, turn off the dang internet, and concentrate.
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From:stevekelner
Date:December 31st, 2005 01:35 pm (UTC)

Thanks!

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That can help. Oddly enough, I found that I was anxious to return to the work, because I wanted to see what happened next! I also found that when I went away for a while, it took me a while to get back up to steam--so the first day after a trip might be only 100 words plus some edits (I would reread some and tinker first), the second 250, the third a full 600-ish--so trying to work as frequently as possible can increase speed.

I have a friend who has published a number of books, and he had to take solitaire off his new computer entirely, because he did nothing else for the first three days he owned the computer!

Having said all that, 500 words per week = 26000 words per year, which isn't a bad thing either!
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From:kamenkyote
Date:December 31st, 2005 01:08 pm (UTC)
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Congrats, Steve! That's great! When do we get to read it? I still have Priest around here somewhere I think...
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From:stevekelner
Date:December 31st, 2005 01:35 pm (UTC)

When to read

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After Toni looks at it--I need to iron out some variations in the Southern accent...
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From:annearchy
Date:December 31st, 2005 02:42 pm (UTC)
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Congratulations! That's a terrific accomplishment. I have to admit I'm still struggling with my NaNoWriMo fic from LAST year. My goal is to finish it this year, preferably before the next NaNoWriMo. Due to family issues, I didn't even try to do NaNo this year. But NaNo aside, linear writing is pretty much what I do anyway as a normal thing.

Happy new year :)
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From:loupnoir
Date:December 31st, 2005 09:02 pm (UTC)
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What a great way to end the year. Congratulations!

I'm in line with kamenkyote to read it.

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From:casfic
Date:January 1st, 2006 02:04 am (UTC)
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Congrats on finishing the draft. *Joins queue to read it*. You've every right to feel smug about it. It's always interesting changing the way you write, isn't it.

For various reasons I'm doing far more planning for the new novel than I usually do - eg I'm actually doing proper character sheets (for some of the characters at any rate) which is something I've never done before, but feel might be useful. Jury's still out on that. I'll need to watch they don't get in the way of the actual writing though.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 1st, 2006 08:58 am (UTC)

Character sheets

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I suspect it helps more the more characters you have, or the longer you use them, e.g., if you are writing a series over time or a very large book. I doubt you need them for everyone.

I tend to err on the side of massive background development, myself, for science fiction. This time I had a title, a character, and an idea and went from there. I had to tinker with the world a bit to put in parts I liked, but it's not like this was War and Peace.
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From:albionwood
Date:January 1st, 2006 10:47 am (UTC)
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Somebody - I think it was James D. Macdonald - described the way he starts a new novel in kind of a similar way: He writes a 100-page "outline" as quickly as possible, generally about two weeks! (Of course he's working at it full-time.) This includes action, plot, exposition, snippets of dialogue... but it's not a draft, just a very detailed guide for him to follow. Then he goes back and writes the actual draft of the novel.

If I understood correctly, his approach is to get the story out of his head and onto paper (or pixels) as quickly as possible, rather than dwelling on the details and losing track of the essential story.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 1st, 2006 12:46 pm (UTC)

Wow!

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Great accomplishment, Steve. I've promised myself that I'm going to write a bit every week day this year. I think my problem has been thinking I had to have a minimum of words, and not hitting that mark. Or thinking I didn't have enough time that day to hit the mark, so I'd skip. I'm gonna give your suggestions a shot. Thanks, Lonnie Cruse
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