By the Numbers

Think you’re done writing your novel? Got to the end, chuffed with the result, and you’re thinking about the front cover and proofing and publishing? Think again.

Second drafts. The slog begins anew. It’s true, the first draft can be tough, especially if you keep revisiting the plot and going back over things and changing your mind. And that’s a good thing, really. It means you don’t have the regret of ‘damn, what I should have done is…’. Happens all the time. By the end of it, you are exhausted and the story is a mangle in your mind.

Well, it is in mine, at least. The closer you get to something, the harder it is to pull back and see the big picture. That’s why I like to at least get the overall arc in there before attaching the fleshy bits.

So where do numbers come into it? That’s the title of this post, after all. Numbers are the means by which I keep myself motivated, track my progress. For a first draft, how do you know how far along you are?

That’s a good question. You can roughly gauge the overall plot in your mind, where the characters are at, how many words overall you’ll want to use… wishy-washy stuff. And there’s always the possibility you get a brain-wave in the middle of the night and shove an extra chapter in there, or rip a couple out. Eek.

So for me, when it comes to the first draft, I don’t really have anything more than a gut-inspired approximation that equates to the Nasdaq divided by the FTSE, multiplied by the price of flake at the local fish and chips.

Second draft is where it gets predictable. For example, with Iris of the Shadows, I finished the first draft after re-re-writing the original Darkness from Below. That was an exercise in itself. I then took a break of a month before coming back at it to start the second draft.

Then come the metrics. I started with something in the order of 160k words. With double spacing between the paragraphs, that equated to 490 pages in A4 at 11pt. Therefore, the processing of a single page was around about 0.2% (this number changes, bear with).

There were XXX notes littered about and jots on the side to remind myself that so-and-so no longer had a jaw, so these needed fixing, but overall it’s a matter of read, write, read, delete, read, (cringe) correct, rinse, repeat. So on the first day I managed to grind through ten pages. That means I did a whopping 2% in a day. If I continued at that pace, every day, I’d be looking at completing the second draft in 100% per day / 2% = 50 days. Throw in a couple of weekends, and that’s about two months.

Not a bad estimate, so long as I can keep the pace up. The next question is, how long does a page take to review? That’s a trickier question. One page might take all of five minutes, another might be a full hour. This is where averages come into it. I found that, on any given uninterrupted night, I could do ten pages in two hours, which is 120 / 10 = 12 minutes per page. Given 490 pages, that’s 490 x 12 = 5,880 minutes to completion, or 5880 / 60 = 98 hours to completion, or just on 4 straight days without sleep. That last one is useless, so let’s go back to the 98 hours and say ‘I can do 2 hours per day’. That means 98 / 2 = 49 days, which is pretty close to the other estimate of 50 days based on pages.

That’s two different ways to estimate that both arrive close to a common figure. Anecdotally, I can say that’s about par for me for my other books, too.

The page count was interesting. As I went along, I was deleting words and re-arranging things, and adding to the narrative. Overall, I found I was adding to the word count. At the same time, I was removing the double-spacing after each paragraph, so the page count was reducing. This meant that by the end (I’m at about 87% right now) the pages are getting closer to 400, not 490, so each page is now worth 1/400 = 0.25%. At the same time, the word count is approaching 200k. It feels like I’m accelerating (ever so slightly).

I use these numbers to help. At the end of the night, I take the current page and divide it by the current page count to give a relative progression. Some nights, I can only squeeze in 0.5%. Other nights, I gun through 2.5%. Other nights, it’s doughnuts because of other commitments. Still, as I write this, I can look back and see just how far I’ve come, just how far I’ve got to go, and this motivates me to arrange things more to squeeze out another fifteen minutes for that next page.

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