Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mixed Reviews

I entered Nathan Bransford's Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge, which marks the first time that anyone other than my wife, SFF, has seen anything of my Secret Project.  As I write this Mr. Bransford has not announced the finalists or winners, and I'm not expecting to find my entry in either category, but I have received critiques from voluntary 3rd party commentators.  The reviews are best described as mixed.  

"I read the whole thing, but the voice irks me.  How old is the narrator?  He sounds like he's at least in his 20's.  I mean, who uses the word 'bestir'?  For  that matter, why would he pinch his own sister's behind?  That's like kissing your sister, but worse.  Maybe it's just a very unique character, but all of his actions and mannerisms seemed 'off' to me."

What I'm taking away from critique:  Silas, the first-person protagonist, is 19.  Perhaps I need to work on his voice to more accurately reflect his age.  'Bestir' will likely stay, the setting is 1848 and I like the sound of the word in that context.  'Pinch his own sister's behind' - that was something that had been nagging me without being able to put a finger on it.  He now pinches her arm.  Lastly, I hope he's a unique character, we'll see how he strikes others.

From OxyJen:
"This is engaging and likeable, although the conversation with Angeline reads as an 'As you know, Bob' conversation.  I would want to see something resembling a plot open up soon, but I would read on..."

What I'm taking away from the critique:  First, encouragement because it was positive.  Second, I see the point about the dialogue and it has been (hopefully) improved.  With regard to the plot, well it starts to show up after the first page.

"I'm always a sucker for a story set in any sort of small town/farm/otherwise rural area.  So this caught my eye.  Trying to be objective here, I think the writing is good but not great.  Interesting but not interesting enough.  Would I keep reading?  Maybe.

What I'm taking away from the critique:  Encouragement.  'Good but not great' I can live with for now.  'Interesting but not interesting enough' causes me to look at that first page again, but I may rely on the following pages to develop more interest from the reader.  We'll see.

I'm hoping for more critiques and may well post the first page here in hopes of more feedback.

2nd Draft Stats:

Today's goal:  55.1
Today's complete:  56.4

Still ahead of schedule!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

First Page Contest & Critiques

I entered the first page of my novel in Nathan Bransford's Surprisingly Essential First Page Contest.  The contest has ballooned to over 400 entries as of this writing, and there is a bit of controversy over other bloggers critiquing entries to Nathan's contest on their own blogs.  Nathan has attempted a compromise by asking that people refrain from critiquing entries unless folks specifically give their okay to do so.

I gave my okay, and this post is to invite anyone who has migrated over here with feedback on my entry to critique away - I very much want as much input as I can get.  

Nathan Bransford's blog is here and also in my sidebar of links.


I've been getting more hits on the blog lately so I'm thinking that a brief recap is in order.

I've always enjoyed writing and over the years I've written short stories that I've never attempted to publish, some magazine articles that have sold and some that haven't, and an annual Christmas letter that friends and family seem to appreciate.  I've toyed with the idea of writing a novel for years, and finally realized that I need to either actually do it or wait for the next lifetime.

So...I decided to go for it.  I decided that one year was a reasonable time frame to write a novel - the last thing I wanted to do was have it drag on and be three quarters finished five years later.

I started in March 07 and blocked out the year (actually 13 months) into various goals.  The story is a journey for my protagonist and I set dates for each major stop in the narrative, with a rough-draft-complete goal of mid-November (the rough was finished mid-December).  After a holiday break I started on the first rewrite with a completion goal of 15 Feb, which requires 3.3% per day of progress.  Upon completion of the second draft I'll send it to family and friends, get feedback, and continue to rewrite and polish until it is as good as I can make it by 31 Mar 08.  The first query letters are scheduled to go out 01 Apr, assuming that I feel it is good enough to warrant the effort.

So, why the blog?  Two reasons.

First, the blog serves as a kind of journal of the project, which I thought would be fun to look back upon when finished.  Second, and more importantly, it serves as a public declaration that I intend to see this through. By throwing down and then picking up my own gauntlet in front of the whole internet I put pressure on myself to complete the project as planned.

Second Draft Current Stats:

Today's goal:       48.5%
Today's status:    48.6% in work

So, I'm ahead of schedule, which is still unfamiliar territory.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Progress and Promise

Yesterday's rewrite goal:  41.9% complete
Yesterday's result:     42.8% complete

Glory be, I'm ahead of schedule.

Word count:  194,800

The word count is not falling as fast as it was earlier in the rewrite.  I think reasons for that are that the further I go into the first draft the better the writing gets, the better I know the characters, and I have a much better idea where the story is going so there is less crap that needs to be cut.  On the other hand, my steely resolve to ruthlessly pare the story to the bare essentials is faltering - I find myself leaving scenes that could or should be cut because I, well, I like the scenes.

I really need to stick with what I told myself while writing the first draft and seeing the word count balloon:  Make the story the best it can be and to hell with word count and '100,000 is the most marketable size' conventional wisdom.

On a different subject, I've been asked if I only post on Mondays.  No, I've been posting when the mood strikes, but a schedule is a good idea so I hereby commit to posting no less than every Monday.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Progress Report

Okay, so I blocked out a day-to-day, 1st edit goal schedule in order to complete the rewrite by 15 Feb.

Accordingly, I should be 22.1% through the edit as of today and I am instead 19.1% complete. I'm behind.

The word count has dropped from 205,900 at the start of the edit to 197,500 as of right now.

Its getting better.

On a different note, I came across the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association, a writers group that has been around for a few decades. Their annual writing contest closes for entries next month and I'm considering submitting Overboard - they promise two critiques of each entry.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Goal Schedule/Rewrite Stats

I went back to one of the first posts of the blog and was startled to find that my original timeline called for the first rewrite to start 08 January 08. The rewrite actually started 14 Jan. Not bad.

It also called for a 15 February goal of finishing the rewrite and 22 Feb for sending the manuscript off to family and friends. Upon further review I see no reason to change that, and it would fit well with my recurrent training which will start 21 Feb. So far so good.

So I started the rewrite today and got to page 13 out of 718 (as currently formatted) in about 4 hours. Using those numbers as a rough guide, I will need about 200 hours for the rewrite, which calls for about 6 hours a day of rewriting.


Its hard to imagine that happening in a part time scenario with my policy of not working at home. Dang.

Further stats:

The first draft finished at 205,900 words. After the first 13 pages or so of editing the 2.0 draft stands at 203,900. The shrinkage rate will probably decrease as I go because I think I got better as I went in the writing of the first draft.

Stephen King in On Writing says that his first draft usually shrinks by 10% or so on edit. Using that guideline the book should finalize around 185,000. Still quite long based on blog postings by literary agents, but that's another worry.

Getting back to the goal schedule, the original timeline called for novel complete by 31 March and the first batch of query letters posted on 01 April. That would fit well, as it turns out, for my 01 April vacation and a second week of April school that I may be attending.

I'm just going to have to hit it very, very hard and make those goals.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Its been quite a while since a blog post but lots of stuff has happened and progress has been made.

1. SFF finished reading the last chunk, liked the ending, and as usual has some cogent comments and constructive criticism.

2. Then there was Christmas, the trip to San Jose for our extended family Christmas, then 5 days off to start the new year - including our first ever New Year's Day Polar Bear Jump - then I got sick for about five days with no energy to do much of anything.

3. I put a hint about the Secret Project in the Ranch Reporter Christmas letter. Only one person (Teri F) has asked about the secret.

4. The holidays and all have put me just about back on the original Goal Schedule, including the planned writing hiatus between completion of the 1st draft and the start of the first rewrite.

5. I have recurrent training Feb 22, so the new sub-goal is to complete the 1st rewrite by 13 Feb, which should give me adequate time to prepare for recurrent, do it, and then get on to the next rewrite.

So, if I make this new sub-goal, people should receive their drafts and the Secret Project will be secret no longer sometime late next month. I am REALLY looking forward to it.