Friday, February 26, 2010

That's Me Done, Then

I have just now finished typing up the last pages of the first draft of "Cocke & Bull." Done! At 11:17 PST. I actually wrote the last words a little before 6:00 PM on the bus, but I don't count it until it's in the main Word(tm) document. Which it now is, kids, and I so rulez. Yes, I do.

wordcountometer = 73,082!

Not that it matters, but that's a tad longer than the first draft of my last book. If things go the same way with this book that they did on that book, I should gain another 10K during the first revision. Which revision won't happen until sometime late spring or early summer, I believe. I have another novel to revise (again) next.

But still, I'm done with the first run through of "Cocke & Bull" and I think it's the best thing I've ever written. It's sad and funny and terrifying and sweet and everything I wanted it to be. And now I'm off to bed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sick Day, Chapter Twenty-Three

Last night after work I felt awful, and I felt increasingly awful as the night progressed. Mighty Reader made tea and toast for me and we watched the Olympics a bit and then called it a night. This morning I knew I'd never make it through my work day so I called in sick and went back to bed, dragging myself up and about the house around 11:00 AM. Some tea, some croissant, a bit of restorative chocolate and then I made myself comfortable on the chaise lounge we keep in the Designated Writing Room, had another cup of tea and a bit more chocolate, and then I wrote for several hours and have finished the penultimate chapter of "Cocke & Bull." That's right, just one more chapter to write, and the first draft will be finished. If I can get it done by midnight on Sunday, I will have brought this thing home an entire month ahead of schedule. That makes me a badass. No, it does. A middle-aged badass with poor posture and a receding hairline, but a badass nonetheless. So there.

I've written the first sentence of the final chapter, because it's been my method throughout this draft to never leave off at a chapter break. It's a good first sentence (The news reached Edwin Hammond early the next morning, as he was having breakfast.) and although I was in a bit of a panic for a few minutes about how exactly I was going to actually end the book--what the structure and contents of this last chapter were even though I knew how the story itself ends--I wisely had a look at the outline I wrote way back on October 1st of last year and by God, it's a damned fine outline because the few scribbled lines regarding this chapter have given me exactly the guidance I needed and I know how to go forward and finish the book. So, Win. I am learning to place trust in my initial inspiration, to have faith that at one point I could see the entire story with a clarity that gets lost during actual writing, and I should just believe what I told myself I needed to write and write it. Which I've done, and I'm pretty pleased with it. My only fear, of course, is that I'll get hit by a bus or something before I can write the last chapter. But I won't be plowing ahead right now and writing it, because I am exhausted and it's getting to be later than I thought it was and this is, after all, a sick day so why am I not on the couch under my blanket with a cuppa and a cat and the Olympics on TV?

wordcountometer = 68,289!

Yes, that's a few thousand words lower than I wanted at this point, but I figure that as long as the first draft comes in over 70K, I'm in good shape. I am positive that the final chapter will be at least 2,000 words. It feels like it's going to be closer to 3K. We'll see when we get there. I also have a few places in the first two chapters that I know need to be expanded a bit, which I may well do before I even finish the last chapter. I know: too much concern abuot word count, especially just for a first draft.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Things Like This Fascinate Me, Pt. 2: Wordcount Over Time

This graph tracks my progress on "Cocke & Bull" by showing the total word count as time passes. I am pretty pleased that there has been steady progress on the book. I recall that there was a fairly long lag time after about 20K words on my previous first draft when I was trying to figure out what to do with the story I'd begun once it had got underway. This time, behold the power of outlining:

Again, I'm not sure if there is anything to be learned from this chart, but things like this fascinate me. And, of course, posts with charts are more convenient for Big D to read at work, because he can almost pretend that he's looking at a science blog. What will, I think, be interesting will be a comparison of chapter lengths before-and-after revisions. Stay tuned for that one in a few months.

Edit to add: I have found the similar chart from my last book:

You can see where I started the project and then ignored it for some time (this is the only version of the chart I have, so the axis labels are illegible; sorry), and also where there was a lot of stalling in the middle of the book. So, huh.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

22 Down, 2 To Go

I have finished Chapter 22, at long last, and now I've got two remaining chapters to write and then the first draft will be finished! Yay, me.

wordcountometer = 66,776! A bit lower than I'd like, but it's a first draft and I know it will grow during revisions. Hell, I've already added stuff to the first chapter that I need to go back and add to the Word(tm) document. So apparently I am breaking one of my cardinal rules, and I'm editing a bit while still writing the first draft. Shame on me.

The elephant solution I have found works, I think, though likely it will all be cut in revisions, because life is like that. Mighty Reader has also urged a private joke on me, for inclusion in Chapter 22, and I am considering it but likely I won't use it because, once again, it adds nothing to the story and I ended up cutting a lot of those from my last book. Maybe, if it still seems droll after the revisions, I'll put it in. We'l see.

Anyway, two chapters to go. The next one will be interesting to write. I hope it's interesting to read when I'm done. As I close in on the end of this draft, I am a bundle of nerves second-guessing myself and really, I'd love to be done with this so I can just relax for a few weeks.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Still Thinking, Maybe

I am about 9,000 words from the end of the first draft of "Cocke & Bull." I've been at this stage since Tuesday afternoon, I think. I can write a thousand words a day with no problem, so really I should be looking at finishing this thing up by the end of February, especially if I take a couple of hours and get down to real work sometime this weekend. But, you know, I'm sort of not getting down to real work. The reason I am not is because I'm still thinking about the scene I'm writing.

Oh, I know what I want to do. I pretty much know the next sentence I want to write, and the one after that, and I have the chapter I'm in fairly well mapped out so it's not like I have writer's block or a failure of the imagination or anything like that. No, it's something more basic than that. I am worried that the scene I'm writing is going to be embarrassingly dumb. Because it will either be "OHMYGOD that is so amazing" or "huh?" and this close to the end of the book when I'm writing the climax of the whole thing, I suddenly find myself second-guessing my decisions. Not just my idea about the climax, but everything leading up to it as well.

I have felt this way for days, and I haven't written about it because I like to present myself as a confident, competent writer who moves boldly and writes bravely. But right now, I'm being a coward and I sit here at the edge of a precipice and don't even dare myself to jump. So now that I've said all of this, I am going to finish this scene when I go to lunch in about an hour. That'll show me.

And in the interest of full disclosure, the scene I am writing is landfall of a hurricane on the coastal plain of Virginia, October 19th 1749. I have cheated and moved the event from after midnight to late afternoon but it's my book so back off. The point of view is about to switch from that of William Bull (protagonist) to that of God (omnipotent and omniscient Christian deity). God is going to sum up Bull's actions and make some pronouncements about theme. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chapter 22 underway

I am well ahead of schedule for this first draft. I might actually have it finished before the end of the month. That would be really cool. The last chapters are flying by, mostly of course because they're all pretty short. I worry about that, but I'm sure it will be fine. My last novel's first draft was only about 72K, and I think "Cocke & Bull" will come in at about the same length. I already know that there are chapters in the first act that will need to be expanded.

Anyway, last night I finished Chapter 21 and wrote the first sentence of Chapter 22. Three chapters to go and then, yes then, I can have a break. Which is of course anothe way of saying that I can ignore "Cocke & Bull" while I write another draft of "Horatio." My work, never done. The wicked get no rest. Et cetera.

wordcountometer = 64,093!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chapter Twenty Finished

That chapter was quite a bit shorter than I thought it would be, only about 1400 words. But that's as long as it needed to be so that's the length it is. I now figure that my fist draft of "Cocke & Bull" will be a bit on the short side, maybe 75,000 words, but that's longer than the first draft of my previous novel was and it of course became Xeno's manuscript and the next revision of it might come in at 100K. Who knows? But I digress. Chapter 20 is done, and it's on to Chapter 21, currently titled "Noddy the Mare." Yes, that's a horse. But first, bed.

Wordcountometer = 61,817!

Edit to add: So as I said to Lois in the comments just now, this chapter tells me that it's unfinished. Or, if not unfinished, inadequate. The Event that must take place does take place, but the Meaning that the Event should have isn't there. Which means two things: 1) I did not adequately prepare the Event to have the Meaning, so I'll have to go back into previous bits of the story and properly foreshadow the emotions and set up the meaning, and 2) after I do that I'll have to revisit the scene and likely add about a thousand words. Which is fine, and I'm saving it all for revisions. Onward! Noddy the Mare awaits!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I have five (count 'em: five) chapters remaining to write in the first draft of "Cocke & Bull." That's not a whole lot of work, you know. Not really, not as these things go. Even so, yesterday I wrote not a single word of Chapter 19, and I don't know if I will today, either. I am, sort of, stalling.

Chapter 19 is the Big Climax of the Second Act, the resolution of the inner conflict before the Third Act resolves the outer conflict and the book ends. So this chapter, the chapter I hesitate to start writing, is really the whole point of the book, the reason any of the words piled on either side of it exist. So, like, no pressure for me. I am afraid I'll screw it up or I'll see when I've written it that the heart of the book is something that's really pretty insignificant or just dumb, you see. As long as I don't actually write it out, I can assume that it's filled with greatness, made of awesome as the kids say, well worth my time and effort.

Which is all foolishness, you know. If I write it badly, it doesn't matter. There will be at least three revisions to the manuscript, and I'll have plenty of time to rewrite it. If I get the particulars of the scenes wrong, it doesn't matter. If all the dialogue is lame, it doesn't matter. If it's just stupid, it still doesn't matter, because I can rewrite it later and fix it. But until I've actually written something, I can't do any of that. I can only sit and think about how I'm almost done with this first draft and how I'm not writing Chapter 19 yet. Which means that I'd best get some words down on the page today at some point.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Because Stuff Like This Interests Me

Here is a graph of the chapter lengths (including projected-based-on-nothing-but-a-feeling final five unwritten chapters) for the first draft of "Cocke & Bull." What can we learn from this? Nothing. But it's cool.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chapter 19, in progress

wordcountometer = 59,031!

I shouldn't care about things like word counts, but I am excited that I'm about to break the 60K barrier. Truly, things like that are meaningless, especially in a first draft. Mostly I am pleased to be writing chapter 19 of 24, which means I'm about 80% through this phase of the work. Barring unforseen disasters, I should be well and truly done with this draft by the end of March. Yay, me.

Edit to add: Done with Chapter Nineteen! At 11:18PM. Wordcount = 60,430! Deaths in this chapter = 0! Sleep now.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chapter Eighteen Finished!

wordcountometer = 56,865! I had thought that this chapter would be about 2K words longer, but it is the length it needs to be. Body count for Chapter 18 = 1.

The next chapter will be very tense, and will include a frantic search for things lost. I do not believe anyone will get dead, though.

Hopefully this excerpt from Chapter 18 won't spoil anything for anyone:

A wind came up and shook the tops of the trees, sending drops of water down suddenly in a heavy sheet like a fisherman’s net, crashing across Hope’s shoulders and it was cold in the humid air and she staggered and slipped and fell, landing sitting down in a deep puddle of muck. Hope pushed her bonnet up from where it had pitched forward over her face when she fell and she got mud along both sides of the bonnet because she’d not noticed that her hands were coated in muck from the swamp floor. She yanked hard and untied the strings and cast the bonnet aside and climbed upright and it had grown dark, the sun hidden by black clouds above the trees under which Hope stood shivering. There was a crack of thunder to her left somewhere but if there was lightning, the trees were so thick overhead that the flash was hidden.

She had lost all sense of the direction she’d been traveling and so she picked a path that looked easy to follow through the brush. A loose vine swung down and hit her on the shoulder and Hope screamed until she saw that it was not a snake and then she laughed and then she bit her lower lip and began to cry. John would be along any minute, she thought. John would be along and then they’d go back to the cabin and then they’d eat that boiled chicken and corn and have a pipe and a swallow of whiskey and it would be fine. She pushed on through the swamp and slipped again, twisting her right knee awkwardly and then going down forward into the mud, barely keeping her face out of it. Hope sat up and her knee hurt and she sucked in a sharp breath and knew she couldn’t go on. She would sit there in the downpour, in the mud and filth, and wait for the storm to end, wait for John Cocke to come and find her.


She turned and it wasn’t John, but Bull. He was dressed but soaking wet, the rain dripping from the corners of his hat, running off his shoulders, down his arms, drops falling from his fingertips. He stood just a yard behind her, and Hope had no idea how long he’d been there or how long he’d been following her. She wondered for a moment where the horses were and then she thought how foolish it was to concern herself with the animals; the animals could look after themselves. Here was Bull, see? The horses must be fine as well.

“Help me up, Billy.” She held out her hand to him. “I think I’ve hurt my leg.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chapter Eighteen, nearly done

I am about 2/3 of the way through this chapter, and it's been quite an exciting ride so far. I think I neglected to breathe during some parts of it, the story is so tense. But I believe I've done excellent work this evening.

I should mention that I am working now pretty much without a net, in that while I know what I want the story to do, I no longer have anything like an outline for this bit; I've got the titles of the chapters and some ideas in my head and I'm just writing it out as I go, improvising it word-by-word. For example, I have essentially no real idea what happens in the next chapter, except that one character contemplates the events of the chapter I'm now writing, and what it means to his own life and future. Which is pretty slim stuff to go on, but I'll figure out something to write, I'm sure.

wordcountometer = 56,058!

Agent Update re: "Horatio"

Way back in mid-October of last year, I sent a revised manuscript to my agent, addressing some concerns he had about the protagonist. The end of the year was a very busy time for him, so it wasn't until late January that I heard back about the revisions. Mostly it was good news, but a severe problem with the book has sort of made itself evident. There's a sort of B-plot in the second half of the book that takes over the narrative, and my protagonist spends a lot of time acting mostly as a narrator for this other story. He and his story fade into the background. Which is, you know, not good. So my agent wisely asked me to do something about that.

My idea is to make the B-plot actually a real part of the A-plot, to connect the two narratives so that my protagonist's choices and decisions are what actually drive the events in the support character's lives, and also this will enhance the protagonist's character arc. Swell, right? Only problem with that is, I didn't know how to do it. Not without rewriting the whole thing from scratch, anyway. Which I don't want to do.

So I spent about a week and a half obsessing over this story, and trying out different ways of structuring the narrative to make all the pieces work together and to keep my protagonist actually driving the story instead of fading into the woodwork when the narrative dealt with the B-plot. Some of the ideas I had were pretty amazingly awful. For a while I completely lost any sense of what this book was about, what my original impulse for writing it was. Finally, however, at lunch time yesterday as it happens, I had the Big Idea that will make it all work out, which will still involve some heavy lifting in the writing area, a lot of new scenes and changes to existing scenes, but I do think that the book will become more interesting and, as my agent says, a "holy-crap page-turner" which sounds good to me.

A secondary effect of all of this brainstorming has been that I have had a completely separate new idea for what to do with this story, which idea is so radically different from what I've already written that, you know, after I revise "Horatio" and finish writing "Cocke & Bull," I may well write out the newest new idea as well, because it's simply that cool and intriguing. Should I tell you what that idea is? Well, I won't. We'll just see what happens. Possibly the day will come where I've had adequate sleep and I'll realize that the new supersecret supercool idea is, you know, just dumb.

Anyway, that's my agent update for Debut Novel, currently re-titled "Horatio."