Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Thus, by knowing my weaknesses, I overcome them

I slashed the surface tension quite well last night, but still only got a few hundred words. This wasn't because I was distracted, focus was good. I attribute the low numbers to my new writing style which focuses on story goals rather than word count goals, and on weekly achievement rather than daily.

On novel 1, I set my goal at 1500 words per day. At first it was hard, but eventually I was able to get 1500 reliably, then I started getting 2k, then 3k, etc. I was exultant, I was a REAL writer! My word count was off the charts!

And that was the problem.

Novel 1 weighed in at 206,000 words. Yeah, she was a porker. But I reassured myself with the promise that I would cut while I did my big edit, so that big count didn't REALLY matter. So I set to cutting, and got the sucker down to 180,000 words...

Yeah, this is when I learned that I SUCK at editing.

See, I'm an extreme case of "can't see the forest for the trees." I couldn't make the big cuts I needed to because I LIKED all the parts of the novel. I'd put so much WORK into them, I couldn't just abandon them. But, like a chronically obese beauty queen, the novel suffered from the extra weight, and I just couldn't get it into shape.

Looking back, I'm convinced this happened because of the goals I set down when I was writing. Now, there were other problems, don't get me wrong. But the most rejectable element of the novel was the flabby writing. This happened because I used a daily wordcount as my benchmark, with no upper ceiling. I'm a verbose person by nature, and I like to exceed expectations. So, when faced with a daily wordcount, it was only natural that I do my best to meet it everyday, even if the words I used to meet it didn't necessarily need to be there. I exceeded my daily goals but failed to meet my ultimate goal of writing a publishable manuscript.

Now, this would have been OK if I was a good editor. Lots of writers follow the “get it all down then chop out the crap” school of novel production. But I’m not a good editor, especially for my own work. It was lose-lose all around.

But, despite my other flaws, I’m too lazy to go repeating the same mistakes over and over. So this time, I’m setting new goals. Instead of daily wordcounts, I’m doing weekly story goals with fixed wordcounts – one chapter a week, 5000 words per chapter, 20 chapters for the book. This shifts the goal from so-many-words-per-day to “I have to get this much story into this small space, how do I do it?”

Of course, this method is starting slowly, it’s a lot harder than my other way of writing. But the results are already better. I’m focusing on tight, precise story telling – fitting the most story into the smallest space – for a taunt, exciting book. Thus, by setting the challenges to work against my flaws rather than accommodating them, I can focus on the real point of this whole adventure: writing a publishable novel. (Because, really, if I wanted to write just for myself, I’d write fanfic and be done.)


Bone Machine said...

Editing is tough... but maybe if that's not your strength, you could have one of your beloved fans/friends read it? I know that Trav has read your first novel through and given you feedback. Now that I've graduated, I could read it!

Though I realize the hard part of this is putting that piece of yourself out there for it to be criticized and complimented. I definitely understand how nerve-wracking it could be. Heck, maybe even joining something up anonymously, like a writer's circle or something, could prove to be the panacea!

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