It is possible to write, revise, proof-read, and submit a novel after 160 hours of work

Just finished proof-reading Enter Title Here and sent it off to my agent. There’s a decent chance that he’ll request more edits, but I feel confident in saying that at this moment, in my mind, the novel is done. If I wasn’t currently represented, this is the point at which I’d begin writing my query letter and synopsis and assembling a list of agents that I’m interested in. You obviously have no reason to trust me when I say this, but this novel is extremely good. Given that, I thought it might be interesting if I broke down exactly how much time I spent writing this novel.

This analysis is possible because for the past eighteen months I’ve been keeping notes on two things: a) how much time I spend writing each day; and b) what I spend each day working on. Since I started ETH a little bit more than a year ago, this is the first time that I have a complete start-to-finish record of all the time I’ve spent working on a book.

I got the idea for ETH on July 17, 2012, but I didn’t work on it for another 5 months (though I did spend a fair amount of time visualizing it). I began drafting it on December 18, 2012 and finished the first draft on January 18, 2012 (hey, exactly one month!). The second phase of revision took place over 5 days in May and 4 days in September. This involved cleaning up the novel, tinkering with some of the characters, eliminating inconsistencies, and cutting about 10,000 words. I sent it to my agent in September and got back comments about a month later.

The third phase of revision began on December 7th and ended yesterday. During this phase, I made four passes through the novel. First, I went through from top to bottom, looking at every chapter, scene, and paragraph, asked myself, “Does this belong here?” During this pass, I cut about 16,000 words.  Then I made a second pass where I addressed the specific comments made by my agent. Then I made a third pass where I went through and tightened all the sentences. This resulted in cutting about 7,000 words. And, finally, I went through the novel backwards and had the mac’s text-to-speech software read out every word so I could catch any typos or dropped words. During this phase, I also did a final check for internal inconsistencies and stuff that I needed to google in order to make sure it was true*. And then I emailed it off.

In total, it took 165 hours of work over 60 days.

In terms of hours of work, here’s a pie chart with the final numbers:

ETH by hours

There you go.

I’m not saying that this is the best way to do it or even that I will necessary do all my other novels like this. In fact, perhaps this is simply a horrendous way to do it and I am leading you all stray. But this is certainly one possible way to produce a relatively good-looking finished novel. Now, everyone knows that you can write a novel in a month, but there’s always the implication that if you write a novel in that short of a period of time then you’re going to need to spend months, or even years, on revision. The major thing I’d like you to take away from this post  is that there’s no reason why revision has to take such a loooooooong period of time. In this case, my writing time was about 50% drafting and 50% revision.

Anyway, in case you wanted a chart that details writing days rather than total hours, here it is:

ETH by days

And here is the raw data table (note that halfway through, the title changed from Study Machines to Enter Title Here):

ETH data

*During this phase, I finally gave up on finding a real town in Silicon Valley that had the same features as the town in my story and just gave a fake name to the town.

Retrospective on my First Semester in an MFA Program

I’ve turned in all my assignments, given all my grades, filled out all my teacher evaluations, and mentally checked out from school. And I’m actually sad that it’s over. I think that the first semester went really well. I am sure that I’ll eventually get tired of this, but right now I would not be averse to doing this MFA thing forever. Let me go through the many things that I think have been great.

Time

The workload is not high. We teach three 50-minute classes a week. And out-of-class prep time is no more than 7 hours (2 hours of which are grading). So that’s about 10 hours of actual work for our stipends (which, as any googling would tell you, run to about $22,000 a year). And then the workshop is 2.5 hours but has no out-of-class commitment other than the writing that you’re already doing. Our readings class is 3 hours and maybe another 2-3 hours of out-of-class readings. And then, for various incomprehensible institutional reasons, I have to take Spanish, which is about 5 hours of work every week. All together, that’s maybe 20-25 hours of work every week. Which is great! I mean, that’s a half-time job that pays 22k a year and has health benefits.

Furthermore, since I recently started logging the actual amount of time that I spend on various tasks, I can tell you exactly how productive I am able to be. The program started at the beginning of September, and since then, I have written for an average of 10.0 hours every week (Low of 3.0; High of 15.1) and read for an average of 11 hours every week (Low of 4; High of 18). As you can see from my table, I’m a bit less productive than I was in the summer before the MFA…but not that much lower. And part of that could just be seasonal variation, too (I’ve recently crunched nine years of data and realized that I’m much more productive during the summer months)

Task

Workload (hours)

Fall ’12

Summer ’12

Teaching

10

N/A

Workshop

2.5

N/A

Readings class

6

N/A

Spanish

5

N/A

Avg. Writing Time

10.0

12.0

Avg. Reading Time

11

17

I do want to get both my writing and reading numbers up (to somewhere around 15 hours a week, each). But, as a baseline, this isn’t bad. Even amidst all the dislocation of moving and starting a new program and learning how to teach, there’s still time to get stuff done. And it’s easy time, too. I tended to get all my writing done by about 5 or 6 PM, and usually had plenty of time to hang out and see people and browse the internet and do everything else that needs doing. At times, I did feel a little strain, and a few balls did get dropped, but nothing major.

The Writing

Was a little rocky. Slush-reading and workshop, when combined, made me super self-critical of myself, and I was finding it hard to start and finish stories. I also found it very difficult to work on the revision of my novel (since, to my eyes, it looked very bad). However, I did manage to finish the requisite stories for workshop. And I think the self-critical effect has started to abate. Over December, things got much easier

Teaching

Not much to say here. The Hopkins students are better at being students than I am at teaching them. They come to class. They do the reading (or at least fake it really well). They turn in their assignments. They try to write well. And although they can be quiet, they’re really good during discussion (after being prompted). I teach 9 AM and, after the first few classes, I never really felt anxious about going in and teaching. I pretty much knew it was gonna turn out okay (even if I was teaching something I was absurdly unqualified to teach, like “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”)

The class is a mix of people who are taking it to fulfill their writing requirement and people who are really interested in creative writing (some people are both, of course). Some of the writing is beginning writing, but…that’s okay. As I noted when talking about the slush pile, I’m really not offended by beginner’s writing. Like…you don’t need to be good at something that you’ve: a) never done before; and b) are doing for fun. If I went out and took a tennis lesson, I’d hope that the tennis teacher could look at my own pathetic attempts in the same light.

That having been said, I do see everyone in my class as someone who could potentially pursue writing as a vocation, and I try to give people the sort of advice and guidance that I think I could have used at that age. Mostly, I tell them to submit their work. Err…and to write in scenes.

I’m not a perfect teacher. I’m not even sure that I’m a very good teacher. I think that I guided my discussions too heavily and forced the students to guess what I wanted to hear. It was only as the class was ending that I started to figure out how to lead discussion with a gentler hand. But I’m new at this too, and I hope that by the time I leave here, I’ll have improved considerably.

Workshop

…is good. Alice McDermott was a delightful instructor. At Hopkins, we have her every Fall, so I’ll see her again next year. When workshop is good, there’s not really much to say about it. It’s just…workshop. You have nine peer who call you out for the things you’re doing poorly (hopefully decreasing your odds of doing them poorly again) and you have one instructor who hopefully gives you a paradigm-shifting way of thinking about things.

But when workshop is bad…shit gets crazy! I feel like bad workshops are really both a symptom and a cause of bad social dynamics. What I liked about our workshop was that: a) I didn’t feel like having a story that was well-received in workshop would make you more (or less) popular outside of workshop; and b) I didn’t feel like being popular outside of workshop would accept the reception of your story by the workshop. Now, obviously, to some degree these are false feelings on my part (since we cannot help being unconsciously affected by how much we like a person). But still, at least that effect was dampened.

Part of the credit for this goes to Alice McDermott, who leads a good workshop and does not play favorites. But most of the credit goes to my fellow students. They are awesome.

The People

I am sure that my feelings re: my classmates will eventually become more mixed, as we get to know each other better. Perhaps as soon as this winter! But right now, I like them a lot. All of the ten people in the fiction program are really friendly and interesting. I’m generally pretty friendly and get along well with most people, but I really like my MFA peeps. They’re fun to be around. Most of them decamped from Baltimore a week ago, and I miss them. I think there’s not a one of them that I don’t feel close to. They’re the super-best. (Oh, err…I like all the poets too…)

The City

Aside from the weather not being as good as it is in Oakland, Baltimore is great (for me). Traffic is light. It’s easy to find parking. It’s super cheap. I live in a two-bedroom apartment for which I pay $850 a month (I have an office!). And I can walk to campus every day: my commute is fifteen minutes of walking! Also, it’s very close to DC, where I grew up and have family and friends. And I’ve gotten to know some local Baltimore-area science fiction people, which has also been great. The SF scene around here feels very vibrant. All in all, I don’t think I could’ve gone to school in a better city (for me). However, the area around Hopkins’ campus is most definitely not a hip or a happening place. So if you’re thinking about coming here just, well…keep that in mind.

Okay, that’s it for that, I think.

Another year of writing statistics

December 20th, 2003 was the day when I completed (and submitted) my first short story.  I was eighteen years old. Which means that today is the end of my 9th year of writing. That is a lot of years. And ever since about August of 2004, I’ve been keeping the kind of daily word counts that enable me to write year-end blog posts like this one:

WritingStats2012
Notes are at the end of the post

Word counts became substantially less important to me this year. Last year, I hit the magical “one million words” marker that Isaac Asimov (or somebody) said would make me a real writer. That did not happen. Or maybe it did. When I sit down to do my writing, I definitely don’t feel more masterful than I did last year. But I’m pretty sure that no writer ever reaches the point where they’re like, “Shit, yeah, I got this…”

So I didn’t worry as much about word counts this year as I did last year. Actually, this was the first year where I experimented with measuring the amount of time that I spend both writing and reading. For reading, this is a great measure, and it’s much better than the last indicator I used, which was simply logging the number of books that I read. Book-logging encourages a person to read shorter books (since your “score” is how many books you read). Measuring the amount of time you read removes this incentive. I found, this year, that I was significantly more willing to read longer books, like Trollope’s novels.

For writing, I am not so sure. I started measuring writing time because it felt like my old target (hitting 1,000 words a day) had gotten relatively easy, but simply increasing my daily target felt like it would be exhausting. Measuring writing time felt like it would begin to get at the heart of the matter, which was time management. However, measuring writing time does feel like it, to some degree, encourages procrastination, since I get “credit” for sitting down without producing things. This fear might be overblown, however, since it seems like my per-minute productivity hasn’t varied much from month to month (highest was 16.41 wpm in June, when I was finishing a novel and lowest was 14.29 wpm in August). Anyway, that’s why I still measure word counts. You know, just keeping myself honest. The end result of all this effort is, after all, to produce something.

On a sidenote, the last day on which I didn’t write something was July 7th, 2011. That means that every day this year I’ve produced something. Now, plenty of those days (48 of them) were <250 word days. And many of them (14 of them) were just 50 word days. But that counts! Or at least it does for me. I’ve also met my personal weekly goal (5000 words) for 47 of the last 50 weeks. Guys, I have, like, a real work ethic now.

This year I produced one novel (which I’ve yet to revise) and 26 short stories. I also revised and submitted 20 short stories (ten of which were written last year). I sent out a ton of short stories and, as of today, have received about 183 rejections. I also sent out a bunch of novel queries, but I’m not going to talk about exactly how many (dear agents: my novel is very much in demand; please respond post-haste, thank you).

There’s a simple reason why I’ve written fewer stories than I did in 2012, despite writing more words. I’ve started to do a significant quantity of rewriting. Whereas I rarely used to go to even a second draft, now it’s not uncommon for me to write five or six (or, in some cases, more than a dozen) drafts of a story. Also, I stop writing stories when I realize that they’re bad. Furthermore, this year I wrote two novellas (ugh, I guess I’ll get around to revising them someday, even though the odds of selling them are soooooooo low).

I sold eight stories (and one reprint) in 2012:

There’s so much delay, even in short story writing, and it always leads me to the same feeling: this sense that I am becoming a worse writer. Last year, I sold five stories written in 2010 and only 2 stories written in 2011. Of this year’s eight stories, only one (“Next Door”) was written in 2012. Logic tells me that next year I will probably sell a bunch of stories written in 2012 and relatively few stories written in 2013.

So, yes, writing-wise, it’s been a good year. I abandoned one novel. And the next novel that I wrote wasn’t very good. But I learned a lot about novel-writing! And I entered the novel submissions game for the first time and I learned a lot about that too! I sold a lot of stories. And I wrote a lot of stories too. I’ve done a lot of thinking, this year, about the kinds of things I want to write and the ways in which to write those things…and I think I’m slowly starting to put some of that thinking into practice. I’m probably–almost certainly–not a worse writer than I was a year ago.

Notes On Table

  • I only started keeping daily wordcounts halfway through 2004, which is why those numbers don’t quite match up w/ the yearly wordcount.
  • I define a “pro” sale as one which pays over 5 cent a word
  • I started keeping “Writing Time” statistics on 5/16/12
  • I started keeping “Reading Time” statistics on 5/31/12
  • My “Goal” for each week is 5000 words
  • 2012 statistics are only current as of 12/20/12
  • Fractional novels (unfinished novels) are included in the yearly count, but not in the overall count of novels completed
  • Daily word counts are based either on words produced (whether or not they will appear in the final draft of a story) or on revision time, with some set number of words (currently 900 words) given as credit for every hour of revision time.

I’ve gone one full year without missing a day of writing

I’m not really sure what I did on July 6th, 2011, but I can definitely tell you that I didn’t write or revise any fiction. However, that was the last day on which I made that particular mistake. It was sometime in November of 2011 or so that I realized that I’d gone a significant amount of time without missing a day of writing. Ever since then, I’ve tried to make sure that I write something every single day, even if that just means 100 words of free-association. This means that as of yesterday, I’ve gone a full leap year (366 days) without missing a single day of writing. That’s one birthday, one Christmas, one New Years, several visits by my parents, one three-week trip to Spain, six (or perhaps more like eight or ten) transcontinental flights and perhaps an equal number of road-trip days. That’s nights spent in tents and on strange futons.

I’m not saying that I’m some kind of monomaniac. If you look at the frequency distribution below, you’ve seen that on 46 days out of the past year I wrote less than 250 words (which generally takes less than fifteen minutes).

Wrote Less Than # of Days
250 46
500 16
750 13
1000 27
1250 34
1500 35
1750 45
2000 33
2250 16
2500 18
2750 14
3000 18
3250 12
3500 11
3750 4
4000 9
4250 5
4500 3
4750
5000
5250
5500 1
5750 1
6000
6250
6500
6750
7000
7250
7500 1
7750 1
8000
8250
8500
8750
9000
9250
9500
9750 1
10000 2

But I do think there’s value even in those 50 or 100 words (when I didn’t have my computer with me, I sometimes composed using the text message box on my phone). For one thing, there were a number of occasions when I set out to just write 100 words and ended up writing 1000 or 2000 or coming up with a pretty good story idea. Some days are always going to be unproductive, but there are a certain number of seemingly-unproductive days that can be salvaged.

Furthermore, I think it’s just productive for me to get into a mental space where I’m thinking–every single day–“Okay, when am I going to do my writing?” There’ve been a number of very productive days where I did my writing first thing in the morning after I realized that the evening or afternoon would be packed with distractions. The knowledge that I _need_ to make time for this every day has given me better time-use habits.

Finally, I’m no longer as scared of the blank page.  There are definitely still moments of terror–days when I think, “My god, I have nothing at all to say and this is the last thing that I want to be doing right now.” But they’re increasingly rare. Two or three years ago, I used to begin every writing session with this sort of anxiety. Now these kinds of fears almost make me feel a little nostalgic. When they come upon me, I think, “My god, I used to feel like all the time.” It’s possible that I am mistaking the direction of causality here (i.e. perhaps a reduction in fear is what caused an increase in writing days), but I think that, to some extent, repeatedly subjecting myself to the blank page (and not allowing myself to escape from it) has worked to desensitize me to this sort of prosaic writing anxiety.

Sold another story to Clarkesword; submitted my first-ever novel query; finished my eighth year of writing

As I think I mentioned last year, December 20th, 2003 was the day when I completed (and submitted) my first short story. As such, today marks the end of my eighth year of writing.

Last year, I surpassed every writing-related benchmark of my life, except for two (most words in one day and most words in one month). Today’s blog post was going to be about how I’ve surpassed last year in every benchmark except the one which is perhaps the most important: quality of sales. As of yesterday, I hadn’t yet made a sale that exceeded last June’s sale to Clarkesworld in goodness.

I mean, Nature and Daily Science Fiction are great markets, but (rightly or wrongly) they don’t receive any critical attention. My Clarkesworld story got more reviews and notice than anything else I’d ever published in my life.

Furthermore, I hadn’t yet sold a story that I’d written this year. With the exception of one Nature story, all of this year’s sales were written last summer. I’d started to worry that maybe my stories were getting worse.

The anxiety was getting pretty heavy, and it made me realize that no sale is ever really going to satisfy me. Even if I did sell stories to all the big magazines, I’d immediately start worrying about how none of them had been chosen for Year’s Best anthologies or been nominated for awards. Even if I do sell my novel, its sales will inevitably disappoint me. Even if I do get awards, I’ll worry about the years when I don’t get them. A writer is always going to find something to worry about.

It was a lot to think about, and it made me start to do some pretty heavy thinking about how I was going to build some psychological defenses against this kind of disappointment

But then I got an acceptance from Clarkesworld yesterday. My story “What Everyone Remembers” will appear in the January 2012 issue. And this story is recent. I wrote it in July of this year. I’ve had four near-misses with Clarkesworld this year (stories held for 20+ days and then rejected) as well as ten or so less encouraging rejections, so it’s good to hit with them again.

The only bad part about this is that now I have to wait six months before I can submit again to this really good magazine that’s demonstrated that it really likes my stories.

In other news, I also sent out my first novel query today. The novel is completely and totally done. Nothing on hell or earth is going to make me revise it further. The query might still need some polishing (ugh, and the synopsis still needs to be written). But otherwise, this is the end of my journey with this novel. I’m happy to have finished and submitted a novel, even if I am dreading the dozens of rejections that will inevitably arrive.

Finally, this year in writing has been really good. I’m attaching a table below that shows my yearly progress (with the caveat that my word-count includes words spent on revising, so it self-consistent but not consistent with other peoples’ yearly totals, i.e. my 2011 total of 500,000 really does represent more than three times more effort for me as 2009’s total of 150,000, but it does not necessarily represent twice as much effort as your total of, say, 250,000).

Total

2011*

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

Total Words

1,202,950

497,750

279,600

146,000

44,000

44,400

61,250

62,750

67,200

Rejections

750

177

252

321

Stories Sold (Pro Sales)

19 (8)

7 (5)

3 (2)

0

1 (1)

1

4

1

2

Stories Revised**

41

14

Stories Completed

149

37

27

17

10

2

19

14

23

Queries Sent

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Novels Submitted

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Novels Written

2.5

1

0.75

0.5

0

0

0

0.25

0

Days Spent Writing

922

294

251

136

60

48

51

52

30

Avg. Words on Above Days

1,262

1,693

1,114

1,074

733

925

1,201

1,207

918

% of Days Writing

34.48%

83.29%

68.77%

37.26%

16.39%

13.15%

13.97%

14.25%

23.08%

Words per Day

412

1,410

766

400

120

122

168

172

184

Goal Weeks (Weeks w/ >5000 words)

103/382=0.27

44

40

10

1

2

1

2

3

*Statistics are through 12/19/2012; I hope to hit 500,000 before the year is done.

**Prior to 2010, I didn’t track when I finished revising a story and submitted it for the first time.

Additionally, the best writing day of my life was June 7th of this year (the day I finished the first draft of my novel), with 11,450 words. My best writing week was the week beginning on May 30th, when I wrote 53,050 words (the first 5/7ths of my novel).

I made seven short story sales this year: two each to Daily SF and Nature, and one each to Clarkesworld, Brain Harvest, and Polluto. Of these, four have been published.

I also completed my first novel revision this year (which I will talk more about tomorrow).

In case it’s not obvious, my new productivity this year is largely a result of me moving to California and having to put less time into my job (I work long-distance now). I think that last year I pretty much hit the limit of what I could do with a full-time office job (I was writing about 2 hours a day). Now, I still have many 2-hour writing days, but I also have 4, 5, and 6 hour days (which I never had before).

I think the best things to come out of this year were two writing techniques that I’ve already discussed: one-week novel writing and iterative short story writing. One week novel writing is great because it only takes a week…and then you have a novel.

But iterative short story writing is what has really revolutionized my writing. Because I rewrite each story 3-5 times now, I’ve stopped writing a number of different kinds of bad stories. The most notable of these is the story that sort of slinks along for 3,000 words and then quickly wraps up in a way that’s both abrupt and predictable. Now, I take the time to figure out what my story is actually about. I don’t settle for the first ending (or beginning) that occurs to me.

This has resulted in a new way of thinking about writing difficulties. Now, when I am having trouble with a story, I don’t spend time trying to think it through (which was often a waste of time, since stories don’t come from the thinking parts of the brain). Instead, I just write my way through it. My cognitive input in stories is limited to discrimination: it’s just me saying, over and over again, “This doesn’t work,” until I finally write something that does work.

I don’t think that the resulting stories are a quantum leap better than the ones that I was writing before (although these stories are never as awful as the worst of what I wrote before). However, I do think that I had reached a plateau with my old technique. My new technique will eventually result in stories that are much better than anything the old technique could’ve produced.

My concern for most of this year was structure. In the upcoming year, I think I want to focus more on tone and language. My language feels too thin and flat to me. When I love some other author’s story, I usually love it from the very first sentence, because that sentence distills down everything that is good about the story. I don’t think that people get that feeling very often from my own stories. I want each of my stories to construct its own dreamscape and to describe that dreamscape using its own rhetoric.

How I went about abandoning my last novel

            On March 25th, I did not plan to spend any part of the month of June on producing new work. As I wrote in my March 26th post, I planned to spend it revising my last novel. I’d finally gotten around to reading through it, and discovered that it was better than I thought it was…and maybe there could someday be some merit to it. Even if I hadn’t discovered that, I was determined to rewrite the damn thing. Moving on to the next novel without revising and submitting the last one feels like an avoidance behavior. It’s just a more advanced, and sadder, version of abandoning a work in progress in order to chase a shinier, more exciting idea (that will, perhaps, be in turn abandoned once the shine is gone).

Nonetheless, I was feeling distinctly unexcited about it. During my reading, I’d started to detect some structural problems in the novel that I was starting to think might require fairly significant revisions. But what was even more troubling was that I had started to suspect that the novel might just be deeply confusing. While, conceptually, it was clear in my mind…it was a very complicated concept, and in order for the novel to have even a chance at success, the concept had to be clear in the reader’s mind within the first 10,000 words. I didn’t think that was the case, and I wasn’t sure how to make it be the case.

Then, sometime on the night of the 25th, my car was broken into (around here we call that “an Oakland parking ticket”). Nothing major was stolen, but the window was smashed. I wanted it fixed as soon as possible so I woke up at 7 AM to take it to Le Auto Glass (an amazing Oakland institution). I normally go to bed at like 3 AM, and the broken car window (my first one ever) had disquieted me so much that I don’t think I fully fell asleep that night.

So after my car got fixed, I was understandably kind of tired and dazed. I had something to do that afternoon, and I knew that after it got done there was no way I was going to do any writing, so I decided to pack in some writing right then.

After some futzing around, I wrote 700 words of what I recognized as another treatment of a concept I’d discussed over AIM about a year ago. I’d tried to make a go of it as a short story before and had realized: a) it was really novel; and b) the way I was doing it was not only a little boring, it also had the potential to be sort of creepy (in a bad way).

The new approach solved the second problem and I was really excited about writing the short story. But that afternoon I realized it was really a novel, so I kind of tabled it.

But over the next few days, I kept thinking about this novel. It seemed shiny and fun. But how could I spend another eighteen months on something without seeing through to the end the last thing I’d tried to do?

I went camping that weekend (god it was cold on that trip. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that cold). Anyway, on this trip, after a lot of thinking (and a lot of watching Oakland hippies play with fire and devour sixteen freshly caught crabs bare-handed in front of a distinctly tepid bonfire) I decided that if I did take another trip to rodeo, then I needed to avoid the mistakes I’d made the first time. First, I’m primarily (at this point) a short-story writer, so the structure of my long-form work kind of sucks. Short stories are all a huge amount of front-loading and set-up, followed by a big bang. When I try to write (or even think about) a novel, it ends up being an interminable series of bangs. Second, I wanted to write a novel that was dead-simple conceptually (my short stories often tend to be a little high concept and confusing too).

And I also started to think, “You know what the real problem is here? That whole eighteen months thing. If it didn’t take eighteen months to draft that’d be fine. If I just spent a month doing it, and made sure to get right the things I’d gotten wrong before, then it’d be a fun exercise, and it’d teach me a lot.”

So when I got back, I set forth the ground rules. I’d start when I woke up and I’d write 4,000 words a day. Generally I only write out on about two out of three days, and I expected this to be no different. I was going to aim for 70,000 words since I had the fantasy that this would be a YA novel and also because 70,000 words is a lot shorter than a hundred thousand words and shorter is less work. So in a month I’d hopefully have twenty 4,000 days, thus giving me enough room to finish even if the novel ballooned a bit.

Now, this all sounds pretty blasé, but it was actually kind of a big undertaking for me. As my sidebar shows, I really, really love charts. Also, before May 30th, I’d only exceeded 4,000 words twice, and all those times were ages ago. That’s because beginning writers often find it easier to hit high wordcounts than more experienced ones, Susan Sontag told me that. Okay it was in an essay she wrote. And what she wrote was:

 “I have never had what, it seems to me, most writers have – a sense of mastery. For unlike, say, the art of the surgeon, that of the writer does not, through years of practicing it, become less difficult. It doesn’t get easier. Surprisingly, it gets harder.…The permission given to the self to be expressive steadily, unremittingly as a vocation, feels as if it could be withdrawn at any time.”

Given the numbers I’ve put up in the past, I thought there was a good chance I wasn’t going to make it. I read Catherynne Valente’s “How To Write A Novel in 30 Days”* over and over (her blog is best writer blog that I read), and kept swearing to myself that I was going to do it…that I wasn’t going to fail on this. I made a huge black background for my screen that said:

            I’d intended to start on June 1st. But on May 31st, I was at a loss for what I was supposed to be doing with myself…so I started early. I had a 100 word outline: three sentences detailing what was going to happen at the end of Acts One, Two, Three. By 6 PM, I’d written 4300 words (already making it my 5th highest day ever). I decided to break my personal best, and restarted at 8 PM, finishing up with 8600 words by midnight. That night I could barely sleep. I calculated and recalculated in my mind when I could finish if I wrote 8000 words a day, every day. I could write this thing in ten days (still being overly conservative about how much and for how long I could draft).

*The confusing thing about this blog entry is that Valente makes it sound like writing a novel in 30 days is the most grueling thing imaginable…but don’t like 30,000 a year people do it for NaNoWriMo? I mean, it’s hard, but it doesn’t seem to necessarily involve becoming the antisocial wreck that Valente describes. Well, if you read the comments, you’ll see that Valente actually wrote her first novel (55k words) in ten days, and that nowadays she often revises the novel within that one month too. That sounds grueling as shit. What I did definitely involved neglecting everything in my life (I have a pretty flexible work schedule, so I just cleared five work days). Except my laundry. I did do my laundry.

Next: Quadrupling Your Writing Speed For Ten Dollars