Working on Scarlett, Version 2.0

This blog post was inspired in part by a conversation I had on Twitter with @misabuckley (go follow her), which started off thusly (read from the bottom up with this one):

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I’ll admit that my initial reaction to these tweets was, “Hey, now!” because there are authors out there who have a writing system that works for them, and having an outside job (or two, or more) doesn’t delegitimise their system at all. I tweeted Misa to say I disagreed with the above because some folks do make a living with their writing. It’s maybe rare, but not unheard of. Not only that, but there are authors who hit the jackpot with relatively low productivity. Yes, I’m playing the Harper Lee card and we’re just going to pretend Go Set a Watchman was never a thing, okay? Okay.

Writing in different media? Well, novelists gonna novel, poets gonna po and never the twain shall meet, for the purposes of this blog post. In other words, I don’t wanna write across different media and you can’t make me, nyar!

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I swear a lot. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll get to know this.

So, back to Misa. She pointed out (rightly) that we have different circumstances, therefore we have different thresholds of what counts as ‘self-supporting’.

Misa’s married with about seventeen kids (okay, five, but I bet it feels like seventeen at times!) and I’m single and childfree. Naturally we have different amounts in our “This is how much I need to live on,” boxes. Behold:

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I have a day job that I’d give my left nut to be able to quit. If I had a nut. Which I don’t. So I should probably get one so I can give it. I can either look for alternate employment (which I’ve started to do, ssh, don’t tell my boss) or throw myself body and soul into trying to make something of this writing gig. Well, I can do both; this requires time management skills which I am, at this moment, sadly lacking. Which is why this blog post.

Since I resurrected my blogging and vowed to get back into writing regularly I’ve been thinking about tracking my routine and monitoring the results more closely than I have before. I’ve read Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k approximately eleventy billion times, and this is something she did to up her productivity. It seems silly for me to want to get back into writing without studying closely what helps me get more words on the page. I left it to chance before, and…well, look what happened. It was hit and miss. And I ended up missing.

If I track the times I write and output, I can, like Rachel Aaron did, figure out under which circumstances the words splurt out of my fingers like a splurty thing out of a…a…receptacle of splurt.

Might need to work on my word choice too…anyhoo…

Is output down to planning, as Misa says above? All I can go on is my own experience, in my earlier incarnation. Yep, I’m writing under the same name but I’ve deleted all previous blog posts and this is Scarlett version 2.0. So referring to my “earlier incarnation” feels like I’m talking about a different person with a different career.

My first book, Long Time Coming, was written without any plan or outline. The first draft took five and a half months with one full month off in the middle of that and ended up somewhere around 147k words. On editing (which took a fortnight), I shaved it down to 85k words. That’s less a shave and more a full-on back, crack and sack wax.

Was that because I didn’t outline the book? Well, no. Because I later outlined Plus One, which came in at 125k words and I still needed to cut it down. Not by 62k words as with LTC, I’ll admit, but “only” 50k words, which took it down to a final draft of approximately 75k words. Sorry, I can’t remember how long that first draft took in total. I didn’t track it and have since forgotten that detail.

In total, in only two novels, I overwrote by 112,000 words.

112,000 words.

*gulp*

I reckon I overwrote so monstrously because I was at the beginning of my career and still feeling my way. And I’m back to a similar situation, finding out what works for me, these days. Situations change and what works for one author might not work for another. Heck, what works for the same author might change over the course of a career, more than once. As I’ve just illustrated, I’ve pantsed some work and outlined other books.

So while I’d say what you actually write doesn’t necessarily require planning, I’d say planning times and circumstances in which you write could be a help. It’s certainly worth trying in my case, and to block out time and circumstances, I need to study when it feels easier for me to get words on the page. As things stand, I’m trying to get back in the game after being off the damned field for years. Starting all over again, really.

Plus One, which I outlined? That was a book of which I managed to write 19,500 words in three days — I remember because I had three days in a row of almost exactly the same count, 6,500 words. That stuck in my mind because I was high as a kite on wordlove. I felt great. I’d love to repeat that and have never managed to since. I knew what to write because I had the outline. I just didn’t know when I was going to write, what time of day, how my health would be, how much sleep I’d get. What my diet was like. Other demands on my time.

That near-20k was entirely down to chance, and I don’t know how to replicate it because I don’t know what I did right.

You know something else? I wrote sod all for weeks afterwards. And I just bolded the above text because I feel like I had to write out this blog post to finally get that. The penny just dropped for me so hard. How can I expect to replicate optimum writing circumstances if I don’t know what they are? Sure, I could push through and get the words out and feel like I’m pulling teeth, or I could say, “Okay, looks like I need to get X hours’ sleep, eat whatever, clear so many hours in my diary.”

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying while I get back into writing, I’m going to track, monitor and possibly blog the details of, not just the words I write, but the stuff around the words. My ultimate aim? To return to an earlier part of this post, my goal is to earn ‘quit the day job’ money which is different for everyone, I know, but I have my financial target in mind. But that’s my ultimate aim. My immediate aim is to get to know myself, and my writing better, so that I can look after the former and produce more of the latter.

Please to follow Misa on Twitter here and make sure you pick up a copy of Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k on Amazon US or Amazon UK and I’ll see you in my next blog post.