Thursday, July 14, 2016

Writing progress

Just a quick writing update because this evening I passed the 75k mark drafting The Ashes of Home. That’s worth a celebratory glass of wine because it represents roughly 3/4 of the likely final novel.

Knocking out a first draft is a big task and can get overwhelming, and sometimes it’s hard to see how far you’ve come. When I’m in full-on writing mode I find it helps to set a word count target, and to graph the results week by week. This picture helps motivate me, giving me a kick up the pants when I’m struggling. It draws me back when I don’t feel like writing, even if it’s just to add a couple of hundred words. And when things are going well it reminds me to celebrate progress and milestones like this.

Back in February I picked up the smattering of rough scenes I’d written a few years ago, and set myself the goal of hitting 90k by the end of August. That works out at a little over 400 words a day. Not much by many writers’ standards, but with other commitments it’s a stretch for me to sustain day on day.

As you can see from the graph (blue = target, red = actual word count) I’ve been doing well, tracking just ahead of target. You can clearly see the slump when I hit a sticky patch last month. But with such a clear depiction of the slump (something it’s impossible to get just looking at a list of figures) I gritted my teeth and sorted out the root of the problem. There will be more slumps to come, especially as I try to bring all the story threads to a conclusion, but I hope to blast through them in the same way. Right now, words on the page is the name of the game. Kicking it into shape will come later, but you can’t edit an empty page.

Incidentally, the traffic light colors at the top of the page illustrate my fractal planner/pantser writing approach. Each column represents a separate Word document (I like to split the manuscript into manageable chunks) and the colors show state of readiness, with red for raw work in progress, and green for a section in good shape. You can see how I tend to leap ahead in the story and draft later scenes while I’m still polishing up earlier ones.


  1. You are way more organized than I am.
    You've stayed ahead of the curve - good job!

  2. Hi Ian - that's being organised ... I'd just want the story to flow and then worry what next ... good for you though ... and good discipline for your kids to see .. cheers Hilary

  3. It pays to be organized and you definitely benefit from keeping to a schedule. I write in fits and starts and my output is uneven.

  4. Alex, it's organization born of desperation. I'd be a mess otherwise :)

    Hilary, the story flows of its own accord, this is more about keeping up the momentum.

    Stephen, I do benefit from a schedule - up to a point. However if I am simply stuck then sometimes the schedule needs to be set aside and I don't beat myself up about it.

  5. Hi Ian. Some people say bashing out a first draft is exhilarating, but I find it excruciating as i keep wanting to edit it, which to me is the fun part. Oh, dear, that's why I take SO LONG...(I could never be as organised as you and others who track their progress...CHAPTER ONE...edited 60 times. I've nearly reached Margaret Mitchell's level (of editing, not writing!)

  6. Denise, I tend to edit as I go, too, but usually as way of getting my mind back into the story when I'm casting around for how to approach the next scene. When the words just flow, it's exhilarating, but that is still a fairly rare occurrence. As for tracking progress being organized, it's just a matter of dropping the document word count into the spreadsheet at the end of a session. It doesn't matter how many times a chapter gets edited, the thing I'm looking for here is words added overall. This helps keep me on course and nudges me away from too much tinkering, which doesn't add to the overall count.

  7. Very impressive, Ian. You're quite disciplined and structured in your approach to writing. I like that.

    I know all about the difficulties of finding time to write, but, if it truly is our passion then we find it. And I can see you are passionate about this story.

    Good luck - sending you positive writing vibes, Jenny


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