Sunday, February 21, 2010

Writing 101: Meticulous Attention to Detail

I keep metrics. Lots of them. It sucks up a few minutes every single day, but it helps my writing, my motivation, and my sense of progress.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, here is the definition from Wikipedia: “A measure for something; a means of deriving a quantitative measurement or approximation for otherwise qualitative phenomena.”

In short, metrics collection = measurement.

Most writers use the metric of wordcount, looking at how many words they have typed on a given day (I am at 267 words today, including these).

I suggest you begin collecting metrics. The two most important are: 1) how many words you write each day, and 2) how much time you spend writing those words. Begin recording this in a spreadsheet. Watch those numbers over the next month or two and I bet you will see them go up (this is the motivation factor).

Some other fun things your can do with them:
  • Determine which schedule works best for you--are you more productive writing in the evening, or morning?
  • Determine which environment words best--did you write more at the library, or the coffee shop?
  • Determine how long it takes you to complete a project--if you have never measured this before it will be illuminating.
  • I do not suggest you calculate your net hourly income from your writing as for most writers this will be depressing. Still, it can be calculated if you keep good metrics.

Here are two snapshots of my own metrics, and if there is interest I can post more advanced metrics advice (maybe even spreadsheet design tips...):

My daily wordcount spreadsheet (notice how it is broken up by project. I wrote 5.75 hours and produced 4.3K words. It was a good day for me):

And the summary graph for my current work in progress. This summarizes a few sheets of data, but note how it shows how I am performing vs. my goal, and how my productivity fluctuates week-to-week. If you are a clever monkey, you will also notice that the blue line the ‘real’ progress on the manuscript, and it is lagging about 2 weeks behind where it should be:


Monday, February 15, 2010

Support Files

I recently received a question about support files. In my status reports, I will sometimes refer to support files, which seem to take on a life of their own and are not part of the final manuscript. So here are some that I use for novels (which may provide some insight into my process). These are from my current work in progress:

00_Forbidden_Work Plan.xlsx
A spreadsheet with charts, timelines, chapter list, metrics from last book (for reference) and other data specific to this book.

27,554 words
Open ended brainstorming. Much of what goes in here is never used, but over time a usable dictionary, character encyclopedia, world encyclopedia and other reference material I use in the writing process.

The outline usually starts in here. When it gets unwieldy, I move it to its own file.

12,294 words
This starts as a template with a pre-determined series of exercises based on Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method -- a quick, fun way of focusing and developing the initial concept and characters using the concept of fractals -- simple, repeating patterns that form a complex structure. Check it out at: The Snowflake Method.

I don’t usually complete every section, and my outline tends to be more detailed that what the Snowflake produces, but many of these steps provide a crosscheck--if I can fill them it succinctly, it means that area is mature, if the I go on too long it means an area needs further brainstorming.

The end result of this process is a query-ready synopsis, good for marketing, good for proposals.

15,638 words
The outline is just what it sounds like. I have a template for each section, and each level (I outline by section, chapter, scene), as well as an area for tracking subplots, and another for tracking mysteries.

I write detailed outlines, often with blow-by blow scenes and snippets of dialogue, and for each scene I list 5-7 Key Points that need to be worked in--this helps keep the writing on track when I actually write the scene.

4,186 words
This bubbles out of the snowflake file, then gets polished and chopped into different lengths -- the full synopsis (~15 pages), a 10 pager, a 5 pager and the dreaded one pager. Right now, all I have is the full synopsis (which is out for the critique group to review).

0 words (so far)

Being paranoid, and wanting to measure how much rework I have on each project, I save all the big items I cut. Not words, sentences, lines of dialogue, but scenes and chapters when they go away or are totally replaced. This gives me a graveyard from which I can resurrect anything I change my mind on, and a file where I can see just how much I have tossed.

On my previous book (Zombie Proof Fence), my cut file ended up with 65,825 words -- yes, I threw out an entire book worth of material. The worst offender: the basement scene which went through 6 very different iterations before I settled on one I was happy with.

So there you have it, more information than you ever really wanted.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Status February 7th, 2010

Things are moving on the new book. Primarily working backstory, world building, character development and outline (45K in supporting files), with ~7K of scenes drafted.

Here's a taste -- some events leading up to the story: