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Words left behind October 16, 2017

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, writing.
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It takes a lot of work to write a novel.

All authors say that, but how can a reader understand what that means? Some authors throw out numbers like it took X hours of work, or X months or years. And yet, as a reader, one might look at one author who releases one book every five years, and another who releases a dozen in the same time, and wonder why the first can’t match the second. Especially with series. The world and characters are already established, right? Shouldn’t it be easier?

I think the true measure of what’s involved in writing a novel is in all the work you don’t see. Agonizing for hours over a single word. Dialogue rewritten ten times or more. Entire backstories, enough to write short stories or even other novels, for characters who appear only in one chapter. Characters, scenes, entire plot points that an author loved that had to be scrapped. The way it’s constantly on your mind – on a bus, at a grocery store, at a party, at your day job.

For Enduring Chaos, I wrote over 300,000 words that ended up in the trash before it came to the point it is now. At this point, the tally for the series overall is at least 400,000 deleted words. The first book went through three complete, start-to-finish drafts of which nothing remained in the published book. At least two scenes in the final draft were completely rewritten four or five times.

Hours upon hours of research, probably enough to fill a full-time job for a week at least. Conversations with half a dozen different people just for information on horses – some for no other reason than to determine a particular horse’s size, merely for the sake of a single comparison in the book. Research on weaving and weather patterns and etymology and much more. An hour-long conversation with my resident expert, along with taking over a page of notes, about the behaviour of a character who has exactly one spoken line.

I have pages of notes keeping track of the timeline and the distances characters have crossed. I have my own private wiki for notes on the series – characters, locations, artifacts, and more. I have notes everywhere – on my computer, my tablet, my phone, a notebook by my bedside, the cloud. I have pages of notes written for a single scene – and I’ve done that multiple times. I have pages of notes about the backstories that inform each character’s decisions. I even have pages of notes I never kept – writing down dialogue or actions as I was working it out, only to delete it when that conversation passed, or never even happened on page.

And then there’s the unwritten work. Character sketches and maps. Planning out movement during battle scenes. Those thoughts always on my mind. Hours of conversation with my husband about aspects of the book. Hours spent in so many sessions of staring at the screen, working out in my mind how a scene will go. Determining the impact of a certain event upon a character. Thinking. So much time spent inside my own head.

How do you quantify that?

Well… you don’t. A reader only gets the finished book, and a writer has to accept that that’s all most people will see. Sure, you can discuss the writing process at conventions or meet-and-greets, bemoan the struggles of editing with other writers, friends, family, or other witting or unwitting audiences, or write how-to articles or blog posts about it, but the truth is, no one is really going to appreciate the scope of how much work went into your novel except you.

As an author, it’s just part of the job. Writing means rewriting, and it means a lot of writing that will never be seen, not necessarily because it’s not good enough, but because it’s not necessary. We do this and we suffer through deleting words we adored time and again because it’s part of the process.

Because we love writing.

But don’t mistake that for meaning it isn’t hard work.


Halcyon, version 0.9 January 23, 2009

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, eyes of a dragon, halcyon, writing.
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Writing has not tapered off since the end of NaNoWriMo.  Far from it.  Since December began, I have been hard at work on Halcyon, and as of last night, I have completed version 0.9 of the novel.  What does this mean, precisely?  In short, I’ve completed my major edits to the story.

In long, unlike Aurius, my NaNoWriMo novel of 2007, Halcyon was pretty well planned out when I started writing it.  I knew who the characters were, the background/setting of the story was well developed, and I even had an outline of how the story was going to go.  I had a road map for it, the only thing I had to do was see what the sights were outside the windows along the way.

As I actually wrote the novel, however, I realized that I passed by some of those sights too quickly, that some sights that seemed simple were more complex the closer I looked at them, and some turns in the road that should have been breakneck, hairpin corners turned out to be slight grades, and it was not perhaps the most interesting ride it could have been.

But enough of the metaphors.  The point was that there were a few significant changes I wanted to make, more exploration of a much larger cast of characters than I tend to deal with, and generally more to add to the story that really added something to it.  Plus, there was one fairly important flashback that I never got to writing in the original draft.  So, since I initially concluded the story, I have been going through the story and making all the major changes I have wanted or needed to make, and I have now done just that.

The edits I have made to the text have been more or less minor.  The majority of the writing has remained roughly the same and the same things happen in the story, just some of them now happen in a different way.  There is also a significant amount of more material, adding about 23,000 words mostly in the first half of the story.

The reason it is version 0.9 is because I haven’t had a chance to go through and reread it since I’ve done all my major edits to it yet.  Although, I did spend some time doing just that today, cleaning up and making far less significant changes to over half the story.  I’ve gotten some excellent feedback on the first version of the story, concluded on December 1st, primarily from a coworker who has done a number of wonderful sketches of characters and locales within the story.  I’ll have to see if I can share some sometime; I’m really quite blown away by his enthusiasm.

So, I’ve updated Halcyon‘s status on the novels page linked above.  After this thorough start-t0-finish readthrough, and possibly – hopefully – any further comment from coworkers with whom I have also shared the story, the novel will be considered complete.  I must thank one of the writers whom I met on WordPress during NaNoWriMo, who shared information about the amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Award on their blog last month, and whose name I have unfortunately forgotten since.  Submissions for the contest are open during the first week of February, and it has provided an excellent goal for me to complete my edits on the story, and it would likely not be nearly so far along now if I had not heard about it.  So, cheers to whoever it was that mentioned the contest.

Now that Halcyon is starting to wind down, I’ve started thinking about what I’m going to be writing next.  I have two novels on the go: Eyes of a Dragon and The Fire Within (working title).  I began writing Eyes successfully for the first time in fifteen years of off-and-on planning last spring, and I am decidedly farther along in the story than I have ever been.  It is my pet project and I am simply thrilled that it finally seems to be working this time.  On the other hand, some brainstorming and idea-bouncing I’ve done tonight has me thinking again about TFW, which was the first novel I wrote to completion, but is in the process of being more or less rewritten as I try to improve upon it.

We shall see.  As much as I would absolutely love to finish Eyes – though it will need somewhat significant editing of its own before it’s ready for the public – I think I would be perfectly content to let my muse take me where it will.

As long as I’m writing, I don’t think it really matters.