Archives for category: Progress report


Earlier this month, I celebrated the birthday I’ve been dreading for so long. The one with the big “0” at the end. For months, it felt like I was walking the gangplank, getting ever closer to the end as the date approached. Everyone told me that the other side was “incredible” and “better than ever” and I believed them, but still: it isn’t nothing.

It was like having a massive neon sign in my face reminding me of my own mortality. It’s not something I ever consciously forget, and yet: it’s easy to ignore the idea of your own end until a milestone like this appears. It made my breath hitch. I woke in the wee hours of the morning, mulling over my missteps and triumphs, wondering how I could do better.

It’s a good thing. Except for the getting old part.

I must have learned something over the years, because setting a deadline for myself to finish this book by my birthday was the best idea I’ve had in a long time. It gave me something to do with the angst, a place to shovel all my frustration and fear.

I won’t declare that writing is a lark, or a rhapsodic journey, or any of that nonsense, but it’s also not a dreadful chore. This is the only writing I do where I get to choose every word. Not a client, not a colleague. What happens is up to me.

Ok, but what about the deadline?

I didn’t finish the book, whatever that means, but I did finish the first draft. Before my birthday.

116,334 words. A beginning, a middle, and an end.

Cue the party horns!

It’s messy, oh boy. It’s a tangle of words + scenes + dialogue, but the story is there.

My next task is to do a big, massive sweep through the entire thing – re-writing, tightening, trimming – until it’s tidy enough that I can share with a few people without the fear that they’ll throw it back and run away screaming.

I’m giving myself 6-8 weeks for that process. And it continues.

The photo at the top is the Cloud Gate in Chicago, where I spent a fun, chilly birthday weekend wandering around the Art Institute, utterly amazed by all of the beautiful things.

I had every intention of making this blog my writing journal, but that’s not how it worked out.

Here’s what happened instead: In my iCal, I added “appointments” to the 6:00 am hour, where I would (hopefully) never have meetings or phone calls, to keep track of my progress. I made these appointments orange so they’d stand out. Every time I work on my book, I add a new entry, giving me an at-a-glance view of how many days I’ve worked on the book, and how many new words I wrote on each of those days. It’s so easy to include notes about what I am feeling that day, or how the writing is going.

So I’ve got entries like:

July 29: 2000 words. All over the place. Section 4, Section 5. Moving things around. Juggling, tweaking, plotting, planning.

August 23: 1000 words. HOLY SHIT. Brand new perspective. Trying this out, stripped out the entire Britt storyline. HOLY SHIT.

August 26: 800 words. Slow going, lots of scratching out and writing over, trying to think about how this plays out. I think it works. Does it work? Hope so.

September 30: 2200 words. A piece that feels important, but still rough. MOST IMPORTANT today was lots of cleanup work and blending sections, making decisions about moving some pieces around, etc. Goal is to start stitching sections up so that it doesn’t feel like so much is outstanding.

October 14: 1800 words. Zeke, the next bit, plus some of Madeline and Alice. Little pieces everywhere. Pulling together the next chunk. Progress!

You get the picture.

I’ve been very, very busy. This hasn’t felt like a “social” activity, and I haven’t wanted to blog about it much. There’s so much uncertainty and self-doubt along the way. It is far from being ready to show the world.


I’m a numbers girl, so check these digits out.

Back in August, when I decided to rip out a huge portion of the book, I lost about 30,000 words. I shed a few tears, but it was absolutely the right decision.

Today, my word count is at 93,000, and I’m in the home stretch. I’m thinking – 8-ish more weeks until the first draft is finished. I printed out the outline for the last section and taped it to the wall next to my computer. Every time I complete some part of the outline, I cross it off with a blue pen.

There will still be SO MUCH WORK to do when the outline is covered in blue slash marks. But at least I’ll have an entire draft, beginning to end, a lump of a thing I can start hacking away on.

Yes: this counts as joy.

I’m working away over here. Juggling, shifting, re-calibrating, re-writing. Plotting out the story in a more deliberate way this time.

I woke up at 3:30 am this morning, head whirling with ideas about the ending. These characters have burrowed deep under my skin; I can’t let the story go now, despite the moments of anxiety.

And speaking of anxiety: I’m not thinking about word count, or even about how many more months this will take to finish. Can’t face either of those things just now.

Rather, I’m letting myself enjoy the process. To revel in it, even. It’s astonishing the power writers have to craft an entire world, to play the role of puppet master. I dare say, it’s quite a lot of fun.

I’ve realized too that there is a tremendous sense of freedom on this side of the fence, the space that exists before a book is done and ready to be made public, evaluated, judged. Once that line has been crossed, at some point in the future, everything will change.

This is a good place to be. For now.

This book is coming together. Word by word, scene by scene. Some days I’m in love with it. Some days I hate it so much I can’t imagine how I ever thought this was a good idea. A couple of weeks ago, I woke up with the fervent belief that I should break the story lines apart and start over. Talked myself down from that ledge.

Here’s where I am now in terms of word count:

SECTION 1 – 17,500
SECTION 2 – 17,400
SECTION 3 – 17,200
SECTION 4 – 16,900
SECTION 5 – 10,000

TOTAL: 79,000

That seems like a big jump since my last progress report, but I wrote that post as I was getting the blog together, so it was a bit outdated by the time I published it. In the last 10 weeks, I’ve written an average of 4,400 words per week, which is over my 3,000 goal, so: YAY.

I’m overwriting. There’s bloat everywhere.

But I’m feeling more anxious than ever to get this first draft OUT so that I can see whether it hangs together. When the story is finally out my head and onto the page, it will be:

Unfit for consumption

But! I’ll know what I’ve got. And that’s something.

A running buddy said to me once: “Jennifer, you’re just like a horse when they catch sight of the barn. You go faster the closer you get to home.” I suppose she was right.

I’m nowhere near the home stretch yet, but I can see vague shapes in the distance that look promising.

Still on track to have a first draft finished sometime in October. The hustle continues.

Temporary tattoo from the geniuses at Tattly.

One part of me knows that the number of words on a page is the LEAST important thing about my writing. The other part of me can’t stop watching the word counter. This is the same reason I cover up the electronics panel on gym equipment; I start obsessing over how many calories I’m burning per minute, and WHAT ARE METS AND HOW CAN THEY HELP ME.

Since I can’t very well drape a towel over my computer monitor, I’m not going to fight it. And that’s okay, because here’s the truth: the numbers comfort me. Irrelevant as they might be, they make me feel like I’m getting somewhere.

This seems like a good time to establish a starting point. When I dusted my manuscript off in April, I had about 20,000 words or so.

Here’s what I’ve got now:

Section 1: 15,900 words
Section 2: 16,200 words
Section 3: 13,800 words
Section 4: 8,000 words

TOTAL; 46,700

See how I’m rounding off? That KILLS me.

But that’s where I am today, give or take a few.

My weekly goal is 3,000 (new) words. That’s in addition to fiddling, tweaking, and smoothing the work I’ve done already. I’m guessing that the finished product will be between 90-100,00 words, which means I’ve got about 50,000 words to go. If I meet my goal every week, I’ll have a rough first draft in about 19 weeks.

Let’s see how this goes.