Jay Lake: Writer

Contact Me Home
>

[Process]

[process] Analyzing the writing of Calamity of So Long a Life

As I mentioned over the weekend, Calamity of So Long a Life is finally off my desk and out into the world. More about that when there’s more to report.

Now that I’m embarking on Their Currents Turn Awry, this seems like a good time to review what I’ve done with Calamity. Checking my production information, I find the following:

150.0 hours of writing (includes the synopsis, and about 65,000 words of Currents)
90.25 hours of revision
240.25 hours total

If I fudge out 32.5 hours for the work that has turned into the first part of Their Currents Turn Awry, using an assumed base production rate of 2,000 words per hour, that still leaves me with the following:

117.5 hours of writing time (includes the synopsis)
90.25 hours of revision
207.75 hours total

I can further fudge out 75.5 hours for the work on drafting Calamity of So Long a Life, in order to break out the outlining process from the drafting process, I get the following:

42.0 hours of writing time (outline)
75.5 hours of writing time (first draft)
90.25 hours of revision
207.75 hours total

In effect, I wrote the first draft of Calamity of So Long a Life at roughly the same clip I’ve been drafting for a long while, since I deliberately applied the brakes to slow myself down. As I have discussed a number of occasions, that’s 1,800 words an hour, with bursts up to 2,500 words an hour. I average about 2,000 words an hour over a large scale project.

One thing that is different about this book is that I expended a very large amount of time on the outline, both in up front effort and in ongoing tweaks once the project was underway. As it currently stands, the outline is about 120 pages long, totaling 28,400 words in its own right. I haven’t even accounted for all the time on the outline prior to 2011, as I’d been prethinking and making notes on Sunspin for several years prior to that.

Another thing that is different about this book is that I’ve greatly expanded the amount of time spent on revisions. For productivity planning purposes, I used to estimate 100 hours to write a 200,000 word first draft, and another 50 hours for revisions. In other words, revisions consumed 50% of the time that a first draft consumed. What has happened on Calamity is that revisions now consume 120% of the time that the first draft consumed.

Even in just drafting this blog post, I am surprised by these numbers. I hadn’t realized how much time I’d sunk into revisions. It’s not surprising in retrospect, as I added two major steps to my process as compared to prior books. But still… As for the outline, I’ve known all along that Sunspin has been requiring a radically different investment in that part of the process. And it has really paid off.

Both of these trends are almost certainly very good things. Is it taking me longer to write a book with the expanded prep time and the expanded revision time? Obviously. Considerably longer. But writing isn’t a horse race, and nobody gives out medals for being fast. Because I believe that by taking all this extra time both before and after executing the first draft, I’m writing a much, much better book.

Or at any rate, I really hope so. If I’m not improving, I’m doing it wrong.

First drafts have always been the most joyous part of the process for me. They still are. Discovering the story, seeing it unroll onto the page, is where I get my greatest writer yayas. All this time spent on the synopsis and the revision? That’s me maturing and developing as a writer. Giving you more reader yayas, ideally.

I’m already applying these expanded processes to both Little Dog: Son of a Bitch (co-authored under [info]bravado111‘s guidance) and to Their Currents Turn Awry. I haven’t yet seen validation from the market, the critics or the readers, but I really believe in these changes, and trust that others will, too. And as always, I’m looking forward to whatever happens next.

This is a fun, fun career.


Note: I know some people take considerable exception when I make these very metrics-driven process posts. Please understand that I use this kind of thinking in two places.

One, when I’m budgeting my writing time a year or two ahead, so I know what I can produce in what time frames.

Two, after the fact, when I’m looking to derive lessons learned from a project. As in this post right here.

When I’m actually doing the writing, in the flow, I barely think about this stuff at all. Story comes first, always. But in order to be a competent, deadline oriented professional, it’s important to me and my process to understand the underpinnings. Hence the quantitative analysis.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments

« | »