"For the sake of humanity, join in Bitterwood's revolt." - Kirkus Reviews

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Getting there

The deadline to turn Dragonforge over to Solaris is coming up on January 11th, which explains why I've been largely absent from blogging lately. I did some rough calculations recently and think it's taken me roughly 500 hours to produce a reasonably polished manuscript. This includes time I'll be working on it through the 11th, but not time I'll be spending after this point, since I'll still be going through some line edits after the crack Solaris line-editors go at it with their red pens.

My time break down on the novel breaks down like this:

160 hours writing the first draft. I base this on writing at least 10 hours a week for 16 weeks.

120 hours writing the second draft. I spent roughly 15 hours a week working on the second draft for two months.

120 hours writing the third draft. I'm including time not yet spent in this. I have 32 chapters. I'm spending approximately four hours on each chapter, though this is a pretty rough estimate. Some of the cleaner chapters I'm zooming through in only a few hours. But, a few have required more work.

So, that's roughly 400 hours spent in production of the novel once Solaris approved it. To this, I'm adding 100 hours of prework. I wrote two outlines for the Bitterwood sequel, one of which I never showed Solaris, and I'm glad of it. I also wrote three sample chapters, once of which I've completely chopped from the book. (It was a prologue set years before the novel began. As the word count on the book swelled, I decided to chop it. It didn't have any information that wasn't revealed in dialogue later in the book, and it was perhaps a bit to overtly science fiction to start off a fantasy novel.)

Breaking the book down to the number of hours I spent writing it allows me to figure out what I'm making per hour writing a novel. And, it turns out that's it's not a bad sum. Better than my day job.

Of course, the real reason I'm writing isn't for the income, but because it's something I just love doing. I woke up at five this morning and turned on my laptop and got to work on a chapter. There are the occasional moments when I have no energy and enthusiasm for writing, but every time I just sit down and get to work, I'm quickly swept up into the storyline. Right now, I'm enjoying wrestling with the english language, trying to figure out the right words in the right place. The challenge comes not because it's hard to find the right words to say what I want to say, but often because I have so many options. A few days ago, I found myself with a scene where a dragon launches into flight. At first I had him climbing into the air. Then I had him climbing into the sky. Then, climbing into the night. Then, climbing toward the stars. Editing for style is like solving the world's biggest crossword puzzle. Sometimes, you think you have exactly the perfect word that makes your sentence sing. But, then you'll realize that you just used that same world in the previous sentence, and if it's a word that has any sort of impact at all upon the mind, you have to decide which sentence gets it, and which one gets rewritten. Sometimes, it's not even the same word, but a similar one. It would be odd (to me at least) to write, "He rode his horse down the dusty road." Either rode or road has to go.

Each phase of the writing has its own rewards. The early stages of outlining and planning are full of rewarding flashes of cool ideas. Big picture problem solving goes on at this stage. You have in mind a climatic battle where all your characters get into a fist fight on top of a Mayan temple on the moon. (This ISN'T from Dragonforge, by the way.) Figuring out how to get all your characters to the moon can be fun, and you'll find yourself creating characters who can fill specific roles in the novel -- a white archeologist whose specialty is Mayan culure, for instance, and an astronaut who traces his ancestry back to the Mayans and hates archeologists for plundering his people's past. Then, the actual writing begins on the first draft, and there's a completely new type of creative energy involved. Not to get into too much mumbo jumbo here, but there's something eerie about the way that characters and settings can come to life in a writer's mind during the first draft. I've had other writers tell me it feels like a good character writes his own dialogue. I agree. I have a scene in Dragonforge where someone asks Blasphet why he's about to do some particularly cruel thing. And, when the character asked the question, I didn't consciously know what Blasphet's answer would be. Then, suddenly, Blasphet's words were all typed out and were perfect, possessing all the calm and frightening logic of a psychopath. Where does this stuff come from? I don't know, but it's an amazing experience when it's happening.

The second draft is no longer about creation. It becomes a work of stagecraft and choreography. You've got all your characters and dialogue pulled out of you. Now you just have to make everything work together seamlessly. To me, the second draft feels more like work than any other draft, and requires a lot more conscious decision making. This is where you cut and add scenes, and sometimes do away with entire characters because they just didn't do what you thought you needed them to do when you first started. Your Mayan archeologist, for instance, is just redundant now that you have the astronaut with a Mayan heritage. And yet, while the second draft feels more like work, I've also discovered that it feels, to me, more like writing. I'm producing stuff I'm actually eager to show other people. There's a certain professional satisfaction in chopping out an entire chapter, or making the cold decision to cut a character you like but who is really only dead weight.

As mentioned before, the third draft, the style draft, is mostly fun on a word play level. There's still some story telling going on, and some creativity as you flesh out scenes and replace clunky dialogue with stuff that's more on target.

Being able to find all the stages of the process rewarding seems to me to be a real challenge for some people. Writing isn't just one skill--it's a whole bundle of skills, all entangled. Throw in learning to market and promote your stuff, and there's even more skills. There's not a day that goes by lately where I don't feel lucky that everything has at last come together and I get to see my words in bookstores.

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