Writers’ Roundup: March 19

Great convo in the comments of Monday’s post on building community around your blog. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t yet.

Some great links out there this week:

I’m in New York City for the weekend, getting away from my computer for a few days. (And using a friend’s laptop, which is why I can’t seem to space this post as nicely as usual. See how much more difficult it is to read without white space?) Hope you’re able to do the same this weekend!

This just in…

My manuscript is complete! Ready for submission!

Word count: 83,500

Microsoft Word pages: 280

Chapters: 33

Time to write: 13 months

Dance with me! C’mon, you know you want to.

This is cause for celebration…

I finished a draft of my book!

That’s right, I’ve written through the entire manuscript. It feels like a huge accomplishment. I’m ready to move onto the next stage: revision.

Actually, I’m already well into the revision process. I’ve edited 16 of my 33 chapters. At least one critique partner has read through them, and I’ve made changes based on their suggestions.

I realize this goes against conventional wisdom about writing an entire draft before revising. But revising along the way worked for me. And one of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far about writing a book is that I have to do what works for me, even if it doesn’t follow conventional wisdom.

What do I hope to accomplish during my revision stage?

Cut & Trim. My manuscript comes in at about 100,000 words. I want to get it down to 85,000 – 90,000, a length that will appeal to literary agents and publishing houses. That means I’ll be tossing out chapters and scenes I spent time and energy writing. But cutting is about more than losing words. Tightening my manuscript, getting rid of scenes I don’t really need, will improve the story.

Decide on a beginning. Several of my readers made a similar suggestion about the beginning of my book, that I may want to start differently. I’m going to give it a whirl and see whether that works better.

Consider the chapters all together. I’ve edited half my chapters, so I believe each works separately. But once I finish revising the rest of my pieces, it’ll be time to look at all thirty or so chapters together and see how they work as one unit.

Improve transitions. Several chapters could transition more smoothly. I’ll examine the beginnings and endings of each chapter, making changes where necessary, to make sure chapter breaks are seamless.

Reconsider all embarrassing scenes. During my first draft, I revealed everything about myself that would make the story interesting, knowing I could always delete those embarrassing scenes later. Now it’s time to decide whether I really want to include each one in the book. Am I comfortable with letting readers know all these personal details? In many ways, those embarrassing tidbits are what make my memoir interesting.

What do you focus on during your revision process?

Off to Hambidge to write, write, write

Tomorrow begins my writer’s residency at The Hambidge Center!

I’ll be there for five weeks, returning to upstate New York in early October. My goal? To finish as much of my manuscript as possible.

I doubt I’ll complete it like I expected months ago, when I was accepted to Hambidge. I’m a bit behind schedule. (Doesn’t that happen with all big projects?) But if I’m super productive, I should come close.

I’ll start by writing the last eight or so chapters (about 80 pages), which I put aside for this residency. Then, provided I still have time, I’ll loop around to the start of the book to fill a few holes, including the first chapter. I also plan to tighten my theme, take a hard look at my story arc and cut scenes I really don’t need.

What can you expect from the blog this month?

I’m scaling back on blogging, partly because my Internet access will be limited, and partly because I want to focus on writing my book. I’ll post occasionally about my experience at the Center, hopefully with pictures. I’ve also got an awesome series of author Q&As planned, which will run on Mondays (except for next week, when it will post on Tuesday because of Labor Day). The Friday Writers’ Roundup won’t appear again until October.

Next time you hear from me, I’ll be in the mountains of northern Georgia!

Writer’s tip: Help out those sore eyes

Staring at a bright, white computer screen all day makes my eyes hurt. But I do it — like most of you — for the sake of my manuscript, since I make the most progress while typing away in Microsoft Word.

This week, I made a change to my screen, one that seems minor but has helped decreased my end-of-the-day eye aches. Instead of writing on Word’s white screen with black type, I switched the settings to a dark blue background with white text.

How? Click Tools, then Options, then General, then Blue background.

Try it. It took a bit of getting used to, but I’m telling you, this has made all the difference.

Anybody else have tips like this, ideas for small changes that really boost your progress?

Mind passing the peas to my manuscript? We’re in a fight.

Some authors say writing a book is like a love story. Writers, they say, go through the same ups and downs with a manuscript as they would in a romantic relationship.

In that case, I think my manuscript and I just had our first fight.

Last week I was so sick of my book that I didn’t want to write it. Didn’t want to talk to him, didn’t want to look at him. I needed a break from him altogether.

I didn’t expect this, and it gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach. I mean, we’ve been together for six months, and I’ve put so much work into this relationship! Why was I suddenly having these negative feelings? How could I feel annoyed and repulsed by a manuscript I’ve loved so strongly from the beginning? And what did this mean for the future? I’ve still got the rest of the book to write, then the editing and publishing process ahead of me.

It didn’t stem from self-doubt, an obstacle books on writing say I’ll find myself up against sooner or later. I’m perfectly content with what I’ve written so far, and I still think I’ve got an awesome story to tell. I’m just tired of actually writing it.

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming, should have realized that I’d grow tired of working on the same project month after month. But it never occurred to me that I’d get sick of my own book, a story I chose to write. (It’s reminiscent of a bout of fatigue I faced during my travels in Africa, at the two-and-a-half-month mark. Following that dream had its challenges, too.)

So, here I was last week, feeling guilty, ashamed even, about the tiff with my manuscript. But then I mentioned it to a few author friends, and you know what they said? That it’s normal for a writer to feel this way about their book. Entirely normal!

What a relief. Hearing that other writers also go through hate phases with their book and still manage to crank it out inspired me. If they can do it, I can do it, too.

This weekend, I took an important steps toward reconciling with my manuscript: I gave myself some personal space, two days away from writing to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday with friends, with the hopes that this week I’ll see my work with fresh eyes.

Fellow writers, how do YOU do it? How do you overcome this apparently common bump in the road?

UPDATE: I’m happy to report that this downer of a phase IS just a phase! It does pass! How’d I get through it? After my weekend-long break, I forced myself to write, and soon finished a chapter. That feeling of being productive, of knowing I was one chapter closer to completing my manuscript, was enough to make me fall in love with the story again.

Writers’ Roundup

Lots of little bits of progress this week. My base daily goal is 1,000 new words on the manuscript (“new” words because in addition to that I often revise already-written scenes), and I’m keeping track of those goals via #writegoal on Twitter. If I tweet it, I will meet it!

A handful of cool links about writing, including two specific to memoir:

* Jane Friedman, who blogs at Writer’s Digest, explains Five Common Flaws in Memoir Projects.

* Eve Brown-Waite, author of First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria (which is on my must-read list) tells us what it’s like to write a memoir on one of my favorite book-review blogs, Devourer of Books. I can relate to this: “The more I got into the writing process, the more I actually learned about what I had experienced,” she writes. “Things that hadn’t made sense at the time began to make sense. Events that had seemed insignificant finally revealed their meanings. I began to see connections and finally get the lessons of what I had been through.”

* The New York Times book section has a piece about spinoff titles. After reading this, I was convinced for an evening I should call my book Running With Machetes. I’ve since decided otherwise.

* Before You Hire a Literary Agent, you should call their references, says Michael Hyatt, who heads up a large publishing company.

* The Creative Penn just began a series on blogging for authors. Her first post: 10 reasons authors should have a blog.

* Just for fun: A favorite journo-turned-MFA-student is learning Spanish in Guatemala, so Sarah Viren’s Cornfed is doubling as a travel blog. Feed your wanderlust!

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A brief question on word count

Please indulge this word-count newbie for just a few moments.

What should I use to determine word count? Is Microsoft Word’s word counter a good measure?

Here’s why I ask: I’ve been told manuscript pages usually contain about 250 words per page. But I’ve got one-inch margins all around, and when I highlight a page in Microsoft Word the count generally comes to between 290 – 350 words.

(I’m guessing this is one of the reasons why word count is better than page count.)

I know what you’re thinking: I’m not supposed to worry about length until I’ve completed the manuscript, because the book will be as many words as it takes to tell my story. But measuring progress helps me feel productive, and I’d like to articulate that progress in words.

So, thoughts? How do you measure word count?

UPDATE: Thanks to one of my readers, I’ve figured out why my pages amount to more than 250 words — I use Times New Roman font. The 250-words per page count apparently applies to Courier New.

So I’m going with Microsoft Word’s count — I’ve written about 50,000 words. Assuming my travel memoir falls in my goal window of 85,000 – 90,000 words, that means I’m more than halfway there!

Taking stock: A third down, two-thirds to go

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner: You’re reading my blog, aren’t you?

Gardner blogged this week about the importance of not putting the cart before the horse. In other words, writers need to get their writing up to speed before worrying about the details of publishing. The post seemed like it was written for me.

Until a month ago, I was so focused on learning about publishing and researching literary agents that the actual writing had fallen a few rungs down on the priority list. But that’s changed, and now I’m really making progress on the manuscript. Admittedly, I should have spent more time writing all along, but I don’t regret researching the industry. As a result of that research, combined with completing my book proposal and outline, I now know what I’m doing and where I’m going.

To celebrate this progress, I sat down yesterday to calculate exactly how much I’ve written. It’s more complicated than it sounds because I write in pieces, out of order, using my outline as guidance. I’ve completed drafts of two full chapters, but the rest of my finished pages are scattered all over the manuscript.

According to my outline, my manuscript will be about 350 pages. By my count yesterday, I’ve written 133 of them. That means I’ve drafted a third of my book!

Now that I’m chugging along, I’m ready to set a new goal for myself: Write four pages each day (about 1,200 words). If I stick to that regime every day, including weekends (Yes, I write on weekends), I’ll have a rough draft of the manuscript in two months.

That sounds doable, right?

If I have to write this entire book before submitting it to agents, so be it.

Progress on the manuscript

Since several readers have commented on recent blog posts, asking how much of the manuscript I’ve written so far, I’ m here with answers.

Of my 15 chapters, two are drafted in full. Drafts of another two chapters are more than half written.

That doesn’t sound like much. But since I’m writing this book out of order, piecing it together, I’ve already written parts of every chapter. I’ve gone through more than 100 blog entries, selected dozens that will turn into scenes, and plugged them into chapters where they belong. And the entire book is outlined.

(Writing a book is about more than putting words on the page. This post explains what else I’ve been doing.)

So yes, I’ve got a lot more writing to go. But I’m making progress!