Life has been busy; Nomi and I have done a lot lately -- seen plays (Hamlet, The Tempest), seen a movie (The Prestige, last night) seen friends ([ profile] cellio, for one), gone to synagogue (we're sponsoring kiddush this shabbat in honor of my father's yahrzeit) -- but I've been too busy with all those things to spend much time reporting on those selfsame things here. And I've been attempting NaNoWriMo, as you all know. I started with a major push on words but have since fallen back, so I have yet to break 10,000 words. I'm hoping maybe to make a major push again today.

And, as many others have noted, today is election day. As is our habit, Nomi and I went to our polling place before they opened this morning so we could exercise our franchise as early as possible. We ended up being voters #2 and #3. There's something nice about filling out a paper ballot and watching it get slurped by the scanning machine.

I've had so many things I've wanted to write about or comment on, but no time to do so. Ah well. There will be time hereafter.
I'm doing something that I never thought I'd do; in fact, it's something that I spoke out against my doing last year.

I have decided to attempt NaNoWriMo.

For those of you reading who don't know what that means, NaNoWriMo is a challenge given every year for anyone who wants to sign up, to write a "novel," which in this case means a piece of fiction at least 50,000 words long, in the space of a month.

Last year, I noted that I am not naturally a fast writer, and so a challenge like NaNoWriMo would be anathema to me. And so while I wished others luck with it, I said that I myself would decline from participating.

This year I have changed my mind. Which leads of course to the obvious question: why?

Well, for a while now, I haven't been writing as much as I used to. Whether it's because I spent a year working on that novel (which, before you ask, is still in submission) or because I've been working full-time again, I have found that my fiction writing has fallen somewhat by the wayside. There was a time when [ profile] gnomi and I planned every weeknight around making sure we each wrote 500 words of fiction no matter what. For the past six months, my fiction writing has instead come in fits and bursts, and I've not followed my own advice to all writers: write every day. It seems to me that I need to do something to jar the writing self into action again, and taking the NaNoWriMo challenge is as good a catalyst as any.

Another reason for me to do this project is because I still haven't managed to place a novel with a publisher. Nomi reminded me that I wrote quite a lot of unpublishable short stories before I managed to write one that sold. Perhaps I need to do the same thing when it comes to novels. So far I've only written two. If, let's say, I need to write eight more before something "clicks," whatever that something is...well, the sooner I get those novels written, the better.

Finally, doing this challenge allows me to stretch my writing muscles in a way that I haven't yet done. Besides getting the practice of writing quickly, I mean. I've decided that for NaNoWriMo, I'm going to eschew my usual genre of science fiction. Instead, I'm working on a novel that will turn into either a political thriller or political satire. I don't want to say much more, but I will note that the idea comes from having seen the way this country has chipped away at our civil liberties in the name of security. I've got something I want to say about that, and this novel is the manner in which I want to say it.

Getting a bit more personal, I contemplated not posting about this and keeping it a secret until I was done. Again, you might ask why. Honestly, it's because I'm not the kind of guy who likes to put his possible failures out in front for all the world to see. I'm not sure if I'll succeed, and unlike many braver souls, I'm not comfortable sharing every part of my writing life with the world. (Some of you know I'm talking about you, and bless you for your willingness to be so open with the world.)

But on the other hand...well, the point of NaNoWriMo is to be part of a community of people all striving towards the same goal of writing 50,000 words of fiction in the space of a month. So it seems senseless to me to take on this challenge and then deny myself the benefits of the larger community. To that end, I share here with everyone that I am using the handle mabfan for this project, same as my LiveJournal username. If you're doing NaNoWriMo as well, by all means please tell me your handle, and I'll add you to my buddy list. And for any and all who are interested, here are the links to my profile and progress pages:

My Author Profile

NaNoWriMo Progress for mabfan

Today's wordcount: 2086. A good start.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein
Now that the holidays are over, I'm surfacing briefly just to let people know that I'm still here.

Things have been busy, of course. The holidays took a lot of prep time, and because they were all during the week, I'm busy catching up at work. I haven't had a chance to do much new writing -- mostly revising -- and I'm still waiting for some final feedback on the novel.

I've been reading comic books as I can, though, and enjoying the unfolding storylines in both the DC universe and in Spider-Man. And next month, although I have no plans to do NaNoWriMo, I do plan to get back into the swing of new writing. (Unless I find myself needing to do more revisions of older projects.)

November will also be busy with other things. In my capacity as a Brookline Library Trustee, I have a bunch of committee meetings to attend; and our Fall Town Meeting is taking place starting on Tuesday, November 15th, with a lot of zoning bylaws on the agenda to be voted upon. And then of course there's Thanksgiving, and two sets of families to see.

Finally, one cool announcement (or at least I think so). [ profile] gnomi and I have signed up for weekly private lessons at the Brookline Arts Center. We're planning to study the art of penciling for cartoons and comic books. I have no illusions that I'll become a Jack Kirby or a Jim Lee, but learning to draw looked like fun, especially given my love of comic books.
The manuscript has been mailed to my agent.
Just a few minutes ago, I finished my revisions to the novel. I ended up cutting a chunk, but the second draft is still a good sized book.

I'm hoping that this will be the end of it, and that it's good to go. However, I do have two professional writers who agreed to take a look at the book and give me feedback, and then I have to send it to my agent, and listen to her suggestions. But at this point, I'm ready to take a break from the project again, and concentrate on some other, shorter work that has been waiting for my attention.
Not much had been going on in my life, but given a few recent posts, I thought I'd update.

* The copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that had the upside-down signature sold to a collector in England, and I'll be mailing it out to him later today.

* [ profile] lensman and [ profile] gem225 both offered to lend me their DVDs of Star Trek, so I'm all set with those. When I can post more about why I needed them, I will.

* [ profile] gem225 (who is new to comics) and I went on a comic book shopping trip last week. She reports on what she's started to buy and read in her post "I discover the joy and lure of comics, part 2". (I suppose this doesn't have much to do with my own life, but it's fun watching her get interested in comics. She's picked a good time to do so as well, what with Infinite Crisis on the horizon.)

* Finally, I've been in the process of revising the novel. I'm almost done with Part One, which required the most extensive rewrite, especially since I jettisoned about two chapters worth of material. If I'm able to keep up the pace, I'll have the second draft done by the end of the month.
Back in March, I posted about Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics. (I won't repeat everything I said in those posts, so if you need a refresher, you can find them by clicking on, now that LiveJournal allows for tags.) For those of you who don't want to go back over those posts, the gist of it was as follows:

In his book FICTION WRITER'S BRAINSTORMER, James V. Smith Jr. recommends using the readability statistics in your grammar checker to improve your writing. He ran selections from ten New York Times bestsellers through the grammar checker, and developed an ideal writing standard based on what he found:

  • No more than 4.25 characters per word.
  • No more than 5% passive voice
  • No less than an 80% readability on the Flesch Reading Ease scale.
  • A Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 5 (although on the chart, he lists that as 4-6).

On a whim, I ran the first chapter of Neil Gaiman's upcoming novel through the grammar checker and posted the statistics...which generated a wee bit of interest at the time.

Anyway, I've now come to the conclusion that readability statistics might be a useful tool, but despite what Smith asserted in his book on writing, it's not going to guarantee that your book is a bestseller. (Actually, to give Smith his due, he never actually makes that claim.)

What convinced me is that I just ran the full spell-check and grammar-check on the first draft of my own novel in progress. I wanted to have a clean copy to edit, so I figured it made sense to run these checks now, even though I will have to run them again later. Since my novel is divided into chapter files, I ran the check on each chapter separately. This also jibes with Smith's suggestion that checking the readability statistics for a whole novel at once isn't going to yield useful results.

The results are presented in the table below, behind an LJ-cut:

Read more... )

So what does this all mean? Looking at the statistics, all of my chapters are clearly within Smith's ideal writing standard. And yet, it would be the height of hubris for me to predict that this novel will eventually become a bestseller.

Somewhere in the blogosphere, after a lot of debate, I posted that perhaps the Ideal Writing Standard is a necessary but not sufficient condition to ensure a popular novel. But having just run the statistics again, I'm not so sure.

I think, in the end, what the statistics do is no more than give you a general idea of how readable a piece of prose is. The difference between a readability of, say, 40 and 80 is probably much more significant than the difference between 80 and 85.

So, my final conclusion: play with the statistics, have fun with them, but remember that they are only one of many tools to help us improve our writing.
The subject line pretty much says it all.

Just a few minutes ago, I finished the first draft of the novel I've been working on. The total word count is about 121,000 words.

In terms of manuscript pages and story chapters, my three-part structure has ended up breaking down as follows:

Part One: 183 pages (chapters 1-6)
Part Two: 225 pages (chapters 7-11)
Part Three: 75 pages (chapters 12-15)

So instead of having three acts of approximately the same length, I have a novel with a long set-up, an even longer middle, and then a quick wrap up at the end. (Come to think of it, that might actually work better.)

Of course, my work isn't done yet. The novel needs some extensive rewriting. For example, by the middle of the novel I had decided that my protagonist ought to be an orphan. This means the chapter where she has dinner with her parents needs to go. (Or, at least, I need to alter it extensively.)

Then, after I rewrite it, I have two or three first readers who have volunteered to give me feedback. Then I have to send it to my agent, and if she has any suggestions to offer I'd be well-served to incorporate them into the final submission draft.

But for now...for now I feel content to rest on my laurels, satisfied with a job well done.

If only it weren't so darn hot today...

Thanks to everyone who has been accompanying me on this journey. We've made it to the first plateau.
This past week has, sadly, not been a writing week.

I last worked on the novel last Thursday. Part of the problem is that I'm at the end of the story, and I know what has to happen, but I still haven't worked out how it's all supposed to happen. So although I haven't been putting words to paper (words to screen? words to file?) I've been going over the plot resolution in my head over and over, which is a necessary part of the process. But part of me still has that nagging feeling that if pages aren't getting written, I'm not making any progress -- even though in another way of measuring it, perhaps I am.

However, the other reason I haven't gotten much writing done is because of personal life stuff.

Last weekend my new niece Abigail had her baby-naming ceremony. Nomi and I weren't able to attend, sadly, because it was held on shabbat and we couldn't travel. But I did get to attend Abby's dipping at Mayyim Hayyim last Friday in the middle of the day. Which took precedence over writing, being a family event.

Monday I had to go over the galleys for "Sanctuary," because the deadline for getting corrections into Analog was on Tuesday. Again, a necessary part of being a writer, and it was a good thing I had the chance to go over the galleys, because I found a few vital corrections. But Monday being Patriot's Day meant it was also occupied with seeing the Marathon, which I've done every year since 1996. I watched for a few hours with [ profile] magid and [ profile] fynixsoul, and I also ran into other people I knew, including [ profile] ffoeg. But it meant no writing.

Tuesday morning was occupied entirely with Library Trustee stuff; I'm the Secretary of the Nominations Committee, and we had a few issues to deal with in order to understand exactly how to run our officer elections next month. Actually, I enjoy being a Library Trustee a great deal, and my recent role meant that I got to dive into our bylaws, Robert's Rules, and state statutes, to come up with our elections procedure. But it did mean no writing.

And of course, who can even think of writing while watching a new Pope be announced? :-)

Tuesday also went down the drain because of my back pain. I have a chronic back pain condition, and some days it feels worse than others. Yesterday the pain was concentrated in the lower left hip region, and kept me lying in bed reading most of the afternoon. (Do people really want to know this stuff?) Today the pain is much less, thanks to Aleve and perhaps my body's natural cycles, but I'm still not 100%.

And then for some weird reason, last night I couldn't get to sleep until well after 3 AM. I'm having insomnia again tonight, which is why this is being posted around 1 AM. It's a good thing I'm not working a regular schedule this year (thanks again to [ profile] gnomi).

The other reason I'm not getting any writing done -- Passover cleaning. As [ profile] gnomi points out in this post, we've done some cleaning but there is stil some to do. On my own list, I need to finish clearing the clutter off the dining room table, and I need to run two loads of laundry. Nomi's done much of the kitchen and the oven and stove already, and tomorrow we have to do the counters and the sink. So once again, I doubt I'll have time to work on the novel tomorrow.

As for Friday -- ha ha! The day before the shabbat before Passover? Anyone actually expects me to get work done? It is to laugh.

At least we got to hear Sarah Vowell tonight, and it was nice of [ profile] ckd to join us. I'll try to post a fuller report later, if I have the time.
Another 10,000 words accomplished.

I'm not going to go into the usual analysis here, but I am glad to say that the end is almost in sight. I'm almost done with chapter 12. The way my stepsheet outline currently reads, the final chapter will be around chapter 15 or 16.

I am a little worried about the length, though. I've heard that publishers tend to look for books between 80,000 and 120,000 words, and this first draft might end up breaking 120,000 words. But I know the first part of the book needs a major overhaul, and then other rewriting might lead to some cuts. In the end, though, I'll just let the book finish finding its own natural length.
First of all, as always, thanks to everyone who chose to participate in helping me with generating assassin names. You certainly are a creative bunch.

What I've decided is that these are all assassin code names, but they'll be the only names that my protagonist knows them by. And without further ado, the choices are:

Kali (from [ profile] charliesmum)
Caspian (from [ profile] valancy)
Asrael (from [ profile] magid)
Gapno Mapcase (from [ profile] shewhomust)
Anson (from [ profile] zevsero)
Salizar (from [ profile] scarlettina)
The Switch (from [ profile] beowabbit)
Hawking (from [ profile] querldox)
Thorn (from [ profile] stevethorn)

If I don't know who you are, and you want your real name in my Acknowledgements file (again, with no promises that this'll actually happen), email me via the livejournal address and let me know.

It's been a long day and I haven't had a chance to look through the replies yet. (Mundane details of my life included an unexpected doctor's appointment to clean the wax out of my ears.) Thanks to everyone who made suggestions; if all goes according to plan, tomorrow I'll look through the list, select the names, and let everyone know who made the cut.
Folks, remember when I asked people here for names of possible future movies? I'm putting out a call again if people want to play.

For the novel project, I need to come up with the names for ten assassins-for-hire who work and live in a futuristic, anarchic city on the Moon. Well, actually I need eight names; I've already named two of them Dumas and Dianora. (Hi, [ profile] dianora2!)

Anyway, the names can be anything: one word, two words, standard names, evocative nicknames, etc. If you want to suggest a name, or even offer up your own, let me know. Since I need ten of them, though, I'm trying to make them as distinctive as possible.

The usual offer applies. I'll file your own name away for a Tuckerization, if you want one, and if I can swing it, I can even try to list you in the novel's Acknowledgements. Which assumes, of course, that the thing eventually sells...
I haven't posted any progress reports for a while, because as I mentioned earlier I had to take a break from the novel. So for those of you interested, here are where things now stand.

Two weeks ago Friday I finished the second part of the novel, which now stands at 102,000 words. (That entry can be found here. For the past two weeks, however, I have been working on something else.

Although it's a long shot, I decided to apply for the Boston Public Library's Children's Writer-in-Residence Program. More information about the fellowship can be found here. Although I'm not a children's writer or a young adult writer per se, I've worked most of my career to make sure that my prose was accessible to middle school and high school students. (I have a lot of experience teaching both age groups.) Furthermore, I've had a young adult novel idea in the back of mind for many years -- in fact, I've had it in my files since the year 2000.

So this seemed like a good opportunity to work it out a bit.

The fellowship application is due tomorrow. So for the past two weeks, that's where all my creative energy has gone. They required a five-page outline and a fifteen page sample of my writing, so I finally plotted this book and then composed one of the scenes. I'm pleased to note that I mailed the application in yesterday, so they've probably already received it.

If I get the fellowship, it would be a nice opportunity. There's a stipend involved, but there's also access to the collections of the Boston Public Library, and anyone who knows me knows my love of libraries.

And if I don't get the fellowship, I still have an outline and fifteen pages done for that book. So it's not a waste.

I want to acknowledge [ profile] stakebait, who pointed me towards this fellowship.

This leaves the burning question, of course: what about the novel? Well, I spent yesterday and today revising the stepsheet outline. I've fixed it up so it now accurately reflects what I actually wrote in part two, and I'm plotting away at part three. I expect to get the final plotting done tomorrow -- so starting Monday, I'll be back at work on the actual first draft.
Today wasn't a writing day, but an editing day. Yesterday I finished the middle section of Part Two, but that meant that I needed to go through the later sections and make sure that they were now consistent with what I had written beforehand.

I finished that up this morning. The novel now has the following:

Part One: 183 pages, which is 6 chapters totaling 45.750 words.

Part Two: 225 pages, which is 5 chapters totaling 56, 250 words.

Total: 408 pages, 11 chapters, totaling 102,000 words.

Looking backward, there's a lot of work yet to do. First of all, the chapters in Part Two are rather long, as can be seen from the number of words. I might try to break the chapters up a bit more, perhaps making the 5 chapters into 6, so it parallels Part One.

There's also a lot of rewriting I have to do in Part One, because right now the plotting has become inconsistent within the draft. I don't want to go into too many details, but in Part One the protagonist has dinner with her parents, and at the end of Part Two her parents are put into jeopardy. Well, as I wrote the book I realized that she's too estranged from her parents for their capture to be meaningful, so the person put in jeopardy at the end of Part Two is now her mentor. That means I need to remove her parents from Part One and give her mentor more of a role.

But...I can do that later. The advice I've received from everyone -- books, other writers, my wife, and my agent -- is to plow forward and get the first draft done. So even though some of the scenes in Part Three will be inconsistent with the stuff that currently exists in Part One, I'll write them anyway. After all, this is the most exciting part, the part that my character's arc has built up to -- and I can't wait to see how she gets out of it.

(I apologize if you find this discussion of plot too vague, but the other advice I'm listening to is this: Never talk out your plot with people in advance, or you'll lose the impetus to write the book.)
A few minutes ago, I broke the 100,000-word mark on the novel in progress.

I'm of mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the fact that I have managed to reach so many words on a work of fiction is something of an achievement. I've never written anything this long before, and that makes this a more substantial work than anything else I've written.

But the fact that it's not done yet bothers me on a few levels. First of all, when I had originally plotted out this book, the plot structure I had planned for it felt like it would only require 100,000 words to tell the whole story. Clearly that's not the case. The initial setup (Part One) took about 45,000 words, and the development of the main part of the plot (Part Two) has taken 55,000 words already. It'll probably end up being 60,000 words. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the book will take longer to write than I had originally anticipated. I'm rather eager to have the manuscript finished.

The second concern I have is the question of how much of what I'm writing is necessary to tell the story, and not just padding that makes the book feel long. Now, believe me when I say that while I've been writing the novel, every scene has felt necessary, and not like padding at all. Furthermore, I've got [ profile] gnomi reading my new pages each day, and she tends to agree that what I've been writing is necessary to tell the story -- although she acknowledges that I may end up doing some cutting when I revise later on.

And the third question is marketability. My understanding is that publishers tend to prefer novels between 80,000 and 120,000 words. Given that Part Three has yet to be written, there is the distinct possibility that the book might break that 120,000-word mark. If so, it may end up being harder to sell.

But all these are just the thoughts that play out in the back of my mind, when I let myself go there. For right now, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the feeling of having completed 100,000 words of the novel.
As last week came to an end, I found myself having a little trouble working on the novel, because of the question of what I should write next, and how.

Let me explain, without going into too much detail, since I've been warned not to talk out your book in other venues too much, or else you'll never finish it. Right now, I'm in the middle of the second part of the book. My protagonist is going through a major learning experience, and I've already written the final chapter of the section, plus almost all the chapters leading up to it.

Specifically, I've already written what I'm currently calling chapters 7, 8, 9, and 11. The next step was to write chapter 10, which would then finish Part Two of the novel.

The problem was that it turned out that the plot didn't really work the way I had it. One of my first readers (or rather, pre-first readers, since she was wiling to look at some of the work in progress) pointed out that the plot development I had happening in chapter 10 really belonged between chapters 8 and 9.

What to do? On the one hand, I've heard all the warnings about not going back to rewrite until the first draft is complete. But on the other hand, I could already see that chapter 10 was going to feel awkward and out of place. I also knew that certain parts of chapter 8 and 9 were going to need to be changed if I later moved the chapter 10 plot development in between them.

In short, I didn't want to leave chapters 8 and 9 in "first draft" while writing a "second draft" version of chapter 10.

So here's what I did. My first step was to take chapters 8 and 9 and create one Word document that combined both of them. (Aside: I don't know how other writers do it, but when I write a novel I don't keep working in the same document every day, just letting it get longer and longer. Instead, I create separate document files for each chapter, and work only in that file. When it's done, I copy and paste it into a master document, which holds the whole novel.)

I took the new document, called it "Chapter_08-10," and began working with it. Right now, that's where I'm playing in my world. Today, I cut and paste some scenes within the document, wrote a bunch of new stuff, and figured out a better way for the plot to unfold. The writing blahs that hit me Friday have disappeared, replaced by a renewed enthusiasm for the book which led me to write 2000 words today. Once that combined document is done, I'll reassign the chaptering, which might lead to the chapter 11 I've already written being renumbered as chapter 12 or even chapter 13.

An anonymous thank-you shout-out to that first reader whose advice was so valuable, and who brought the first light of dawn to illuminate the plot. Rest assured that your name is already in my Acknowledgments page.
This evening, I hit 90,000 words on the novel.

I'm not about to go into all the details I've done before, because I've caught a cold and feel rather crappy. I took a nap this afternoon, and I think I need another one. But despite being sick, I wanted to manage 1500 words today, and I'm pleased that I did.

Part Two is now 176 pages long, and there's still more of it to write before I get to Part Three. This 100,000 word novel is definitely going to go longer than that, at least in first draft.
For those of you keeping track at home...

As of this afternoon, I hit 80,000 words with the first draft of the novel. (Actually, I exceeded 80,000 words; the novel's at 81,250.) Breaking it down a bit, as I've done before:

Part One, which I finished a while ago, was supposed to be about 33,000 words. It ended up at 45,500 words.

Part Two is still the section I'm working on now. Remember how I said it was supposed to be 33,000 words? It's now at 35,500, and there's still a lot more to go.

I see that I reached 70,000 words on February 4. That means it has taken me about 13 days to write 10,000 words, which averages out to 769 words a day. If we only include the weekdays on which I am actually committed to write, however, that's only 9 days, which is an average of 1,111 words, a little less than than 1500 I'm aiming for. But I took Tuesday off, because after the Nebula news I just couldn't get up the enthusiasm to write. So I used Tuesday to run a bunch of errands and recharge my batteries.

I'll meet you back here with another one of these posts in another 10,000 words.
For those of you keeping track at home...

As of this morning, I hit 70,000 words with the novel. Breaking it down a bit:

Part One, which I finished a while ago, was supposed to be about 33,000 words. It ended up at 45,500 words.

Part Two is the section I'm working on now. It's also supposed to end up at 33,000 words. Right now, it's at 24,500, and I expect that it'll take more than 8500 words to write all the scenes that are still missing. My main character has to escape an assassin who has been sent to kill her, then testify at his trial, interrogate him, get appointed to a position in her community... Yeah, there's a lot that has to happen.

The step sheet for Part Three hasn't been completely outlined yet, but I know how the whole thing is supposed to end.

I see that I reached 60,000 words on January 20. That means it has taken me about 15 days to write 10,000 words, which averages out to 666 words a day.

Of course, I'm not writing on every single one of those days, because I'm not writing on weekends. In reality, I only wrote on 8 of those days, which averages out to 1250 words per writing day. Given that I'm now aiming for what I call the "Bob Greenberger" quota of 1500 words a day, it looks like I'm doing okay. (I have to admit that I don't meet that quota every day; some days I've written under 1000 words, due to the vagaries of life's existence. But I do keep that quota goal in mind.)

Also, to be fair, I didn't write on either Friday, January 21 or Friday, January 28, when I should have; the first of those Fridays coincided with Arisia, which kept me busy; the second one coincided with my having hot chocolate with a former student in the morning, which discombobulated my schedule. Taking those two days into account, my overall average per day I was supposed to write is only 1000 words -- which is still more per day than at least one Hugo and Nebula winner I know who supports himself entirely with his writing.

And, to finish off, I've actually only done 750 words so far today. But I may not manage another 750 because I have a meeting for my part-time tutoring gig that I'm required to attend, and with it being winter, shabbat starts as early as quarter to five.

I'll meet you back here with another one of these posts in 10,000 more words.

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