Charlie's Diary

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Wed, 13 Oct 2004

Tortoise or Hare

Some writers work constantly at slow speed, averaging 500-1000 words of polished prose a day -- at which rate the manuscript builds up, resulting in 180,000-350,000 words in a year. (A 300 page novel is roughly 100,000-110,000 words). Others work in bursts, taking time off between fits of compulsive creation in which they average 3000-10,000 words per day (at which rate, you can write the first draft of a respectable novel in a matter of weeks). However, it isn't necessarily easy for the readers to tell tortoises from hares on the basis of their output -- they publish books roughly as frequently, and the quality of ideas and prose may well be very similar. Even when the hares aren't writing they may still be busy working out the ideas they spew across the pages during their creative fits.

I've done both. I've been a tortoise, spending whole years writing a regular thousand words a day. But right now, this decade, I'm being a hare: there are periods when I write little then suddenly burp up the draft of an entire book in four to eight weeks. (Usually after thinking about it for months first.)

Earlier this year I wrote -- then re-wrote -- a fantasy novel. Then events conspired to derail my ability to focus on work. Now I'm getting back to normal, and after a break of about three months I'm able to contemplate working on a novel again. The novel I'm about to go to town on is GLASSHOUSE. I originally wrote it in about three weeks, in April '03. It's due to be handed in next summer, for publication in July '06. And the reason I'm going to go to work on it is that there's one bad side effect of being a hare: if you write in a tremendous rush, the urge to be finished can sometimes overwhelm the urge to create a satisfying ending.

The basic concept of GLASSHOUSE, the characters and setting and most of the action, are all fully-formed already. There are some infelicities in the prose, but that's to be expected of a book that is still in draft 1.1 -- that is, written then edited/polished once. It's 90% of the way there: in fact, I suspect I could publish it as-is ... but as in so many other jobs, the last 10% can easily take 90% of the time, or (if undone) generate 90% of the criticisms.

So what I'm about to do is: make a line-edit pass through the book, changing minor details and tweaking the prose and making notes on the side. Then I'm probably going to take an axe and chop off the final three chapters, about 20% of the novel. The current climax and ending is weak. I know why it's weak, and I've got a good idea of the shape a proper ending needs to be. When I've read the novel again I'll have a much more precise idea of the gaps I've got to plug, and I can sit down and take up writing the book again. Then I'll have to go back and edit the earlier chapters again, adding in any necessary hooks that the revised ending ties into ... and the manuscript, version 2.0 of GLASSHOUSE, will go back on the shelf for a couple of months to cool off before I make a final edit sweep through it and get ready to send it to the editor who has already bought it.

And this is why the hares aren't ultimately more productive than the tortoises ...

(Oh yes, in case you were wondering: GLASSHOUSE is a posthuman psychological thriller set in the future of ACCELERANDO, about seven centuries hence. The title is a pun on panopticon societies and military prisons. And for the rest, you'll have to wait until I've finished rewriting it.)

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posted at: 20:13 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
Making Light (TNH) ]
Crooked Timber ]
Junius (Chris Bertram) ]
Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) ]
Bruce Sterling ]
Ian McDonald ]
Amygdala (Gary Farber) ]
Cyborg Democracy ]
Body and Soul (Jeanne d'Arc)  ]
Atrios ]
The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
Jesus's General ]
Mick Farren ]
Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
Respectful of Otters (Rivka) ]
Tangent Online ]
Grouse Today ]
Hacktivismo ]
Terra Nova ]
Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
Justine Larbalestier ]
Yankee Fog ]
The Law west of Ealing Broadway ]
Cough the Lot ]
The Yorkshire Ranter ]
Newshog ]
Kung Fu Monkey ]
S1ngularity ]
Pagan Prattle ]
Gwyneth Jones ]
Calpundit ]
Lenin's Tomb ]
Progressive Gold ]
Kathryn Cramer ]
Halfway down the Danube ]
Fistful of Euros ]
Orcinus ]
Shrillblog ]
Steve Gilliard ]
Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
The Panda's Thumb ]
Martin Wisse ]
Kuro5hin ]
Advogato ]
Talking Points Memo ]
The Register ]
Cryptome ]
Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
Simon Bisson's Journal ]
Max Sawicky's weblog ]
Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
Hitherby Dragons ]
Counterspin Central ]
MetaFilter ]
NTKnow ]
Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
Fafblog ]
BBC News (Scotland) ]
Pravda ]
Meerkat open wire service ]
Warren Ellis ]
Brad DeLong ]
Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
Jeff Vail ]
The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

Older stuff:

June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
(I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

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