Post #17 – How Soon Do I Edit, and How Much?

Featured

4/19/18

I’ve read a writer needs to let a first draft breathe, like a fine red wine. I take that last part on faith since I don’t like red wine, but I agree with the basic premise.

In On Writing, Stephen King states he lets the first draft of a novel sit for 6 weeks. He wants his story to be familiar but foreign enough he isn’t afraid to tear it apart.  In other words, he needs to be able to step back. He believes too often a writer is too close to the story and characters immediately after completing the first draft. Once the 6 weeks pass, King completes a first edit where he focuses on strengthening themes he either consciously or unconsciously included in the first draft. Then his wife reads it, and he revises according to her suggestions. Next, he hands the draft over to his beta readers and edits accordingly. Finally, he sends the draft to his editor at the publisher.

I take a somewhat different approach, though my edits to date are of short stories or picture book manuscripts not novels. I try to do a clean up edit immediately after finishing the first draft. I don’t want to stumble over those errors when I do my first content edit. When time permits (meaning I’m not attempting to beat a closing submission window), I wait about a week before that first content edit. I’m usually over eager to get a new story out to my critique group while it’s shiny and new, so I’m always battling that impulse when allowing a story to breathe.

I conduct a second content edit after receipt of comments from my critique group members. The last step is handing the draft to my very understanding wife who acts both as my final beta reader and copy editor.

But wait there’s more. I know, I already talked about the last step. However, I like to read a story one more time after my wife’s review. Sometimes I find a typo everyone else missed. More often I find a typo that I made entering my wife’s edits.

All this amounts to 4-5 drafts for a short story. I doubt professional writers do that many for anything other than a novel. However, as I’ve stated before, I expect their first drafts are significantly more polished than mine. Hopefully, as I become a better writer, my work will require fewer rounds of edits.

Sadly, what I’m not including as an official edit is the formatting changes often needed to comply with a market’s submission guidelines. That’s a topic for a future blog post.

Post #16 – How Much Do I Write?

Featured

4/12/18

Given my limited amount of writing time, I’m obsessed with productivity. I’m not alone. Most writers I’ve read, who talked about the craft of writing, discuss either how they track their output or their productivity goals.

Mike Resnick in The Science Fiction Professional states each night (remember he writes between 10p and 2a) he writes one chapter in a novel or one entire short story.

Stephen King in On Writing starts at 9a and keeps writing until he reaches 2000 words. Sometimes he is done by lunch; sometimes it takes him until dinner or longer.

Leah Cutter, author of The Healthy Professional Writer, says she tries to write 1000 words hour. She claims to be able to write 2000 words in an hour when the words are flowing.

M.L. Humphrey (Excel for Writers and Excel for Self-Publishers) advocates tracking productivity for each writing session using Excel, noting the time spent and word count. For me, comparing year-to-year writing metrics or shorter periods is a fun exercise. Humphrey believes it is a useful tool for the professional writer because it allows the writer to calculate potential writing income. In other words, if the writer knows s/he can write this many words in this amount of time and sell it for this amount, then their income will be this.

Aeryn Rudel, a fellow short story author and blogger, lately has tracked his weekly word count towards a novel in progress, as well as the number of his short story submissions, acceptances, and rejections both weekly and monthly.

I’ve only tracked two time periods of my productivity, last year’s and last quarter’s.  Last year, starting in June, I wrote 42-43,000 words with a goal of 50,000 words. I have the same goal this year. I have no official short term goals, though I wouldn’t be upset if I hit 12,500 words each quarter just to stay on track.

If the story is flowing, I usually get about 800 words an hour. I often hit 1000 words in one sitting when I have a little longer.  Problem is I’m not writing something new every sitting.  Most sittings are devoted to editing and submitting. I’ve complained about that before in Post #15, but it must be done. The alternative of only finishing rough drafts and never submitting is not attractive to me.

Since seeing Aeryn track his submissions, I included that tally in my 1Q18 update and plan to continue to do so in future updates. I can’t reach my ultimate goal of three short stories published in SFWA-qualifying markets if I don’t submit. And you can see how quickly I’ve had to accept rejection.

Post #15 – 1Q18 Update

Featured

4/5/18

I thought it may be interesting to post a quarterly goal update in addition to a year-end tally. When I started drafting this post a week or so ago, it had a significantly different tone. Then, after going 0-31 on acceptances since I started submitting, I received my first acceptance last Friday! That’s right folks, I’ll finally be a published author. Full details will follow once those are finalized.

Until then, for the first quarter of 2018, below are my totals.

Words written = 17,400

Submissions = 24

Rejections = 17

Acceptances = 1!

Of course, a lot of rejections means a lot of submissions.  The editor of Arthur’s Publish, Caitlin Jans, says she caps the number of submissions she has out at any given time to 20, but she likes to keep it roughly at that number. I’m fast approaching her number with 11 works out currently and four more nearing submission status. I feel tracking rejections, resubmitting, and tracking what I resubmitted and where now eats up much of what would be my writing time.

I spent so much of the beginning of this quarter editing I thought I wouldn’t get to a quarter of my yearly word goal. Luckily, I had a late quarter burst of productivity putting me over my 12,500 word quarterly goal. I’m pleased with my words written, but I’m more pleased that word count includes first drafts of five stories, four of which I started during the quarter. Each of these four I decided to write only after reading a call for submissions. I was pleased with how quickly inspiration struck and how quickly I worked through the first draft of each. Oddly, three are humorous speculative fiction pieces.

I’ve come to realize the number of words written is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the writing I’ve done. The amount of work that goes into editing and submitting stories is staggering. While I wrote 17,400 words, I edited seven stories and started submitting those this quarter. I also re-edited several stories finished last year, which were rejected by one or more markets, before submitting them to other markets.

All of that takes time and effort. It takes me a couple nights to edit a 6000 word story. And then another night to reformat it to comply with a specific market’s submission guidelines.

In On Writing, Stephen King says early in his writing career, he receive a form rejection for a short story but with a handwritten note: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%. As I track my word count from initial draft to final draft, I seem usually to follow that advice without realizing it. I rarely add substantially to a story after the first draft. I’m usually cutting it down. What I haven’t figured out is what word count to use towards my yearly goal. Do I use the higher first draft total? Or do I use the smaller final draft total because that’s what I submit? I’m leaning towards the former. Last year I used the latter most often, which I think cut about a thousand words from my total. I’m not heartbroken by this; another thousand wouldn’t have gotten me to my 50,000 word goal. Still, going forward, why not give myself credit for those first draft totals? I wrote them. Of course, if the finished story has more words than an earlier draft, I’m using that number. I wrote them too.

Post #14 – When Do I Write?

Featured

3/29/18

I feel like I’m having a hard time finding opportunities to write. My productivity numbers for the first quarter of 2018, which I’ll review next week, say otherwise.

Before I get to when I typically write, let’s look at the writing habits of a couple profession authors. Stephen King states in On Writing that he starts writing each day at 9am and continues until he reaches his goal for the day, breaking of course for biological necessities. He appears to treat it like a job, which makes sense because it is his job.

Mike Resnick in The Science Fiction Professional states he is a night owl and does his writing from 10pm–2am. Last year after the birth of my second daughter, I saw those hours more than I cared too. Now I avoid being awake during that time at all costs.

King further relates the story of Anthony Trollope (an English Victorian writer) whose day job was as a clerk in the British Postal Department. He got up early each morning and wrote for 2.5 hours before leaving for work. It didn’t matter if he was in the middle of a sentence. He stopped and didn’t pick up writing again until the next day.

My ideal would be similar to King’s.  Get the kids off to daycare and start writing by 9am. In other words, treat it like a job. The problem is I have a day job, a good one that pays the bills, so my writing time is more like Trollope’s. I used to get about an hour or less each night. Then my oldest daughter started fighting bedtime, hard. My wife and I are early risers. This shortens the night, so my daughter’s late bedtime in conjunction with my early bedtime means writing in the evenings now is difficult.

I also used to have an opportunity to write during the girls’ nap time on the weekends.  Now that my oldest doesn’t take naps most days, my wife and I take turns entertaining her one afternoon each weekend. So my weekend writing time has been cut in half.

I typically get up early to exercise, before the kids awake. It’s the only time I have for that. If I wanted, I could sacrifice the work outs and use that time to write. However, those workouts are important to me. It’s also when I catch up on my Hulu and Netflix watching.

I’m trying a new approach. Two mornings a week I try to get up at the same time and write. I’ve followed this approach for several weeks, and it has worked well so far. I’m sacrificing my few sleep-in days, but it’s worth it. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when I’m able to get 1000 words to start the day.

The only issue I’ve encountered is when a rejection comes in over night. When I see that, I end up spending my morning writing time submitting the rejected story to the next market instead of putting new words on the screen. But there’s a simple fix. I stop checking my email when I get up.

Post #13 – Am I Procrastinating?

Featured

3/22/18

I realized I titled several recent and forthcoming posts as questions.  But unlike an author writing a character, my audience does not have any insight into my thinking to answer.  Also, unlike many of those posts, I’m not sure I know the answer to this one.

Long time readers (those of you who’ve been with me for all of 2-3 months) may recall that I have an idea for a sci-fi novel.  I’ve jotted down notes about this novel — characters, major plots points, settings — but haven’t written anything yet.  In the interim, I’ve written 12 short stories and children’s picture book manuscripts, all of which are out for submission.  I also have three more short stories in various draft form.  Long time readers also will know my first writing goal is qualifying as an Active Member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  There are a couple ways to qualify.  I selected publishing three short stories in a SFWA-qualifying market, but another way to qualify is by selling a novel to a SWFA-qualifying publisher.

Am I pursuing SFWA membership through short story sales, and writing those stories, as a way to procrastinate from writing my novel?  Good question.  I’m glad you asked.  I don’t think so because I’m not certain I know how to write a novel, though that may be procrastination-inducing self doubt right there.  I’ve long believed I needed to start with short stories to learn how to write.  Don’t forget, before last year, I’d never done this before.  I don’t have an MFA, and I never took creative writing at any level.  Overall, I think I’ve succeeded.  I believe my writing has come a long way in less than a year.  I attribute that not only to the amount of writing I’ve done in that time but also to the books about writing I’ve read in that time.  I couldn’t imagine having focused on my novel, written half of it, and then realizing I needed to go back a fix so many rookie writing mistakes.  Actually, I can, and it involves crying.  But that’s essentially what I’ve had to do with several short stories.  However, revising a 1000-6000 word short story is way less depressing than fixing a 100,000 word novel.  So I plan to keep plugging away at short stories (and children’s books, which are more for my kids) until I feel comfortable tacking the novel.  I’ll get there, but I believe I still have plenty to learn.

BUT (I bet you thought this blog post was over) am I procrastinating finishing one of my short stories?  In Post #10 – Inspiration, I mentioned reading two different calls for submissions and being inspired to write new stories for each.  Well that’s happened two more times since then.  I’ve written one of those subsequent stories already and am in the process of finishing the other.  The submission deadline for that last story is one week away.  Not my best idea—to decide to meet this deadline.  The idea for the story is awesome—and funny.

Before and while writing these other stories, I’ve worked on a sequel to an early story.  I’ve had the idea for this story since last year, even before I’d finished writing the story to which it’s a sequel.  At some point this year, I opened the file containing the first couple of lines I wrote back when sometime and realized since then I’d jotted down numerous notes.  It’s eerily similar to how the file with my novel’s notes looks.  That realization motivated me to finally tackle the sequel, and I made great progress.  In fact, I’m maybe a scene or two from completion; I estimate another 1000 words at most.  I could knock that out in one or two sittings.  So why haven’t I?

Another fine question.  Thank you again for asking.  This is the part I don’t know.  Ostensibly, it was to write these other stories matching calls for submissions with approaching deadlines.  This sequel has no deadline.  Maybe, I’m afraid I don’t know where the story is going.  That was true for a long time before I got past those first couple of lines.  Since then, though, I’ve pretty much had the story mapped out.  Indeed, the missing one or two scenes are in the middle of story, and I intend them to plug a couple of information holes.  I already know what info to plug in, so it can’t be that.

I think it’s a combination of two things.  First, it’s true these newer stories have approaching deadlines, but I think it’s more that they are shiny and new.  Usually, a story loses that shiny, newness once I complete the first draft.  Somehow, I think my sequel story lost that shiny, newness even before then.  Part of that I attribute to reason two.

When it was time to go back to writing the sequel after each interruption, I couldn’t just pick up where I left off.  I’d need to reread the entire story and get back in that mindset.  Unlike a story I’ve completed multiple drafts of, meaning I’ve edited it who knows how many times, I don’t know my sequel story well enough to jump into the middle and start writing.  I need to re-immerse myself in that world.  I need to get back into my characters’ heads.  All of that takes time, probably more time than I have to devote in a single sitting.  Anything more than a single sitting, I risk being distracted by life—or another call for submissions.

I do have a cross country flight coming up, where I’ll have a chunk of time on the airplane to devote to knocking the rest of the sequel out.  That is if I’m not working on my shiny, new story with the deadline one week away.