Introducing Writer Robot

I built a robot for you.

Ok, actually, I didn’t built a robot. I built a Twitter bot using a spreadsheet. It composes random tweets by building sentences from fragments I plugged into it. So that’s less impressive.

When you follow @writer_robot, you’ll get a new bite-sized bit of writing encouragement delivered to your timeline once every four hours. Pretend it’s your helpful little sidekick. Tweet abuse at it when you’re stuck on a really annoying scene. Correct its lousy syntax. Write some nasty fanfic about it. Whatever you need, Writer Robot probably can’t provide, but you can imagine it falling over and flailing its little robot legs helplessly in the air. That’s adorable. Thanks for suffering for our amusement, Writer Robot.

How to revise your manuscript without losing your mind

pen-1154122_640

Seriously, does anyone know how to do this? If you do, please tell me, because my mind done got lost about halfway through the process.

So, I’m done with draft 2 of a novel that is slowly, slowly inching towards readability. This is the first time I’ve ever revised a manuscript of this length instead of tossing the whole thing in the virtual trash and starting over fresh. This was the first time I ran into a whole new set of challenges as a writer:

  • I had no idea how to estimate how long it would take me to revise a manuscript. I set a deadline for the end of March, and ended up staggering over the finish line in the middle of May. I hate blowing deadlines, even self-imposed ones, even ones that were completely untenable from the get-go.
  • I didn’t have an easy way of charting my progress. I tried Pacemaker for a while, but it wasn’t nearly as visually exciting as the charts I made to track my rising word counts in years past. And that was part of the problem: I’m very motivated by watching a number counting up towards a complete manuscript, but I hate to see one counting down towards a deadline.
  • I also didn’t have a reliable way of quantifying how much effort I was pouring into my work. I breezed through many of the scenes in Act 1, making only minor tweaks, but I scrapped and rewrote a good chunk of Act 2 and the entirety of Act 3.

And there’s the rub: I rewrote a lot of this manuscript, but not always in massive chunks. A paragraph here, a few pages there, and it didn’t take long to lose track of how much of my word count was new. So, no pretty graphs this time. And no excerpts to post on the blog yet, either, because this sucker still needs a lot of work.

So what’s next? Some well-deserved rest, some tinkering with just-for-fun projects, and then I’ll jump back into the third draft towards the end of 2016. I plan on using this blog more actively, both for funny articles and for some shorter works of fiction that don’t need a massive multi-year editing process to smooth off those rough edges.

My editing process

hemingway

  1. Sit down
  2. Realize I should turn on computer
  3. Fiddle with every object around my writing space
  4. Turn on computer
  5. Wander away while computer is booting up
  6. Come back after computer has booted up and gone to sleep
  7. Jiggle mouse
  8. Jiggle mouse some more
  9. Impatiently turn monitor off and back on again
  10. Sign in
  11. Wander away while computer is logging in
  12. Come back to computer, stare at desktop, trying to remember what I was doing
  13. Open some folders
  14. Nope, just pictures of kittens I saved from the internet in there
  15. Remember that all my work is in Google Drive and wouldn’t be in any folder on my desktop
  16. Click browser shortcut
  17. Impatiently click browser shortcut 20 more times
  18. Computer freezes
  19. Wander away while computer is frozen
  20. Come back to find 20 browser windows open
  21. Consider navigating to Google Drive
  22. Checking Twitter real quick won’t hurt
  23. The world needs to know my feminist interpretation of Jurassic World in 140 character installments
  24. I wonder what Tumblr has to say about this
  25. Return from Tumblr fugue state two hours later
  26. Navigate through Google Drive to the folder where I saved my current project
  27. I should look at Facebook real quick, just in case I forgot any events I needed to be at two weeks from now
  28. Message friend “have you seen the new captain awkward, everyone is wrong about everything”
  29. Emerge from Facebook fugue state an hour later
  30. Check clock, decide it’s not too late to write something
  31. Open HabitRPG
  32. Stare at HabitRPG daily task “Write 100 words” real hard just in case it makes you feel inspired
  33. Try really, really hard to feel inspired
  34. Open document
  35. Bathroom break
  36. Tea break
  37. Vacuuming break
  38. Complain to boyfriend about how busy I am
  39. Another tea break
  40. Return to document
  41. Stare at document
  42. Tea break
  43. Teak break
  44. Tea break
  45. Slowly type exactly 100 words
  46. Suddenly get inspired, realize the solution that will fix all this story’s problems
  47. Realize it’s bed time

Repeat tomorrow

Word count 2015

It’s time for my annual attempt to count up every single word of fiction I wrote over the course of 365 days. This was a hard year to quantify, because I did a lot of revising/polishing/burning to the ground and rebuilding from the ashes of projects I put aside in 2014, and I didn’t keep a completely accurate tally of how many new words I added to old manuscripts. I also had more side projects, which I picked up and put down whenever I felt like it.

This year was also a rough one for me personally, and I had to come to terms with the fact that there were times when I was tired and stressed and pushing myself to write more fiction would lead to burnout. I also got a new job (awesome!) with a huge writing component (super awesome!) but didn’t include those words in my count.

Total Word Count, 2015

word count total 2015

Not bad, considering! I wasn’t quite as productive on paper as I was in 2014, but I moved several manuscripts closer to an actually readable state.

Words per week, 2015

words per week 2015

Ok, here’s the part where I should have kept better track of what I was doing. I worked on five distinct projects in 2015, but only recorded weekly word counts for one set of revisions and one new novel. Some of the weeks when my word count appears to fall to zero are weeks when I actually didn’t do any writing, but others were weeks when I was working on something I didn’t track.

Total Word Count by Project, 2015

total word count by project 2015

Again, I only tracked the revisions and the novel. They both have roughly the pattern I like to see progress-wise (a nice rising slope without too many plateaus).

So, what’s next for 2016? A whole lot more words on the page, but more importantly, at least one draft in finished form. I’d like to begin serializing the novel here some time in.

Previous years’ word counts: 2013, 2014

How to cure writer’s block

hemingway

Take a break. Step away from your work. Leave your house. Change your name. Don’t tell your loved ones where you’re going. Let them think you died in that plane crash. Three decades later, reappear with a younger, blonder wife and a memoir about the life you led on the run.

*

Hemingway never got writer’s block. Every day, he stood across the room from his typewriter and shot each letter key with his pistol. Then he would down a fifth of whiskey and sleep with an alluring yet emotionally distant woman. That’s what you need as a writer: a consistent routine.

*

Try using a writing prompt to get started. Here’s one: what if you never break through this block, and wander through life feeling dull and uninspired, half believing you have wasted your potential and half understanding that you never had any potential to begin with?

*

What about that Twilight lady? She’s pretty big these days. What if you did that, but with zombies? Think about it.

*

As Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I just hate doing it. Why didn’t I listen to my mother and become an electrician instead? That’s good, steady work. I should have listened. Writing is the worst.”

Word count 2014

Remember how I said I finished a novel this year? Just kidding, I actually finished two novels. And now I’m going to make you stare at word count charts, because I’m an obsessive weirdo when it comes to counting up all them words.

My total word count for this year, not counting this blog, was 135,900 words. That is, in layman’s terms, way too many words.

total word count

Yes, I know this color coding doesn’t match the other charts. No, I’m not going to fix it. This is my navel gazing session, thank you very much.

The glowing lines on this chart are my work this year. Novel #1 is the story I set out to write, and novel #2 is the accidental novel I started, and finished, just to see if I could.

rising word count

And here’s the words per week chart. I’m getting better about writing consistently, but you can still see that my enthusiasm for a project only lasts 3-4 months. Next year, I’m going to try taking real breaks between projects, so I can recharge and hopefully avoid burnout.

words per week

Both of these novels will sit on my hard drive until January 1st, and then I’ll begin the process of cleaning them up. Novel #1 needs a complete rewrite, and novel #2 requires serious pruning. Novel #1 may be marketable some day in the very distant future. I’m going to spend 2015 doing a complete rewrite and then sending it out to beta readers. Novel #2 is such a strange duck that I doubt I’ll ever find a publisher willing to take a chance on it. I’ll make it as good as it can possibly get, because goodness knows I need the practice, but if it ever sees the light of day it’ll probably be free to read on this blog.

In praise of criticism

If you don’t follow the book blogging community closely, you may not be aware that there have been multiple recent incidents of authors stalking and assaulting book reviewers for daring to give their books negative reviews. This is deeply fucked up, and many book bloggers understandably chose to stop reviewing books for their own safety.

All writers have blind spots when it comes to their own work; it’s a psychological fact that we’re awful at spotting our own mistakes. It certainly stings when someone else points out a glaring flaw in the piece you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into–but as an author, it’s your responsibility to deal with that pain like a mature adult.

So in light of everything that’s gone down, I’d like to take a moment to talk about my favorite book and movie critics. These reviewers have made criticism an art form in its own right; their breakdowns of the things they love (or love to hate) are amusing, educational, and sometimes even profound.

Red Letter Media: Plinkett Reviews

Mr. Plinkett is the creation of film reviewer Mike Stoklasa. He’s a crotchety old serial killer who’s taken time off his murder spree to review films in intense, almost excruciating detail. Plinkett doesn’t waste much time trying to determine whether a film deserves critical acclaim; he’s more concerned with whether a piece is effective at holding the audience’s attention and appealing to our emotions. His reviews of the Star Wars prequels are brilliant breakdowns of exactly how the films manages to fail so spectacularly on so many levels. I’d also recommend his reviews of Avatar and Titanic for a nuanced look at the filmmaking techniques that are best for appealing to your audience’s emotions.

Jenny Trout: Jenny Reads 50 Shades of Grey

Jenny Trout is a successful romance writer who’s penned her own kink-focused series. Her chapter by chapter take-down of 50 Shades of Grey is brilliant because she knows exactly what’s not working and why. Jenny lays every misstep out for us: the misused romantic tropes, the unhealthy relationship dynamic, the awkward and inappropriate phrasing, the obvious plagiarism of plot points and characters, and more. Sometimes writers need to see a story taken apart to understand why it works (or in this case, doesn’t work), and this review is a perfect dissection of an imperfect specimen.

Lindy West: Film reviews (various sites)

Most of Lindy West’s articles these days are broader cultural criticism, but every once in a while she picks a movie or book and goes deep into everything that went wrong, and she’s brilliant every time. You’re going to have to read her work for yourself–there’s no way to reduce her quirky, incisive humor to a few pithy sentences. Here, I’ll try: one time she interviewed a fart. I still think about Sam Tarly’s thyroid every time I reread Game of Thrones. Her review of Love Actually is devastatingly correct and contains phrases like “the Misuse-of-government-funds-mobile” and “cock-blocktopus.”

Victory Lap

Well, I just finished another text-based product of novel length.* It’s still rough, but it’s the closest thing I’ve ever produced to a coherent piece of fiction on this scale: the story is more plot than hole, the characters are iffy but not completely undeveloped, and the structure is close to coherent. No major characters pop into or out of existence halfway through. That’s something!

I learned a tremendous amount since last year about working on a project of this magnitude. Check out my weekly word count for 2014:

Words per week

It’s still not soaring as high as 2012, but I’m still writing more consistently than I was in 2013. 2014 has been a better and less stressful year for me personally, which certainly didn’t hurt my output, but I also learned how to outline a complete story before I’m in the middle of it and floundering. You can see the effect on my total word count:

Total word count

I started the year with almost 10,000 words in my outline, and those rough descriptions of upcoming scenes were hugely helpful when I got stuck. I used a lazy version of the snowflake method, which was handy because the story I was telling was not exactly in chronological order.

Now it’s time to put this manuscript out of sight while I try to put it out of mind for a few months at minimum. I could do this crazy thing called “relaxing,” but I’m probably going to jump straight into another project.

 

* Yes, I know that “novel length” is up for debate as a unit of measurement.

How I spent 2013

2013 marks my second year of completing a novel-length textual product.* I didn’t technically finish a novel, in the sense that I do not have a manuscript that is ready to be released into the world, but I did complete the structure on which a more polished story will one day hang, and I passed the word count that is generally considered to be novel-length.**

* I technically spewed out more words when I was freelancing in 2011 and the beginning of 2012, but that wasn’t fiction and wasn’t on my own projects so I’m not considering it part of my work count.

** I’m going off the NaNoWriMo rules, which count 50,000 words as the threshold for a novel. Other counts differ; for a final draft, I’m shooting for somewhere between 80-100,000 words.

Because I’m fascinated by how different people handle the writing process, I tracked my word count for the past two years and made some graphs showing my progress.

Words per week

Words per week

I kind of stumbled into my 2012 project; you can see the spike in April where I wrote the first bit, then the long stretch of time when I left it alone before realizing that hey, there might be something there after all. Once I realized that I wanted to finish the story, I quickly got into the habit of writing at least 2000 words per week (mostly by writing on my lunch breaks).

In 2013, I started off knowing that I wanted to do a similar project, but my word count was lower per week and I finished later in the year. 2013 was a much rougher year for me personally. Some of the dips down to 0 were weeks when an illness/emergency/move/whatever meant that all my energy went into something other than writing. Those multi-week stretches at 0 are times when I didn’t have a working computer (my old desktop ate power supplies for breakfast).

The way I wrote in 2012 was definitely more fun, and I’ll try to get back in the habit of writing every day in 2014.

Word count over time

Word count rising

Here’s a cheerier chart. You can see how long I spent not paying attention to writing in 2012, and the sudden burst of effort towards the end of the year when my self-imposed deadline was looming. Starting earlier in 2013 paid off; despite my lower weekly word counts, I was still ahead of my 2012 progress until mid-October. I’ll be doing the same in 2014, with the benefit of an outline so I can write even faster.

Total word count

total words two years

The story I wrote in 2012 was the only fiction project I was seriously tinkering with that year. In 2013, I wrote a smidge over 12,000 words on a just-for-fun side project, plus 4,000 words on the outline for the story I’ll be working on in 2014 (I didn’t track these projects in my weekly word count chart; that was just the novel-length textual product). So, despite the low weekly word counts and 10,000 words less in the tally at year’s end, I did surpass my word count from 2012. I also started this blog, but I’m only counting fiction in these totals.

Although it’s not apparent in the charts, my 2013 project is much, much closer to resembling an actual novel. It doesn’t have any scenes left unfinished, its plot is more or less functional, and I won’t have to completely hack it to bits in the editing process. The 2012 project was so rough that revising it will be less like polishing and more like selecting passages to recycle in a better story.

What now?

Now I lock my little proto-novels away in a drawer, where they can stew in their own juices for a while before I’m ready to start editing. Since I’ve proved to myself that I can write something 1) long enough to be considered a novel and 2) semi-coherent, I’m taking on a more ambitious project in 2014, with the goal of ending the year with something much closer to a final draft.