Disconnection: dissected

10May09

Out of clutter

find Simplicity

From discord

find Harmony

In the middle of difficulty

Lies Opportunity

(Albert Einstein)

I finished the rewrite of Disconnection last week. To say it’s a relief to finish it would be an understatement – the level of writing-discipline involved in a rework of that scale – virtually a rebuild from the ground up, as the themes and structure changed so much from the terrible first draft AND an entirely new sub-story needed to come in – is way beyond what I’d normally exercise, and much more demanding than the wild scrawls of a first draft. Not just in terms of actively shaping and controlling the direction of the story along the planned revision lines, but also in terms of trying to stop the ‘bad habits’ I’ve been picked up on in critiques of previously completed works. Still, it’s a buzz that it’s done, and I can call that a closure and put it aside for a couple of months to let the wounds heal and the emotions subside before I come back for the edits. It’s just too raw, right now.

Disconnection: Kultmagick (Flickr commons)

Disconnection: Kultmagick (Flickr commons)

Learning something new means nothing unless you look back and measure its success. (Alex Fayle, Someday Syndrome).

So, the stats: 46 days elapsed time, start to finish, but only 20 days actual writing. So, between burnouts, illnesses and visitors, I had 26 unproductive days in amongst the writing programme.

Total words in this draft, 57,397.  Average words per day, over the elapsed time: 1,248 wpd. Over actual writing days, 2,870. However, because I switched from a two scene per day writing basis to a single scene-per-day basis, I dropped from a 3k wpd average to a 2k wpd average when I changed methodology.

Going forward, I think I will be using scenes rather than raw wordcount to measure progress – I think it is more productive and makes me focus more on the *story* rather than on just throwing words at the page (and hoping some of them will stick 😉 ).

Working on a two-scene -per-day (c.3k words per day) basis was painful and exhausting and led to the need to take long breaks from the MS, and actually meant it took longer, start-to-finish, than if I’d worked 1 scene per day on a consistent, daily basis.

One scene per day felt comfortable, and gave me enough time around the main deep-writing session for wind-up and wind-down activities like blogging and critiquing and other exercises in writing and/or communication. It’s worth noting that if I’d written consistently on a 1-scene-per-day basis, the elapsed time would have been 34 days start-to-finish, and I would have been done before we had the nightmare week-of-illness.

Writing to an outline, note-carded plan worked well for this novel, and I will use it again going forward. What I need to know for my planning processes, is that my average scene is around 1800 words. On that basis, an average 80k word novel will need 44 scenes, and on the basis of writing a scene per day, take 44 days to write. Probably, it should be called closer to 50, since I know it’s inevitable that my life will detonate bombs of some sort during a period of such long duration 🙂 Sometimes, it will take me much longer. The Sere novel, for example, I have already note-carded, and is sitting at some 68 scenes – that will come out at approx 122k words, which is perhaps a little heavy, but more-or-less in line with the average for the genre. It will, however, take me significantly longer than the month I originally scheduled for it.

This draft of Disconnection, however, has come out a little lighter than I expected – at 34 scenes the average words per scene is closer to 1700 words than my normal 18oo, but I know that I have some scenes that are so dialogue-heavy that there is almost no supporting description, and that, obviously, will need to be addressed. What it does tell me, however, is that if the story is driven so heavily by the dialogue, then character interactions are CENTRAL to the novel. That means I need to make sure that the background detail I add, including supporting character mannerisms and body language etc, needs to be in line with those interactions and enhance them rather than distract. I shall be adding that to the list of things I need to watch for when I do get to the edit pass, later this year. Other things on the list are:

  • diffusing the opening of scenes with pointless and confusing ‘setting’ description
  • adverb & passive voice abuse/laziness
  • coherence and completion of individual story arcs
  • is the conflict/tension/action close enough to the surface of the story, or have I gone too far in subtlety?
  • where have I chickened out of really digging into the dark stuff to nail this story?

It’s a fair old list, but I’ve got some bad habits ….

Looking slightly more broadly, Disconnection has taught me that:

  1. I need the space to breathe and play around the intense writing phase of my session, particularly with a novel like this one which goes deeper and darker than anything I’ve written before. As well as giving me a little relief from the hard mental and emotional slog, it also releases me from accumulating stress and frustration around associated writerly activities like reading, reviewing, critiquing others’ work and, of course, the short story administrative workload.
  2. I need to disconnect from all distractions and be disciplined about staying disconnected from them until I do hit the session or day’s targets. Added to that, I need a clearly defined start time, otherwise I can fritter time away on non-essential warm-up tasks and end up starting too late to be properly productive.
  3. I need more sleep. The days I went to bed at 11:30 pm made for much better next days – more energy, more enthusiasm, more productive and better motivation and focus.

I feel that bringing these things into my planning will allow me to be more realistic about the goals I set myself, and that more realistic planning will make for greater happiness – I will reduce frustration and stress about the targets not hit and the projects not completed when I wanted them to be done.

For now, I must also take on board the understanding that I’ not really comfortable if I have *nothing* to do. I need goals and structure in my life, though I’m not sure why that is, and I’m not entirely convinced that my inability to sit still and just ‘stand and stare’ (to quote W H Davies) is a healthy thing.  That is not going to be easy, but then, nothing worthwhile ever is.

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2 Responses to “Disconnection: dissected”

  1. 1 Erin

    Heh. Something amusing as you talk about Disconnection for you to say, “I need to disconnect from all distractions and be disciplined about staying disconnected.”

    Good lessons. When I was working through Christmas Tree, I was focusing on chapters and scenes. I tracked what my overall word count was, but I didn’t have a goal per day. I think that still works better for me on first draft, though.

    So, since you’ve finished this project, does that mean you’re charging into Sere, applying the lessons you’ve learned?

    • 2 ellsea

      I know – the irony wasn’t lost on me, but the novel title is the novel title 😉

      No charging into Sere – I’m planning it for a November WRIMO start, hopefully end sometime mid-Jan. I’ve got a round of Anneth edits and a novella – Contain This Hour – to write in between now and then. First, a month or so off, to get caught up on HTTS and a whole bunch of reading, critiquing and short-story admin tasks.


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