Writing the Novel: Math Hurts

I’ve done the math on Dreaming the Dead, but it isn’t adding up to the kind of progress I want to see.

This year, I’ve had The Silver Door come out in hardcover, The Ruby Key come out in paperback, and Hawkspar come out in paperback. And I had the short story “Light Through Fog” appear in the anthology The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance.

But last year, instead of another book, I wrote the How To Think Sideways course—about, I’d guess, 250,000 words long. I haven’t counted. I SERIOUSLY don’t want to know. But I know my writing speed, and I know I put 70 hours or more a week into that course for eight months, and while it wasn’t all writing, a whole lot of it was.

So I got the course instead of a new novel…but I did it so I could pay bills while I wrote the novels I wanted to write without having to have contracts for them, to write them to someone else’s specifications. This was not self-indulgence. This was a determination to write the books I know I’m capable of writing without having an editor tell me “there’s too much story” or that the audience for which she’d bought the books “isn’t that smart.”

I have a problem with this. I don’t want to have my writing crippled by someone else’s low expectations, or the demand that those low expectations be treated as a law of physics.

(This has nothing to do with the Moon & Sun series, by the way, or with the Korre novels. I’d love to continue those. In the future, if the opportunity presents itself, I will.)

So Think Sideways is buying me the time to write what I intend to be one hell of a novel, and to—when it is DONE—find an editor who wants to find the readers THAT novel will appeal to: someone who isn’t acquiring product for readers he or she doesn’t respect.

I’ve met a lot of my readers. I like them. More, I respect them. Smart, tough people overall. I want to be able to look them in the eye when I have a book coming out.

But because I chose Think Sideways and threw myself into that, next year I won’t have a book coming out. This was a trade-off. A gamble. My decision to believe in what I can do, and do it, and see if my unadulterated vision for my books can grab the passion of an editor, a publisher, and readers.

(My agent is … intrigued … by my career choice here. And supportive, for which I’m deeply grateful.)

Now, however, I’m six months into 2009, and 15,000 words (6%) into what I’m targeting as a 250,000-word first draft. Not good. I would very much like to have a shot at a book coming out in 2011—which means getting this one done this year.

Writing the novel becomes, therefore, first on my list. I get the words, THEN I do other things. On the days when the words don’t come easily, nothing else gets done. (If the possibility of switching off to site work exists, then the writing will get shoved to the side, because site work is easy, and writing sometimes isn’t.)

I have roughly 165 working days ahead of me. A few of them will go to family stuff. A few will be eaten by problems. The Christmas-through-New-Year block will require probably ten. Figure 140 days base.

I’ll need at least a month for revision. 20 days, leaving 120.

I have 235,000 words to go to hit the end of the first draft.

120 into 235,000 gives me 1958 words per day, minimum. Extra words on any given day can buy a breather on a future day. Breathers matter.

So round up to 2200 words per day before I do anything else. Night writing can buy me some time. Last night it bought me about 500 words into today’s total, if I choose to count them. I might not. The more time I can buy myself up front, the more time I can spend doing a revision that nails every issue. I want this book as tight as I can get it before my agent sees a word of it. I could just count night writing as a buffer.

Going to see what I can do in the next two hours. And though I made an exception today, because I needed the math, and figured I’d share the process and the reasoning behind it, writing updates, news, and other bloggables will hit the site AFTER I’ve gotten my words.

Wish me luck.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

10 comments… add one
  • Kim Jun 18, 2009 @ 17:13

    Good luck! And thank you for everything you share with us. It’s thrilling and exciting and a bit scary seeing a real, working writer in action, getting a look at what really goes into it. But it doesn’t make me want to turn away from trying it, so I must be going down the right path. Thank you for helping me figure that out, too!

  • Anthea Jun 16, 2009 @ 22:18

    Good luck! And a high five to your muse 🙂

    (Alas, it sounds like it’s going to be a while before a sequel to The Silver Door will be in the works. I assure you, though, the snippet you posted from Dreaming the Dead has me itching to see that one in print too :-D)

  • Ann J Jun 16, 2009 @ 21:31

    Good luck, Holly. We’re all rooting for you!

  • Texanne Jun 16, 2009 @ 16:57

    Ditto to everything. It is a noble pursuit. So–keep pursuing.

    People always say, “Follow your bliss.” Maybe we should make that, “Hunt down your bliss and make it commit to you.”

  • Shawn Scarber Jun 16, 2009 @ 12:48

    Fortune favors the bold! I have a lot of respect for what you’re doing here. It’s a noble pursuit, not a gamble.

  • Craig A. Eddy Jun 16, 2009 @ 11:26

    May you have the ideas you need come freely.
    May you have the words to express them flow gently.
    May you have the time you need to achieve your dream.

  • Danielle Jun 16, 2009 @ 11:19

    Luck! Luck! Luck! I’ve never had to write on a schedule like that, and I’m dreading the day I have to.
    May God, however you see him, bless your writing and inspire your Muse!

  • BJ Steeves Jun 16, 2009 @ 10:34

    I know the tenacity which you attack your problems, and barring unforeseen circumstances, I know you will probably make the deadlines you set for yourself.

    I will be rooting for you every step of the way.

  • vanity Jun 16, 2009 @ 9:02

    Good luck and I hear you on the deadlines… Need to get in gear myself.

  • Edward Traxler Jun 16, 2009 @ 8:30

    Ok. Luck! May the words flow from you easily, swiftly .. and in massive amounts. 🙂

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