Update on My Novel: Month 28

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AUGUST STATS

Days Writing: 17
New Words: 2,966
New Chapters: 0.5

Total Word-count: 85,250
Total Chapters: 23

My goal for the past few check-ins has been to incrementally improve on the previous month’s effort. In August I wanted to hit 13 days of writing, and I met that and then some with 17 in all! I also wanted to get 3,200 words, but I fell a little short on that one. At 2,966 I was even a little under July’s 3,069.

I would have liked to have met my goal, but I’m not too upset about it. I feel like I gave an honest effort this month, just sometimes it’s a different sort of work that goes into making a novel than at other times.

And that was the case with this month. I spent quite a bit of time doing and undoing work, which might seem like a waste, but going through that process made me more confident that the story is where it needs to be.

Specifically I was trying to add a new nightmare sequence to Chapter 20, and it just wasn’t coming together. Finally I realized that I was trying to force this piece in for logistical reasons (to have an equal number of chapters between each nightmare sequence) and that was the wrong motivation. The story simply didn’t want to go there, and it would be a mistake to force it to do so.

So I scrapped the ill-fitting sequence and instead added a different dream sequence to the end of Chapter 23. This was a much better fit and my writer’s block was replaced with a pleasant flow.

For September I’ll go for 18 days of writing and see if I can hit that 3,200 word goal this time around. Come back in a month to hear how it goes. In the meantime, here’s a segment from the dream sequence I added during August.

Each day the would-be hero grows more ill-at-ease with the cruelty, more unwilling to stand idly by as the children he loves are harmed.

“Leave him alone!” he calls out one day as the bully kneels on a small student’s chest and pushes his hair into the mud.

“No!” comes the reply. “I’m the leader here so I do as I decide!”

“But what you’re doing is wrong!”

“Oh, wrong am I? You don’t even know how wrong I can be!”

To prove his point the bully pulls the small student back to his feet and wraps his hands around the boy’s throat from behind.

“What are you doing?!” the hero shrieks. “Stop that!”

But instead the bully clenches even tighter, and the youth begins to splutter.

For a moment it seems that they hero is still not going to intervene. For a moment he bows his head in shame, resigned to once again shirk the call. Maybe if he walks away, if he capitulates to the bully here and now, maybe then the bully will let the small student go.

But then the hero raises his head and there is fire in his eyes.

Update on My Novel: Month 27

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JULY STATS

Days Writing: 12
New Words: 3,069
New Chapters: 0.75

Total Word-count: 83,150
Total Chapters: 22.75

My goal for July was to incrementally improve on my performance in June. In June I wrote and edited 2,893 words through 10 days of work, so for June I wanted to work at least 11 days and write and edit at least 3,000 words.

And I’m pleased to say that I met both goals! As you can see I worked during 12 days and wrote 3,069 words. Given how close those numbers are to my goals, you might assume that I made a special push at the end of the month just to hit them, and you’d be absolutely right! But I suppose that’s one of the purposes of goals, to motivate you when you realize you’re in danger of missing the mark.

And I’ll keep the same “small incremental improvement” goal for August. I’ll try for 13 days of working and 3,200 words written and edited, which is a very doable goal.

I also had a happy realization this last month. When I first finished the outline for my novel I estimated that it would run for 32 chapters. But while writing I have removed and condensed some segments, but I never updated my estimates until just recently. Now my expectation is that my last chapter will be either number 28 or 29. That might not seem very significant of a change, but just knowing I’m about 6 chapters from the end of my first draft, instead of 9, is extremely encouraging!

I’ll let you know how things went in August one month from now, and here’s a small piece from the material that I wrote in July.

The hairs on the back of Clara’s neck stand on end and she wrings her hands. What is she supposed to do? She’s already doing everything that she can, but this is beyond her.

“Mother, please be alright!” she kisses Eleanor’s hand. “I’m going to get father. I have to. Please be alright!” She presses her lips against the hand once more, then turns and dashes out of the cottage.

She hurries along the trail as fast as her feet can carry her, legs whipped by the tall grass as she cleaves through it. Her fear gives her an amazing clarity. Any distraction that would normally occupy her mind is banished before it can enter. She doesn’t even allow herself to be deterred by any fears: not of hidden creatures lurking in the grass, and not of her mother alone at the camp. What Eleanor needs right now is swiftness, not worry.

Though not too much swiftness. With her enhanced clarity of mind, Clara realizes that if she keeps running flat-out, she won’t be able to keep up the pace all the way to William. The fastest way to get help for her mother is to run only at the highest speed she can maintain all the way from start to finish. So she slows her feet, but only a little, trusting that she will push herself beyond her normal capabilities.

As for the trip back, she gives no thought to it. She will expend all the energy that she has just to get to William, and then it will be up to him to take things from there.

Update on My Novel: Month 20

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DECEMBER STATS

Days Writing: 25
New Words: 4003
New Chapters: 1

Total Word-count: 66,847
Total Chapters: 18

Coming into December I knew that it is usually a difficult month for writing, given how heavy it is on holiday festivities. I was also afraid that if I started missing multiple days back-to-back it would be all too easy to give up on it entirely until the new year.

So at the start of the month I made a commitment to not have two days back-to-back where I didn’t work on the novel. A lofty goal…and I made it!

The days that I missed were the 6th, 12th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, and 27th. As you can see, at the end I started missing every other day as the festivities ramped up, but I successfully managed to sandwich each absence with at least a little bit of work before and after.

And how about that grand total of 25 days writing?! I believe that is a new record for me, and I do think it was directly due to this idea of no back-to-back days off. 4003 words written means that each of those 25 days was a little light, but that’s still the most I’ve written in a single month since March.

If you’ve been following my progress, then you know I have tried a variety of different routines to get the most out of my writing and some of those have been more successful than others. I’m pretty excited about this new no-back-to-back-misses approach, though, and will certainly be carrying it forward!

So here’s hoping for another great month in January, I’ll let you know in February how it went. As usual I’ll send you off with a piece that I wrote during this month. Enjoy!

Then begins the crafting stage. Of all the phases, this one is the most routine and repetitive. There are many identical pieces and all must be cut to exact length and precisely shaped, so that they may be bolted together in a perfect fit. And as the full quantity of these has already been tabulated, John has a quota for exactly how many pieces to construct each day. Like a machine his arms memorize the movements and repeat them over and over, parts flying off the table in rapid succession until the full tally has been made.

Of course he cannot completely assemble the pieces of the mill at his workstation, for then they would be too heavy to carry down to the river. Thus he forms them into as large of pieces as his little wheelbarrow can bear, then he will carries them down to the river and completes their construction on-site.

This transportation phase requires some adjustments to the wheelbarrow, though. A single wheel and two leg supports has made for a most agile vehicle, but it simply won’t do when supporting massive constructs of lumber. So he gets rid of the legs, adds three more wheels, expands its bed, and raises its walls. Now it is a proper cart.

Then he treks down to the river, one load at a time. It is not easy to haul such large pieces over such a distance. The ground, while relatively flat compared to the rest of the island, is still far from a paved road. Indeed John thinks to himself during the process that he will have to prioritize making some roads during the off-season when he has a spare moment.

But for now there are no spare moments. He is still holding himself to a rigorous schedule and he must make many trips back-and-forth, every single day. By his copious experience he knows full well how much strain is behind every numbered task. He knows the exact amount of work to be accomplished and the amount of pain to be endured, and he does not let his day finish until he has met both quotas.

Update on My Novel: Month 19

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NOVEMBER STATS

Days Writing: 13
New Words: 2121
New Chapters: 0.33

Total Word-count: 62,821
Total Chapters: 17

Definitely a quieter month for me compared to October. In fact it was my fewest number of days since July. Those days felt a bit like running in place, too, as most of my time was spent back in my previous chapter, adding in another scene.

November is a big holiday month here in the United States, and that definitely was a large factor in how things went. But December is an even bigger holiday month, and so I am anxious about falling into the same trap.

The hardest thing for me is to have skipped a few days, and then have to get back into the context of where I was the next time I start. It makes it all the more tempting to just skip the next day as well.

To that end, I’m going to take special note whenever a day passes and I haven’t written anything. I will make it a rule that I must write on the next day in that case. I’m far enough ahead on my story blog that I could even afford to take a day off there, if it meant having time to work on the novel.

We’ll see how this approach works. If it’s effective, then the absolute minimum number of days for me will be fifteen, which isn’t great, but still better than what I managed this month.

For now here’s a piece that I wrote during this month, it is part of the scene that I added into Chapter Seventeen. Fair warning, it is rather intense.

“Yes. See how you’ve clenched yourself? All the muscles in your abdomen tight as a rock? That’s no good. Then when it has to drive through that’s–“

A strangled cry emanates from deep in your throat as ‘it’ pierces through with a series of rapid surges, forcibly cutting its way through the muscle on its way towards the surface. You sift your fingers back and forth through the dirt, trying to focus on that sensation, willing it to take your mind off the pain at your belly. You give two sharp inhales, then try to relax your muscles.

It is a hard thing, though. For the flesh feels the knife’s edge within, and instinctively flexes itself against it.

“Focus on my voice,” your companion offers. “Make me everything you see, hear, and know. Better to turn away from yourself at this part. Better to make it so you don’t even know what happens.”

The knife-edge pulls back, then lunges forward again. Your somewhat relaxed muscles seize right back up and you cry out again! The knife-edge increases pressure, drives itself at the fibers. You give a long, guttural groan, clenching your fingers on the hard soil, gripping the entire earth for you anchor.

“Press on!” your companion cries. “Press on! You are so near!”

Your long shout goes silent as the last of the air expels from your lungs. You choke silently for a moment, then ‘it’ bursts out of your navel like an arrow.

A strange cry, like that of a wounded animal, warbles out from between your numb lips.

“Yes! Yes! You’ve done it!”

Your whole body trembles as you let your torn muscles slacken. With face on the ground you catch a glimpse of a small gray creature falling to the soil. It drives razor-head into the dirt and scrabbles its feet madly. It disappears into that new womb, churning the soil up in a small cloud as it seeks its collective.

For a moment you feel nothing, and then all at once the entire ground seems to turn beneath you. A single massive force contracts and flows, like a massive underground river. It is the collective welcoming their newest brother.

With a sob you roll onto your back, weep the birth, and try to stop your body from its convulsions.

Update on My Novel: Month 18

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OCTOBER STATS

Days Writing: 20
New Words: 3924
New Chapters: 1.25

Total Word-count: 60,547
Total Chapters: 17

Well this month was my most productive in a long while! It was the most words written since March, and the most days-in-a-month working on the novel since October last year! It would have been nice to break the 4,000-word barrier…but I’ll just have to keep that as a motivation for this next month.

A little less positively, I noticed during this month that I kept falling into a pattern of halfhearted writing. I would open my word processor, type out a minimum number of words as quickly as possible, and the quality just wasn’t up to the standard I have been striving for. I’ve told myself previously that it’s okay to only write out a few words during a busy day, but they still ought to be quality words!

On the other hand…maybe my tepidness is a blessing in disguise. It could be a warning to me that the section I am working on is not very interesting, and will be a slog for the reader to get through as well. A slow middle is one of the most common failings in literature, and I might very well be falling victim to it myself!

But if I am able to recognize this trend as it happens, I will still have time to correct it. I’m currently doing a once-over on my latest chapter, and in addition to picking out grammatical and logical errors, I will repeatedly ask myself “is this even interesting.”

For now, though, here’s a piece that I wrote during this month. One that I feel still has that spark I’ve been striving for. Enjoy!

But William has no more time for ruminations, for Eleanor is now ushering the family to their seats around the fire, and once they are settled she presents the first real feast that they have enjoyed since setting foot on the island!

The main attraction, of course, is the roasted bird.

“Oh, this is divine!” William exclaims. “What kind of fowl is this?”

“Well I’m not sure exactly,” Eleanor answers, “but it looked like some sort of pheasant.”

“Are we going to start putting traps out for them regularly, now?” he smiles hopefully.

“Yes, I think so. Try and catch a few and start breeding them I imagine. Though this came out quite dry and bland, didn’t it?”

Everyone murmurs in disagreement. But of course, this is the first fresh meat they’ve had since they arrived, and even dry, bland fowl seems succulent and rich!

In addition to the pheasant, there are two side dishes made from the recently harvested produce of their garden. The first is yellow yams that have been boiled soft, with green beans and peas mixed throughout. The second is another set of yams that has been sliced and fried, and is served with a dip made of mashed mung beans.

And even this isn’t all. A large bowl is also passed around, full of nuts and sunflower seeds, and also a jar of tamarind jam to enjoy by itself.

“How nice to have a dinner with dessert again,” John approves. “Would you like some, Clara?”

“No,” she wrinkles her nose. “I don’t like tamarinds. And that’s not what we’re having for dessert.”

“There’s more?” John looks in amazement to Eleanor, who reaches behind the stump she is sitting on and produces cashew fruit, cut into halves and topped with some of the leftover cane sugar from their test crop.

They all eat more heartily than they knew they could. There isn’t a single morsel left in any bowl or plate, and there isn’t a single finger that isn’t licked clean. They are quite full when all the food is gone, yet each feels they would happily eat just as much again.

Update on My Novel: Month 17

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SEPTEMBER STATS

Days Writing: 18
New Words: 3145
New Chapters: 1

Total Word-count: 56,412
Total Chapters: 15.75

Well 3,000 words-per-month definitely seems to be my pattern of late! Actually, if I’m being honest, I was tracking well below that level until the end of the month, and when I realized it I redoubled my efforts just to be sure I made that mark. I guess 3,000 words unconsciously became a minimum standard for myself.

Also, I wouldn’t have had a chance of hitting that many words if not for a writer’s group that I am a part of. Each meeting we take an hour-and-a-half of uninterrupted writing to get out as many words for our novels as possible. I only attended one of these meetings for the month of September, but from that one session I got 1,200 words. Just by attending more of these (they occur on a weekly basis) I could get a lot more done each month.

For the past while I’ve been realizing that the greatest slow-down to my writing process is that I review each chapter after I finish writing it. I don’t get chapter polished to a perfect state, and there’s still going to be a lot of refactoring and revising to do later, but my work does become markedly improved from this editing-as-I-go approach. I think it is an important process, but it sure does put the brakes on my momentum.

I’m not sure what to do about that yet. I could push myself to edit each chapter for a set number of days only. I could try to be more sparse in smoothing out each rough spot. I could see if it is better to write out three whole chapters, and then edit them as a batch.

Perhaps I’ll implement some of those ideas this month, I’m still not sure. But I will be paying close attention to how things go once I get finished with Chapter 16. Come back on November 1st to hear how it went.

Before I head out, though, here’s a little snippet from my work this month. Enjoy!

An early chill crawls out of the earth that night and the family awakens to several patches of dew that have crystallized into frost.

“Is this a concern?” William asks Eleanor.

“No, not yet. We had a few cooler days last season as well, and none of them were a problem for our test crop.”

The wind picks up, and all of the family pull their blankets more tightly around their shoulders and lean closer to the fire.

“Well that’s a proper sea breeze, isn’t it?!” William exclaims.

“Yes, and a sea sky,” John observes the flat, gray canopy overhead.

“Well I think it’s quite refreshing myself,” Eleanor smiles. The wind picks up once more and she shrinks back into her blanket. “I’ve gotten so used to this hot and humid air that I don’t even notice it anymore. Nice to have a day that you can actually feel once in a while!”

“Well I prefer not feeling the day,” Clara shivers.

“Were you finished with your porridge?”

“Yes.”

“Well then why don’t you and I start on our way. The walk will help thaw you out.”

“But then I won’t be in my blanket anymore.”

“I’d consider letting you keep it around you, but then you’d have to carry it back at the end of day.”

“I’ll carry it!”

“And it will be hot and stuffy this afternoon, and you won’t enjoy having to carry it then.”

“No, I’ll be alright. Thank you, mother.”

“I believe you mean ‘please, mother,'” William cocks an eyebrow.

Clara sighs. “Please, mother?”

“Well, alright.”

“Thank you, mother.”