Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A few weeks ago, I finished my 3rd draft of this novel. Yippee!

This 3rd draft incorporates feedback from a proofreader and friend who read the entire novel and gave me comments. As I have mentioned before, a writer has three hats: research, writing and editing. Note that proofreading is NOT a writers hat. Obviously, a spell checker such as that in MS Word can and should be used to catch misspellings but it does not flag things like 'desert' instead of 'dessert' and 'envelop' instead of ‘envelope.’ It is difficult for me or any writer to see his own spelling, grammatical, and other errors. The writer tends to see what he meant to say and does not see that misspelled word or even an extraneous word staring him in the face. And it's not his hat! So, a markup by a professional proofreader is a must for any manuscript prior to publication.

Today, I finished mailing out bound copies of my manuscript to a select list of twenty people for feedback prior to my next edit. They include several other writers, a Senior Legislative Fellow working for the U.S. Congress, a marketing whiz, a magazine editor, a school teacher, etc., many of whom are avid readers of my genre. I've asked them to give me their AUDIENCE VIEWPOINT, as opposed to artistic criticism. Were any parts unclear? Did anything elicit disbelief? What was their degree of interest from chapter to chapter? How entertaining was it compared to others of the same genre? Were there any principle characters that they felt they didn’t understand well enough (for his/her role in the story)? Were any parts too slow or unneeded? And so forth. As with proofreading, it is vital for a writer to get such feedback from others on his work. It can be the difference between a merely good novel and a great novel. :-)

While I await feedback from all or most of these parties, I can now take my attention completely off this particular novel and get started on my next project!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Whoa! I’ve been away a long time! I decided that the only way I was going to finish this novel was to put my nose to the grindstone so-to-speak and not look up. As a result, the first draft my novel is finally done! I finished the last chapter while my wife and I were visiting her parents on Long Island at the end of August. The novel is 172 thousand words -- roughly 500 paperback pages, which is about average for adventure novels by guys like Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, etc.

Since then, I've filled in some 50 remaining minor pieces of research, such as: what is the Japanese equivalent for a Fortune 500 company and what is the fastest human reaction time? .

This novel took longer than expected primarily because it required far more research than planned. This was because it takes place in so many countries and cities (and cultures), and also because it covers such a broad spectrum of human activity. I felt I needed to get the details right rather than just make it up. For example, few know that the White House Chief of Staff's office is not next to the Oval Office as portrayed in "The West Wing" TV series. That's artistic license and I have taken some as well, but I wanted to do so only when it was needed, not because I didn't know better!

The book ends in Geneva and I really wanted to go over there, but time did not permit. So, for Geneva and the Palais des Nations alone, I compiled nearly 200 items of research. These were maps, photos, delegate guides, documents and web sites, to give me the inside information I needed to write the action.

Altogether, my research folder for this book now totals 791 items covering everything from types of cheeses, records of previous Peace Summits, Arab slang, to web sites describing the principal terrorist organizations in the world.

I am currently making the first rough edit, following which I will send it out to certain trusted readers. I’m primarily interested in their take on the overall theme and structure, particularly on how well it holds their interest and whether anything is confusing. After I get that feedback, I will restructure it as needed, tighten it up where possible, and do a final polish!

By the way, in my last BLOG entry, I discussed the use of an Excel spreadsheet to outline and coordinate what was going on in different locations. This particular device became even more useful at the end of this novel where I had highly related activities occurring in four key locations (one in an entirely different time zone). I still found it important, as Steven King says, to 'discover' the details of the plot and action as I went along. So I used the outline (as laid out in the spreadsheet) only as a rough guide and revised it as needed to keep pace with the developing plot line. Nevertheless, it was a vital tool to coordinate the action and the timing of the action across different time zones.

Friday, April 02, 2004

I have this past week run into a wall on my book. I had three different (but related) major story lines going on in 3 different countries - with 3 different time zones - all which would eventually merge. After a while, it became more and more difficult to keep them coordinated and my writing started going slower and slower and slower! So, over the past two days, I've been outlining the 3 different tracks on an Excel spreadsheet in order to make them integrate, forward the main story, and at the same time, build interest and tension. In essence, I've been forced to go into a more detailed outline of the novel because of the complexity introduced by three different tracks in three different countries. Once this more complex outline is done, I'll revise what I've already written into a tighter sequence of events that will increase the readers interest in what is going to happen next. More later!

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The daily tracking of my writing statistic (words written per day) reveals some interesting things about my speed of writing. I already mentioned that doing research and certainly editing, dramatically reduces my (or anyone's) word output. But, the other thing I have noticed is that the type of material being written also has a dramatic effect. In particular, writing story-prose, as opposed to dialog, reduces my word output to maybe 150 words per hour. By story-prose, I mean a third person description of what is going on. By contrast, when I start writing dialog, my rate increases to around 400 words per hour. So, if the style that fits a particular section of my novel is mostly story, it is not realistic for me to meet my 2000 words-a-day target that day. If it's dialog, it's a piece of cake. However, since I personally rarely write 2000 words of continuous dialog, the degree to which my 2000 words-a-day target is realistic depends in good part on the mix of story versus dialog. So, the key to really knowing whether my production is going up or down is not to worry so much about the day to day variation but to look at the trend line over the week and over several weeks. Well, back to my novel!

Monday, March 15, 2004

Talk about distractions! I'm on a brief vacation to visit my inlaws in Boynton Beach, Florida. I did manage to write about 400 words late last night between 10:30 pm and midnight, but that's all I've done since we left on this trip. On Friday before we left, word production was also low because I spent most of the time editing what I had written the previous week. Now, generally I find it is a mistake to start editing before I'm done with a 1st draft. The general rule is that there are 3 major hats in writing, namely, research, writing (creating really), and editing; and one should never mix those hats. In another words, when you write, write; when you edit, edit; and when you research, just do research. When you try to write a little bit and then edit it and then write some more and edit that, your production will suffer enormously as will the overall smooth flow and quality of your material. So, for the most part, I try to do the research up front, write the 1st draft next, and then edit the entire manuscript last. But, as I mentioned in a previous post, I do find that the absence of certain critical details during my writing (e.g., foreign names, details about locations, etc.) creates the need for continuing research. In the same vein, there's no absolutes on never doing any editing when I'm writing. So, as long as it's infrequent, if I get the hankering to edit something when I'm looking over it, I will go ahead and do it. I'm looking forward to getting home tomorrow and ramping up my production on this novel again. Meantime, I'm laid back and enjoying spending time with my wife, and her sister and parents. Later!

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Well, my research from Tues, Wed & Thurs paid off! On Friday, my story took off again (see 'Novel Stat Graph' link at right). It's got color, realism, and it's beginning to sing opera (ha-ha so-to-speak). In other words, I'm on a roll again and the quality of what I'm writing is high. This research on the Arabic world and the subculture of the mujahidin was interesting but I would far rather have been writing. Nevertheless, it's simply one of the jobs that I have to do on a fairly continuing basis. I know writers that do all of their research up front which is great since they can then focus on the story and their writing of it. But, what works better for me is to research as I go as I often cannot predict in advance what I need to research. PART OF THE REASON IS THIS: When I create my characters, I truly create them. Now let's not get mystical about this. Nevertheless, you'll find that many successful novelists will allude to this phenomena. They have a plot or a 'what if' in mind that gets them started on the novel. And they often prepare extensive outlines. But, within these parameters, there's an enormous range of possible actions, conversations, etc. When I have truly envisioned my characters well, complete with background, personality traits, goals (or not), interests, peculiarities, compulsions, etc., they come alive on my pages and they sometimes say or do things that I wasn't expecting. The reason is simple: real people are complex and do the darnest things! When the words and actions truly come from that character I've invented, it comes across with reality and interest to my readers. As a result, the story itself has something of a life of its own within the broad outline that I've layed out. Often, the locations it takes me and the situations that are encountered need additional research to flesh out the details that are so vital to the novel's realism. Later!

Thursday, March 04, 2004

My production for Tuesday and Wednesday on my novel was 1,100 and 1,400 words, respectively. That's well off my target of 2,000 and it's why I keep a chart and graph of my 'stats' (production statistics). It tells me when I'm doing well and when I'm not. When I'm doing well, I just keep doing what I am doing. When I'm not doing so well, it tells me that I've got to change something so it doesn't continue that way. Now, this doesn't mean you get down on yourself every time your writing production drops. There could be a lot of valid reasons of it such as having to do more research than normal which was true in my case on both Tuesday and Wednesday. But, if it continues, then we gotta change something! Capisce? (I'm not Italian although my wife is but I just read a novel which had a lot of that in it, so 'scusi' my language, okay?) There's no substitute for research. When I get uncomfortable in an area as I did on Tuesday and Wednesday concerning the Arabic world and the subculture of the mujahidin (Islamic warriors), I start reading everything I can get my hands on relating to it. That takes time but it adds reality and color to your story. So, its worth it providing that you pick up the pace afterwards! More later!

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