Another Draft

How many drafts does it take to write a book? More than one, for sure. So two? Three? Five? How many sweeps must one do?

When doing the books in the Paranormology Series, I settled on three as the magic number. The first got the skeleton and the sinews in place, the overall arc, the characters and story. On the second draft, I fill in some of the meaty bits, move things around if they are in the wrong spot, and with the third, I clean up the grammar, spelling mistakes, punctuation and the like.

It’s a neat pattern to get into, and it worked well for most in the series – except Hampton Court Ghost, where I scrapped three quarters of the second draft because it was horrible. Sometimes, I guess, things just don’t work out.

With Iris of the Shadows, it is a similar situation. The original work, ‘Darkness from Below‘, was done way back in 2010 or so, maybe earlier, tapped out by stylus on a PDA. There were spelling mistakes galore, grammatical flubs and lots of holes in the plot. It was before I had ever published a book. I was not sure where to start, where to end, what it was supposed to look like, yet I knew I wanted it out and published.

More than this, the characters were derived from a pre-existing mythos, and so it was written more like a fan-work than a standalone book, and so I could never publish it. I was in a conundrum. Here was a labour of love that could never be realised. In frustration, I threw it in the too-hard basket and sulked for half a year before starting on Adaptation.

Over the course of the years, I picked at it, prodded it, half-heartedly changed some points then tossed it back into the basket again to be forgotten for another six months. It was nagging at me – there’s a story that wants to be told, but I hadn’t given it enough attention to tell it properly. Besides, I had the Paranormology Series to go through, and re-working Adaptation into a novel, not to mention Tedrick and his adventures. Like a meowing cat it harassed me until I gave in, and dragged the script out again, and committed to finishing it.

Finishing it? More like starting it all over again! I imported the manuscript into Nimble Writer and took stock. No, no and three times, no. There was a problem with the whole book, and the more I looked, the more evident it became. It needed more history, more character development, more meat. I remember the groan I gave out when I accepted my fate – it startled the cat and Wifey even asked if I’d hurt myself. Not hurt, no. Not yet.

And so the first draft began. In truth it was more like the eighth or ninth. Maybe ten, I have truly lost count. As I wrote, night after night, I watched the book swell into shape, inflate like a bouncy-castle. I ripped chunks out, bits that made no sense, bits that made me cringe. I stayed up in the wee hours to muscle through it, and muscle through it I did.

Then, back on track with the three-draft plan, I went back to the start again and swept through it, bit by bit, looking closer, picking on the fine details. Then I went and printed it out, got my red pen, and went over it once more. All up, that’s something like thirteen iterations over the course of ten years.

How many drafts does it take to write a book? As many as it needs, no less.

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.

Where to Write?

Working from home has presented its own benefits and problems.

Benefit – my commute is from my bedroom to the study.

Problem – My study is now my work area.

Back in the day, before the wu-flu, Work was Work and Home was Home. Sure, I’d be on call some weeks, but there was still a geographical distinction between the two. On the bike, ride on the road for an hour, get to the big, grey building, do the thing, talk to the people, eat the lunch, do more of the thing, ride on the road again. Home, sweet home, was waiting for me.

Now, not so much. Something has changed.

When I was first working as a freelancer, I found out that sectioning off a room by closing a door was beneficial, though inadequate. A door makes a difference, to be sure, but that was before children, and children, like pets, have a knack for opening the damn things and busting the whole illusion wide open. Next thing you know, the one bleeds into the other and your Work is your Home and your Home is your Work.

Hork. Wome. <Shudder>

What to do? What to do? I’ve got a massive novel coming up, and I need to concentrate. I need to rid myself of the distractions, the ringing phone, the annoying refrigerator noises, the cat, the ‘oh, can you just-‘…

What to do, indeed. So there’s a table out the front, on the patio, tucked around the side:

My sanctuary

It catches the afternoon sun. The plants attract all manner of insects. The birds come and have a drink from the water barrel a little over the way. Cars race past, kids ride on bikes, nannas walk the streets. And you know what? It’s awesome!

Sure, I have to vacuum up the cat hair before I sit down. Sure, I have to clean the dust off the surface, otherwise the laptop is crunchy underneath. Sure, I have to slap on Aeroguard and light citronella candles to prevent the mozzies from chewing my legs to a pulp, but damn, it’s a really good place to write.

Dead set, I reckon since I’ve started out there, I’m getting 2000 words in a session, easy. The other, other day it was 5k. Totally chuffed. I reckon I’ll get this Darkness from Below finished in no time.

Let that be a lesson to you. If you can’t close a door, open one, and go outside.

Irons in the Fire

What’s next, Jez, what’s next?

That’s the question I keep asking. It’s a very good question that must be asked. There’s the old joke about the guy who starts to clean his room, only to stop and start making lunch, only to stop and start taking a phone call, only to stop and wash himself, only to stop and fix a leaking tap, etc, etc and by the end of the day he has worked himself out and accomplished nothing.

That’s a very real trap.

I have many, many things I want to be doing. If I have a couple of lifetimes, I might be able to get through some of them, but I don’t and I can’t so that is a pickle. What can I do? There’s only one me and I’ve got limited resources and time and all of that.

I can prioritise, that’s what. I can put those projects forward that are doable and urgent and worthwhile. Aren’t they all? Yeah, but some more than others. I can’t go into exactly what my criteria is. What I can say is that there are pressing issues outside of writing and art that need to be done, so they rank right up the top (mostly because I’m responsible for making them happen). Next to those, I have my own personal endeavours and investigations that I want to do just because. OK, so they aren’t so critical, but all work and no play makes Jez a dull boy.

Lastly, I have books that want to come out. Tedrick Gritswell needs his third book. Paranormology just got Milena. Darkness from Below wants a re-write. In fact, it wants a complete overhaul.

That’s where I’ve landed:

  • I’ve finished the audio book of Atlas, Broken.
  • I’ve written three quarters of the next Tedrick Gritswell but put it down to let it simmer.
  • I’ve written the next book in Paranormology but put that down, too, because I’m not happy with it.
  • I’m overhauling Darkness from Below. It’s now going to be very different indeed from its original form.
  • I’m making plans to construct some cool experiments in the garage.

Hang on, hang on. Didn’t I just say that starting too many things and not finishing them was a bad thing? Yes, I did. That’s exactly what I said. So why did I stop with Tedrick and Paranormology? Because I’ve gone as far with them as I’m comfortable with. For now. There is such a thing as over-working, and for each book I’m at the stage where I need to step back and let it sit.

Muscling through to get something finished when there’s a clear-cut path to success is fine and recommended. When the end is obscure, though, or if there’s too much going on, backing off is a perfectly viable strategy. Tedrick, you see, is done. Done to the point where I can come back with a fresh, critical eye and start it up again when I’ve decided how to proceed. Paranormology is done. Done to the point where I could publish it right now, but it wouldn’t be what I’d want. I’m too close to it, too invested.

So those two are parked and Darkness from Below is my current project. This is going to take some brain-work. It’s going to be furious typing and several thousands of words every day. It’s going to be planning and deleting slabs of text and revisiting stale paragraphs that haven’t been seen since 2012. And that’s going to take time, which is fine. In the meantime, when I get bored, I’m going to do my experiments to keep my brain fresh.

In short, I’ve had a lot of irons in the fire, only not all at the same time.

The Road to Hell

I was sick yesterday. I’m still sick today, but yesterday, man. Fever, nausea, headaches, chills, aches, the works. It was the worst. World ending, full-blown Man-flu. Took some psuedoeffingwhatsit to help with the nose and passed out on the couch with a bunch of tissues as company.

Uh, I thought this was about Hell?

It is. Bear with me. In moments of fever induced delirium, my mind rubs its neurological hands together and, unrestrained by the normal censures of common sense, it goes on a merry little romp.

I remember, once, I watched an obscure tea-party on the back of my eyelids. Another time I thought up a ridiculous rendition of ‘Lasciatami Cantare’. Upon another instance I truly believed I had fallen off my bike and had lost my leg. I was astounded, not to mention utterly relieved, when I woke and found it attached.

Most of the time, not that this happens very often, but often enough to notice a general trend, you see, my brain decides that it’s time to do some spring cleaning. It sorts through all the shreds of memories and sniffs at each one, holding it up to the light, peering closely at it.

Still not seeing the correlation, Jez…

Getting to it. The thing is, this time around, after the usual regrets of uncontrollable failures, it hit upon an old story I had written back in high school. Penfold and Diana, it was called. Probably only about five thousand words, it was a decent story that I had, way back then, thought could do with a bit of love and sprucing and, perhaps, one fine day, publishing.

As usual, my brain lamented that it was stored on a floppy disk somewhere (remember those, kiddies?) and so was most likely lost to the ether. It moved along, following the thread, picking up all the stories that I had written and discarded, intentionally or otherwise.

There was the story about the man who tried to kill his shadow, the story of the adolescent who found love too early, the story of beast within the walls, the girl who lived with her insufferable torment of ‘Holkum Fire’.  And, of course, Darkness from Below, the unprintable novel. Each time my brain picked one up, I had a pang of guilt – was it guilt? – maybe regret, I don’t know, and each time I resolved to re-write the story.

Are you sure you don’t still have a fever?

Maybe. That’s not important. What is important is that, while there are some things that I cannot control, some failures that are too far gone to repair, these stories don’t belong in that category. They can see the light of day. I could trawl through my old hard drives and poke about for those forgotten gems, or just write them again from scratch.

And here comes the part about Hell: If I follow up on my good intentions to give these little guys some love, it will be at the peril of what I’m doing now.

It is not about whether I will resurrect these stories: Easy. I’m going to. No-brainer. Next.

It’s that I cannot drop what I’m doing now – working on the sixth part of Adaptation as well as getting some images in order for a Grosvenor Lane Ghost animation – and get cracking on these little guys. On top of this, I need to maintain this website, perform some administration on the domain and such, not to mention the everyday chores of watching after a little (and increasingly crafty) boy.

If I were to attempt to get everything done, I would not succeed in getting anything done. Men don’t multi-task at the best of times. I need to focus on one thing and only one thing.

In Software Engineering, context-switching is a very real way to burn an engineer into the ground: Swapping between various, unrelated tasks is a helluvalot slower and more error prone than doing one task at a time. The intention is good – to get everything done to make everyone happy – whereas the end result is getting nothing done and making everyone angry.

By the same token, having ten tasks 10% done is equivalent to having nothing deliverable, whereas having one task 100% done, and nine not started means I actually have one thing deliverable (and only nine things left to worry about!).

My good intentions to ‘Get it all done’ are indeed paving the road to Hell. Similar to my previous post, When Too Much is Too Much, aiming for everything will result in hitting nothing.

It’s at times like this that I put the ideas pad down and pick up a whiteboard marker.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to cool my jets and prioritise.Mini Jeztyr Logo