Sunday, August 7, 2011

Measuring progress

This is the strangest project I've ever had to manage.  That's saying a lot, too; I've managed all sorts of projects before.  I've built "tank buster" lanes in the military, overseen the construction of roads and even a wolf den for the zoo, installed and improved major and minor computer and telephone networks, and launched academic programs.  I've even managed writing projects, from the 50-page response to the three comprehensive examination questions in my Ph.D. program to 300-600 page self studies to a 2,400-page response to the response to a self study.  You know what?  It's all measurable.  When you build a road, there is a certain order of steps that has to happen, and you can estimate how long each will take and then manage to the milestones plan you create as a result.  When you write a self-study, yes, it's writing, but it's not creative writing in the slightest.  To lay the project out, you determine how many questions and sub-questions you'll have to answer, give extra weight to the longer ones, and divvy them out appropriately.  You can track progress on an Excel spreadsheet or a Gantt chart, or whatever.  It's measurable, predictable, and to a great extent, controllable.

This isn't any of the three.

Writing the book was.  I was able to set a minimum number of words and a word goal, and with an ultimate word count threshold in mind I was then given to calculate the total amount of time it should take me to write the novel.  Everyone following the blog got to watch the project take shape, too, because as an accountability measure I included the word count at the bottom of each blog entry, and I tried to blog about something interesting every single day if for no other reason than to require myself to publish how much progress I'd achieved. 

Now, hell.  It's a jumble.  I'm halfway through making the red-line revisions, and I could be completely done with those if I weren't taking a certain amount of time to stop and rework some of the prose.  Some--most, in fact--of the rewriting I'm doing along the way is prompted by Debra's comments, but not all is.  Directly, anyway.  For example, Debra wanted a bit more of a hook in to the trip to Atlantis, and I made one today.  I'm pretty proud of my idea, in fact.  Meanwhile, there are other parts of the rewrite that I'm sailing right by, setting those red-lined pages to the side for later.  The scene where Callie gets the kids in trouble, for example, is on the list for a complete rewrite, to be done once I'm mentally ready. 

If it's just word count, I suppose I'm doing fine.  Over the past week, including two weekends, since I received the manuscript back, I've added nearly 8,000 words to the story length.  That's a 10% increase, which sounds awesome if you think of it that way.  Keep in mind, though, that I've been known to write 10,000 words on a weekend day when I sit down and really work at it.  For the sake of comparison, I spent nearly all day yesterday working at it, and only added about 3K to the count.  I don't feel bad about the lower word count per day; even 3K is pretty good considering I'm going page by page removing and cleaning as well as adding. 

What I do feel bad about is the lack of predictability and control this work offers.  It took me all last weekend and most of the week just to get in to the first few words of the original manuscript.  That was because first I wrote a prologue and a stronger beginning of the first scene, and then I revised them, and then I revised them again.  I have to say that I'm really quite pleased with the new beginning of the story, and Heide applauded the work I've done, but--it sure was slow going. 

Yes, I want it done now.  Can't help it. 

So, for lack of any better control mechanism, I have to just put the blog down, turn back to the manuscript, and keep on chugging.  I still have a couple of hours to write tonight, and so write I shall. 

Good night!


  1. You could always set goals of how many red-line items you will tackle in a week. That way you make it more controllable instead of it chancing to become a hairy, red beast set on destroying your state of mind. Put a leash on it and lead it where you will. :)

  2. True, but the red-line items have different gravity. Some--most, in fact--are just a matter of changing one word out for another, and take about 15 seconds, ish, to complete. Others suggest that I redo entire scenes. That's part of the challenge, and honestly, it's the reason I'm not getting bored working through the manuscript.