I wrote a novel.
Well, alright it’s a rough draft of a novel. It’s riddled with plotholes, impossibilities, continuity errors, and nonsense, but for the most part I think I kept things pretty coherent, at least coherent enough for me to understand what’s happening from scene to scene. I’ve been working on this beautiful mess (as I like to refer to it) since August 13 2009. I finished it Saturday, May 15 2010. I’ve been writing this novel over a span of 9 months and 5 days.
I really wasn’t expecting to be doing that. I was hoping to be done in half the time, because the truth is I wrote this novel on a lark. It was an experiment. I wanted to take the germ of an idea and have it bear fruit, which I think it did.
I might have mentioned it before, but I read Steven King’s On Writing and a selected series of interviews with Hayao Miyazaki and both masters discuss their creative processes. Basically, they just make it up as they go along. I like to use less fancier terms and say: “I pulled it out of my ass.” King says he writes the story first. Plot holes, symbols, and theme be damned. Just write it through to the end, then set it aside for half a dozen months before revising it. Miyazaki doesn’t begin with a script. He uses drawings and storyboards, which is fitting since he’s doing animation. By the time the movie is done he has a “script.” So if you ever wonder why Miyazaki’s films are simultaneously beautiful pieces of art, wonderfully animated, and incomprehensibly told stories, that’s why (and why I love ‘em).
Hearing two of our contemporary masters talk about creativity in that manner convinced me that the way I was going about it wasn’t wrong. I tried outlines, notecards, mindmaps, and all sorts of pre-writing. I just don’t work that way. Maybe someone else can, but not me. I tried various forms of helpful technology. I even thought, “hey, I’m a software engineer, I could make some software to help me write better!” Nope.
Here’s what I used to write my story: On my Macintosh I used a program called jDarkRoom. It’s like WriteRoom or any other no-nonsense text editor. I set it to be a black background with green text. On the PC I used WriteMonkey with the same settings. I saved everything as TXT files. I used Subversion to back up my TXT files so everytime I finished a writing session it would be saved. This gives me the advantage of going back and seeing the diff between that revision and previous ones. Plus, it’s better than just keeping multiple backups which I did in the past. I figure, since I’m an engineer, let’s do things in a smarter way so version control for novel writing for the win. I have three computers in the house… a central HTPC, my Mac, and a desktop. They’re all able to share via Subversion so I can work in my “office-y” environment, my sofa, and away from the house. I use Mozy to back my stuff up off-site too including my Subversion database.
I ended up breaking the novel up into three parts as I wrote only because the text files were getting long. Once it hit over 100,000 words it became cumbersome to work with so I’d start a new file. I also had another file that was just notes for my novel as I wrote it. I had them open together so I could go back and forth between them if I needed too.
I wrote every weekday morning. My writing time is about 7:30 am till 9 am. The way my life is allows me to work like this. I like the idea of waking up at 7:30 am and meeting the day rain or shine, cold or warm. Nowadays I jump out of bed without looking back. Writing first thing allows me to get straight to it without the “oh, I can do it later…” attitude that writing after work might instill in me. Plus, after work, I’m dead tired and writing is the last thing I want to do. You might think I’m crazy to wake up at 7:30 am. It’s early, but I figured if I really wanted to write a novel, this was the only way for me to do it, and I made it work for me. I don’t write that whole 90 minutes. Usually it’s more like 70 of that 90 minutes I write, and that’s about good enough for a day’s work.
That’s it. Simple. One text file for the story. One for notes. 70 minutes a morning, 5 days a week, and sometimes on weekends. I wrote the story straight through. Somedays that was hard, others it was easy. You just have to find the hook that grabs you. Leave off in mid-sentence and save it for tomorrow to prevent writer’s block. Explore ideas and build on what you wrote before it. Sometimes the characters told me where they wanted to go. Sometimes I knew where I want things to go. Eventually, I had to force things towards a resolution to end it. Not pretty, I admit, but it gets the job done.
Here are the final stats on how long it took me to birth this rough draft:
I started Thursday, August 13 2009 and finished Saturday, May 15 2010.
That’s about 39 weeks and 2 days, or 275 days, or 9 months and 5 days of writing.
I wrote mostly on weekdays with the occasional weekend (in my stat collecting I counted every other weekend), which means I wrote 216 of the 275 days. (39 weeks * 5 days + 2 extra days + 19 weekend days)
Of course, on those days sometimes I’d have more than one writing session, and after counting my changelist submits it came to about 228 work sessions altogether.
I assume about 70 minutes per writing session. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Number of minutes I spent writing (approx.): 15,960 minutes.
Translated to hours: 266 hours.
Days worth of writing: 11.08 days (if I were insane and wrote straight through).
I averaged about 1476 words a session.
Each chapter, there are 59 plus an Epilogue, was about an average of 5,606 words long.
The entire draft is 338,384 words long split into 3 TXT files. This doesn’t include the notes which are in a file of its own.
In the end I made 310 commits to Subversion.
I did write apart of this for NaNoWriMo. So, I cheated. HA! I don’t care, NaNo was a good excuse to write in November and the point is to write not to win the “contest.” Besides I won anyway; I have a story.
Now think, if you found an hour of time to write just during the week days, that’s 5 hours. After a while, that adds up into a novel. It’s totally doable and not as daunting as you think it is. You just can’t think about the end product. I didn’t think for a minute I’d be working for nine months. If you write every morning and enjoy yourself the book will write itself and it’ll come to an conclusion too.
The question is: what now?
Well, there are some lingering regrets and doubts. There are scenes I’d like the story to have. There are plotholes, continuity errors, and stuff I totally just made up totally out of nowhere to fill in the gaps that need to be addressed and resolved. So I’m going to write down as many of these things as I can remember or come up with.
I want to do a small art project with my novel. I want to illustrate the characters and the settings so I can visualize them better.
In the end I’d take all of this stuff and archive it. Print out the story. Copy the TXT files, artwork, notes onto a burned CD and shove it in a box with a note to my future self to return to this and fix this mess and make it awesome — that’s the bit where I follow King’s advice. I’d like to make a timeline of events and figure out who these characters are, because I wrote day to day, off the top of my head, just making stuff up and I didn’t want to give the time over to figuring things out then. Leave it to my intuition and I’ll fix it in post.
So, my novel is about 330,000 words and I don’t really want to print that out on my printer since it’ll cost me a boatload of ink and paper. I’m experimenting with Lulu.com right now to see how usable their service is at doing this kind of book printing. My plan isn’t to send them my novel right away, but to use some old writing instead and test their service out. I don’t ever intend to use them as a vanity press, just as a means to print out drafts of my story for revision purposes. So far, it’s easy to set up with Lulu. Just create an account and start a new book project. Uploading manuscripts on Lulu is slow as molasses via the HTML uploader — I’m only getting 1kb upload time. The way to go with Lulu is using their FTP access, but even that’s a bit flakey. I did manage to get my prose uploaded and made a no-nonsense white cover. Once it was all said and done, it cost me ten bucks including shipping to get my test book out to me.
Oh one thing about Lulu which I found annoying. You are able to upload formatted PDFs which I think would be the best way to go to preserve your formatting, etc. If you’re using a Macintosh with Snow Leopard, you’re probably thinking, “sweet I’m all set.” Mac natively does PDF. You upload your manuscript as a PDF from your Mac. Bam! Lulu, after taking an ice age to upload your file, will tell you that they don’t like PDFs made with Quartz so you can’t use Apple’s native PDF format. What’s up with that bullshit?
As a final bit, you might be wondering: what did I write about?
I’m still trying to figure that out too. Joking aside, I don’t feel like talking about it since I just finished and I want to let it settle down first. I’ll say this much. I love anime and Japanese pop-culture. I wanted to write something that paid homage to my favorite animes from the 90s. You know, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, and Akira. That’s the stuff that got me into anime way back when. I have a soft spot for Shoujo too so there’s some of that reflected in the story as well. It’s got sci-fi elements. It’s meant to be fun, disturbing, weird, and filled with over-the-top action and oneday maybe you’ll get to read it.