What I’m up to - August 2023
Edit edit edit edit. Edit edit.
I wrote a lot more words in August. 30,000 words to be precise. Then I cut 13,000 of them.
Writing and editing
I finished the beta reader draft of PROJECT ALTHROP yesterday, one day ahead of my plan! I actually wrote the last word of the first draft on the 12th of August, hitting 113,000 words, which is… uh, more than it’s supposed to be.
That intensive drafting period included my biggest day of drafting in several years (6,290 words, I couldn’t sleep one Saturday and just went wild on it), so the first thing I did after finishing was take a couple of days off.
Once I got started on the edit, I took a couple of days to get going. I feed the draft chapters through my critique group so I already had two or three Google Docs worth of comments to look at as an easy starter. I took a day or so to get through those minor changes.
When I’m working on the first draft I spend about a day a week working on crit partner comments, so every page of my ‘first’ draft has really had at least one pass by the time I finish. When I’m doing those edits, anything big that my CPs suggest that would require edits in multiple places, I stick as a card on my editing kanban board. I use Obsidian to do this and just add subtasks for all the places I need to make a change (for example, the task might be ‘Make Bob more sinister’ and the subtasks are ‘when we first meet him’ and ‘in the cafe scene’ and ‘at the library’ - just quick references so I can jump around in the draft).
Once I was done with those CP edits (and noting down bigger things) I went through all of my notes and discussion points and everything else and put it all into my kanban board. Finally, I imported the Scrivener document structure into Aeon Timeline and spent three days doing a detailed scene-by-scene timeline - this has saved my bacon so many times it’s become an absolutely essential step for me (I write pretty fast moving action SF and spy thrillers, so continuity errors are rife).
Sometimes I’ll do a non-sequential structural edit, but this time I started at the start of the book and just did a detailed edit, working through every page extremely slowly. I zoom Scrivener into 600% so I can only see about 2 sentences at a time, which is a weird little brain hack that stops me skimming my own work.
Rinse and repeat for thirteen days and I have a finished beta draft. That’s away to them now and I’ll hopefully be getting notes back from them over the next couple of weeks. I’m hoping to have a submission ready draft by end of September, but it might be done earlier. I tend to get a bit carried away.
Publishing and community
This month has been a month of being a weird writer hermit and barely going out, which is odd given it’s been Festival Month in Edinburgh (I don’t live in Edinburgh anymore, but I’m 20 minutes away by train). I went to see my regulation single Fringe show, but that was about it. Mostly I was writing.
The other thing I’ve been doing in August is waiting. I currently have two novelettes in second round with two different pro-rate magazines. Both of them are well over the usual rejection window, so I think they both have a decent chance. So I’m hoping for a double acceptance sometime in September, while girding my loins for a double rejection. I’m really happy with both stories, but the venues for novelettes (usually 8,500 to 19,000 words) are extremely limited. At least one of the two has been to pretty much everywhere that’s open to submissions, so if it doesn’t sell, I’ll have to work out if I can edit it down to the 6,000-7,000 word mark or lower. I think writing ‘sweet spot’ short stories of 3,000-5,000 words is a skill I really want to develop over the next year or two. Stories of that length have the most options when it comes to submission and they obviously are quicker to write! But I do tend to like the extra elbow room of a novelette.
Extremely light on the reading this month, because of all the writing:
- Young Bloods by Simon Scarrow - This was a cheeky Audible sale purchase (I love a bit of Napoleonic historical fiction, having inhaled various Patrick O’Brian and Bernard Cornwell novels over the years) and I’ve been curious about Simon Scarrow’s work for ages. He’s better known for his Imperial Rome books, but this more recent series (following Napoleon and Wellington over the course of their lives) is pretty great - lots of crunchy historical detail, action and great characterisation. The audiobook was excellent too.
The editing in September (along with some work travel) should give me a bit more scope for reading. And I’m on holiday in October, so I will doubtless read a bunch more then too.
August was pretty rainy and I was also writing a lot (seeing a theme developing here) so I didn’t get out half as much I’d like to, or should have. But there’s always next month. And now that the autumn chill has wound its way to our door, I can wear a jacket when I walk and hopefully not get home all sweaty, which will be welcome.
We’ve had a great harvest in the back garden too - the greenhouse I assembled in February is knocking out tomatoes like nobody’s business and we’ve had courgettes, beans, sweetpeas, potatoes and lettuce from our raised beds. We’re also finally finished with the major back garden projects - all the raised beds are in, benches assembled and slabs laid. Now it’s all just cosmetic stuff. There is of course the front garden to consider, but that’s Future Dave’s problem.
September is going to be a busy month, as I polish up the beta draft even more for submission. I’m also going to Bloody Scotland for the first time. This is Scotland’s homegrown crime and thriller festival (I write spy thrillers as well as science fiction) and I’m really excited for it. A few folk I know will be chairing panels or doing readings, and I’m looking forward to making some new connections in a different genre. There may also, possibly, be an Exciting Meeting. Unconfirmed as yet.
These links are made for clicking, and clicking’s what you’ll do:
- This interview with RJ Barker on Publishing Rodeo was a delight. RJ’s persistence and optimism is a real tonic. And this newsletter continues to be a stan account for Publishing Rodeo.
- This is a great post about the importance of reading your contracts from KJ Charles, including lots of things to keep in mind if you’re new to the byzantine world of legal wording.
- Absolutely fantastic post from Charlie Jane Anders on the importance of having a stable, chill, sustainable day job as the foundation for a creative career. I wish I’d read this post (or something like it) fifteen years ago. It would have saved me a lot of heartache (and fatigue).
- I loved the short story ‘Light Speed is Not A Speed’ by Andy Dudak in Clarkesworld this month. Very hard to describe, but just fantastic prose and a completely captivating world.
- Another great story was ‘Window Boy’ by Thomas Ha - a really deftly drawn and horrifying world and a compelling plot.
August was a continuation of the pace for July, but the energy levels are very definitely flagging. This is definitely not a writing and editing speed that I can continue indefinitely - it’s not sustainable and I suspect if I tried, I’d burn out in fairly short order. In September, I’ll be endeavouring to balance out the writing with other things, including getting out of the house more. I’m still nowhere near as fried as I was this time last year, but I can feel the need for some time off building, as well as a deep longing to recharge my creative batteries with a lot of reading.
Autumn winds are blowing in and there’s a crispness to the air that’s been absent for many months. I hope you get the time you need to cosy up, maybe light a candle, and settle in with a really good book.
In the meantime, as ever, keep reading, keep writing and keep moving.