I’ve started draft 5

Almost exactly six months ago I finished draft 4.

And then I put the novel on a shelf.

On the one hand, boo!

On the other hand, I’ve got an excuse: those six months were sort of busy.

During that half year I:

  • worked with a half dozen different contractors to prepare my Massachusetts house for sale
  • juggled three different offers (one of which fell through)
  • sold the house
  • bought a 56 acre farm in New Hampshire
  • packed up everything I owned, including a 450 ft^2 workshop
  • loaded one large PODS and helped movers load TWO large moving trucks
  • unpacked it all into a new house
  • bought a tractor and used it to clear my 200 yard dirt road of four feet of snow
  • learned to operate a log splitter
  • chainsawed almost 7 cords of firewood
  • purchased goats
  • installed electric fencing,
  • made new friends,
  • sent my draft 4 off to Famous Novelist for paid coaching feedback
  • got comments back from Famous Novelist

…and most recently:

I started draft five.

That was 13 days ago.

So far progress is good. I’m averaging just over 3,000 words revised per day. At this rate the entire task will take 100 days, and I’m already 13 days in – just 87 more days to go!

As one might hope, the successive drafts have been focusing on successively finer grained aspects. First draft was about getting the story down. Second draft was about fixing massive plot problems. Third draft filled in holes and gave characters actuall…character. And so on.

And now fifth draft is polishing the prose, tightening up the paragraphs, making the sentences – if not shine, exactly – at least have a bit of economy and less flabbiness.

I boiled down Famouse Novelist’s feedback to a few key points, a quick document that I can read and re-read before each and every mornings’ session of revision.

My eight biggest problems (and the tools I use to fix them):

1) bookish diction tool: read for things that sound nerdy / literary; remove

2) buried plot critical scenes – big emotional impact needs a large number of words; I often don’t use enough words tools:
1) describe at greater length
2) change details as needed: “it takes longer to beat a guy to death with a shovel than to shoot him”
3) spend time on the reaction shot
4) do the after effects first, place action in a flashback

3) favorite words tool: cut down on use of burst out (for “exclaimed” or “blurted”), drift, float, grab, grin, grunt, narrow (down or eyes), nod, roar, scream, shake

4) curtain lines are a weird mix, and don’t show any deliberation tool: 1) read curtain lines, think about what you’re trying to accomplish

5) high detail density: tools:
1) cut details back
2) redundancy of action
break things into steps, interleave actions, reminiscences, thoughts
– show descriptive detail as a basis for decisions rather just observed details
– concentrate on getting action scenes “clear continuous place and time”; rest falls out
3) move some detail to nearby expository paragraphs

6) Unnecessary auxiliary verbs of starting e.g.
“Mike began to run” –> “Mike ran”
“The stars began to go out” –> “The stars went out”

7) Unnecessary prepositions with verbs e.g. “lifted up” –> “lifted”
“climbed to” –> “climbed”

8) Very long expositions of fairly simple human interactions
tools: pretend you’re writing a screenplay: show the actions, the reader can figure out the internal motivations

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short stories, sales funnel, miscellaneous life updates


The Aristillus books are off to a writing coach who will be reviewing them (or, rather, Act 1 of book 1) over the holidays. I hope to have actionable feedback to guide me in the fifth and final draft within a few weeks. I’m still aiming for a mid 2014 release.

For a year or so now, @mr_archenemy has been suggesting that I should write short stories set in the Aristillus universe, not just to flesh it out as a work of art, but to hook readers.

I agreed, but wasn’t super eager to do so – mostly from exhaustion with the universe. Recall, in two weeks I will have been working on these two novels for three years, and will have written almost exactly one million words.

Recently, though, I read Write. Publish. Repeat. which is a how-to-build-your-writing-career book by a trio of e-book writers. The interesting thing is that all three of these folks have their background in SEO, e-commerce, and ad-copy writing. Which means that they think in terms of experiments and metrics.

Lots of writers give you advice. These guys give advice based on stuff they’ve tried and gathered stats on.

That’s something.

And the point they make dovetails with what a lot of the indy folks say (and some pros like Kristine Kathryn Rusch say): that modern writing is a volume game. Your sales are a function of something like the square of your sellable titles, because of “discoverability”: if you have ten different baited hooks out there, you have ten times the chances to acquire new reader X…and once you get him or her, there’s a good chance that he or she will buy a lot of your stuff.

This advice has rankled me, to some degree, because I feel like the modern e-book writers prioritize volume over craft. They publish their first drafts. They publish their first books – the ones that should stay in locked drawers forever and ever. I read the “write, and write a lot” advice as saying “write, and write a lot of crap“. This goes against my nature: I have high – sometimes very high – standards for myself. I go to farmers markets and crafts fairs and I see people selling hand turned wooden bowls for $40 that are not as good as the stuff that I create and then throw on the firewood pile. I suppose, at some level, my motivation is that I don’t want to embarrass myself. A crappy bowl can fool someone who has no developed aesthetic sense or appreciation for form. And a crappy novel can fool someone who likes low-tier Baen “I shot the bug twelve times with a my laser rifle then cracked open a cold beer” extruded soy-sausage.

…but there’s a name for people who see what works and refuse to do it. Several names, actually. None of them flattering.

So: if I want to have any sort of success, I need to do what works. There is, perhaps, a trade off between my desire to write high quality stuff and a profit-maximizing story-of-the-week-pablum strategy (some anarcho-capitalist libertarian I am, huh?).

Thus: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. I will write more. I will write more short stories. I will end each short story with a “call to action” asking people to sign up for alerts, the opportunity to get free stories, links to for-sale novels, etc….but I will not lower my standards too much.


I wrote a short story recently, “Firefly Season Two”.

No, it’s not fanfic; the reference is actually a MacGuffin of sorts.

It needs another draft or two, but I like it. It’s sort of the opposite of the Aristillus series: one plot line, minimal number of characters, close to zero back-story. It’s “cute”.

I’d like to give it another draft ASAP and then maybe upload it to Amazon (and sell it for free). The goal in doing so would be to start seine fishing for readers, by putting up some free content and putting a CTA (“call to action”) at the end where people can submit their email addresses to get alerted to new stories.

I’ve shown “Firefly Season Two” to a few people and some of the feedback I’ve gotten is “I’d read more in this universe!”…which is good, because it’s a fun little comic-book-colored universe where it should be fun and easy to write further stories.

Untitled Post Apocalyptic Series

There’s a second universe I’ve got in mind that I’d like to write a few short stories in: it’s set about two years after an apocalypse. Specifically, it’s in a world where a nanotech plague has destroyed all the oil, as in John Varley’s Slow Apocalypse or John Barnes’ Daybreak series (see also S M Stirling’s Dies The Fire series). I posit that the breakdown in transportation networks, electricity, and heat in the middle of a particularly cold and rainy winter leads to a 75% population die off. Within a year the surviving population manages to get some of the lights on and some of the trains running again using nuclear and coal, but the damage has been severe, and the political response has been even more severe. During the worst of the starvation, those with guns – federal agencies, state police, etc. – grabbed the food in warehouses, ostensibly to “prevent looting”. In fact, “they and theirs” survived, and others starved. Now, two or three years after the great die off the corn imports from Iowa are good, but not enough. Major American cities have authoritarian regimes, all pretending to tug a forelock at Washington and pretending to be legitimate governments, but in fact serving as nothing but protection rackets that feed themselves and their vassals.

Country dwellers – and those suburbanites who fled the burning cities and managed to get jobs as field hands out in the country – have been thrown back into the 19th century – or the 16th. They’re plowing their fields, hoping for good rains, cursing hail storms, and fearing the day near harvest when the “tax assessors” arrive: the state police, in their MRAP vehicles burning producer gas.

It’s a weird feudal world…where short wave radio (and digital packet switched radio!) still works. Where the internet is still up…and parts of the NSA are still functioning and spying. Where people use their Kindles to read old books on how to forge horseshoes.

And then, one day – in New Hampshire, ‘natch – one man gets pushed too far when the authorities confiscate the grain he needs to keep his family alive through the winter… and he puts his finger on a rifle trigger.

I don’t yet have a name for this universe. Suggestions? After The Peak? Live Free or Die? Droit du Joint Terrorism Task Force? (That last one is a joke. I think.)

Other Life Events

I’ve sold my Massachusetts home of the last 18 years.

I’ve bought a 50 acre farm in New Hampshire.

We move in 41 days.


(I note that this will probably derail writing for a few weeks…as my current bout of pneumonia (no, really) has already done.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Battle Hymn of the Republic

Sarah Hoyt has a great blog and I always love reading it, but a recent post of hers included this video:

I left my response as a comment there. It reads:


We’ve had one or two good wars, a bunch of stupid and/or evil ones, and several “good” ones that should have been avoided.

The older I get, the more I love the values of America’s Founding Fathers, and the less I love our history of militarism.

This isn’t to take anything away from the bravery and sacrifice of our heroes, but

  • Spanish American War – pure aggression
  • Civil War – fought to establish the principle that no one can ever opt out of American government ever again. Yes, slavery was evil…yet slavery disappeared everywhere in the Western World within 20 years. Why did millions need to die?
  • World War I – a Progressive crusade of no value to Americans, helped to create and cement the Imperial American State
  • World War II – the worst enemies we have ever fought, and we did insanely huge amounts of good work by fighting them … but why, exactly, did we step in to a fight between two left wing dictatorships in Europe? To save England, to some degree. And why did Churchill stick his nose in? In an alternate universe Hitler exiled the Jews to Madagascar, Hitler and Stalin bled each other white, and the US never created the modern military industrial system.
  • Korea and Vietnam – would not have happened at all if FDR hadn’t propped up his good friend “Uncle Joe”, then handed the Soviets all of Eastern Europe.
  • Gulf War I and II – accomplished what, exactly?

Bravery and sacrifice in defense of freedom and homeland is deeply American.

Sacrifice in pointless overseas empire-building wars is not.

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Write a Million Words

C.L. Stone:

Write a million words. Your first million is practice.

Hugh Howey‘s response:

This is so difficult to appreciate and even harder to do. Writing a novel is such a brutal undertaking, something we dream about but put off for years and years, that when we finally succeed, to say that this was nothing more than “practice” is heart-rending.

After three years and four drafts, I have now written 986,000 words in these two novels. Ah, and I see that I’ve got a file called unused_chapters.txt with another 43,901 words. Throw in one or two short stories, and I’m just past the 1.1 x 106 mark.

Now I’m ready to write for real.


(and now, an image of a man standing next to one million pennies.)

Posted in Other Scribes, The Craft of Writing | 2 Comments

Stats in a table (updated)

draft start finish duration words/day size
1 1 Jan ’11 24 Aug ’11 235 720 169,000
2 1 Jan ’12 3 Aug ’12 215 976 210,000
3 04 Aug ’12 20 Dec ’12 139 1,975 275,000
4 17 Mar ’13 30 Oct ’13 ) 227 1,462 332,049
5 1 Nov ? ? ? ?
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draft 4: DONE

words paperback pages hardcover pages
book 1: 164,916 659 549
book 2: 167,133 668 557
total: 332,049 1,328 1,106

(Pagecounts are calculated as 250 words/page for paperbacks and 350 words/page for hardcover.)

Started on 17 March, finished on 30 Octover. I took a break for about 6 weeks, so that’s 185 days of work, which yields 1,794 words / day.

Now on to draft 5.

I’ve got copyediting feedback to include, and in another three weeks I should be getting some novel-coaching feedback, so there’s a lot more work to be done.

Still hoping to have this done by June 2014.

Posted in Stats | 6 Comments

Mental illness?

Bondwine Books

Few writers would spend six years of unremitting and unrewarded toil to complete a 600,000-word trilogy before the first book is sold

Yeah, but how many would spend three years of unremitting and unrewarded toil to complete a 330,000-word duology?

Posted in Other Scribes | Leave a comment

Chapter 218: Ashok’s first day on the Moon

== 2064: Soldner Homes

Ashok shook his head. “I don’t have time to accompany you shopping. I’ve got work to do.”

“You can’t expect me to venture out into this place all by myself – it’s so big. I’ll get lost, and -”

“Don’t go by yourself. Go with Deepti or Shakti or one of the other wives.”

Rani pouted, something Ashok, for the life of him, couldn’t understand. She was a calm and sensible woman. She never put on this kind of drama back in Lucknow. What was going on with her?

He thought for a moment, trying to figure out how to get the information out of her. Finally he came up with a tactic that he thought might work. “Rani, you’re a calm and sensible woman. We never had this kind of drama back in Lucknow. What’s going on with you?”

Rani looked away, then back. “This place is different than I imagined.”

Ashok furrowed his eyebrows. “What are you talking about? This is the exact same apartment as the model you found online. You talked about it for months. Even the kitchen fixtures are the same! I don’t -”

She shook her head. “I don’t mean that. I mean Aristillus. It’s bigger – it’s more confusing. There’s – ” She searched for the word. “There’s tension in the air.”

“You’ve seen the news. The PKs are shooting down ships.”

At this Rani broke down. “I know! They could have shot ours. We could be dead right now.”

Ashok nodded, then reached out to her, and pulled her in tight. “I know. They could have. But they didn’t. We made it here. We’re OK. Our kids are OK.”

Rani leaned into him and shuddered.

After a long moment Ashok pulled back, but kept his hands on her shoulders. “Now, look. We’ve got everything we wanted. We’ve got a bigger apartment.”

“It cost twice what was advertised a week ago.”

“Shhh. Don’t worry. We can afford it. Remember: we’ve got everything we wanted. We’ve got a bigger apartment than we could have ever afforded in India. We’ve got good friends next door, and more good friends one hallway over. Before we were even out of the docks we had three people tell us about private schools for Aravind and Nandita. And I’ve even got a job. Rani, look at me.”

She pulled back, wiped tears from her eyes, then looked at him expectantly.

“Rani, we’ve been here for less than 24 hours. And we’ve got a home, we’ve got a job, and we’ve got friends all around us. Think about how much we have to be thankful for.”

Rani sniffled. “It’s not a real job, it’s a contract. You’re working out of our apartment. What kind of company doesn’t have proper offices?”

“I showed you their website. They’re involved in the Aristillus defense effort. All sorts of people are working out of their homes right now – this is an emergency. And at these rates, who cares if it’s contract work or a permanent job?” Ashok looked at the tracked robot that a courier had delivered two hours earlier. “This firm needs someone with expertise on sensors, and I’m a sensor expert.” He paused and tried to put a smile on his face. “Now, go next door and get Deepti or Shakti or someone and go shopping for all the housewares you need. I’m going to set up in the third bedroom and start working on this robot.”

Posted in Chapters | 3 Comments

chapter 188: Poly kids (3/5)- DRM problems

== 2064: Atlanta Hackspace, Atlanta, GA, Earth

The door to the hackerspace opened, and Vince walked in and peeled off his leather jacket.

Maynard looked up. “Vince? Jesus, where’ve you been? I’ve been trying to reach you for two days.”

“Yeah – I’ve been busy. Lots of parties, lots of -”

Maynard shook his head. “Vince, that’s not cool. Seriously not cool. This ship is your project -”

Vince forced a smile through what looked to be a hang over. “And you’re doing a hell of a job supporting me on it. I appreciate that, Maynard, I really do.” He clapped a hand on Maynard’s shoulder.

Maynard put down the multimeter. “Vince, I appreciate that, but we need to install the rockets. We’ve got almost everything else done. The ship is down in the garage, and it’s ready to go – but we need the rockets.” He paused. “So where are they?”

Vince looked aside. “Well, there’s a problem.”

“What problem?” Maynard felt his voice on the edge of cracking. He’d been working so long and so hard on this, and everyone else in the hackerspace claimed that they were involved, and yet he was the only one who seemed to be doing any work. Vince, Jimbo, Little Steve – even his own girlfriend Carrie-Ann wasn’t around the place very often. Everyone else was spending their nights out drinking, having a sequence of “Bon Voyage” parties. But there wasn’t going to be a damned Bon Voyage if he didn’t get this shit done, and no one was helping him. He’d asked folks again and again, and everyone had laughed it off. Oh, sure, they showed up for the fun parts, like decorating the ship, or deciding what to name it. But for the grunt work? For the welding, for the grinding, for the endless hours of AG drive calibration?

Even Vince, who had been in this with him from the beginning, wasn’t showing up any more.

“Damn it Vince, what problem?”

Vince held up too hands. “Woah, Maynard, slow down. Not cool. Look, you just relax and we’ll get through this together, OK?”

Maynard crossed his arms and looked at Vince skeptically.”

“No, seriously, Maynard. Come on, that’s now way to be.” Vince smiled encouraginly. “Now uncross your arms…yeah, that’s right. Body language, man. So, are we going to work through this together?”

Maynard said nothing.

“Come on, are we?”

Grudgingly Maynard mumbled “Yes.”

“OK.” Vince blew out some air. “So I’ve got this problem with the rockets. The printer says that there’s a DRM flag on them, and it refuses to print them.”

Maynard exploded. “What? God damn it, the printer only updates the government prohibited items list once a month. The last weaponds-and-devices update was two weeks ago. You said that you were going to print out the rockets before that!”

Vince shrugged. “Yeah, and I meant to. I’m sorry, man. Shit came up. You know how it is.”

“No, I DON’T know how it is.”

“Look, Maynard, we can get through this together. There must be some way to print those rockets.”

Maynard wiped a hand over his face, and felt sweat on his forehead. “Yeah, there is.”

“Go on.”

“I’ve got some five year old printer firmware.”

“Problem solved!”

Maynard turned to Vince. “No, the problem is NOT solved. Installing that firmware is a FELONY, Vince. I could get serious jailtime for that.”

“Hey, look, this whole project -”

“No, this whole project is not a felony. Well, OK, yes, it is. …but it’s not the kind of felony that they’re prosecuting that much. Illegal firmware on a printer? That’s a BATFEEIN grade four offense. If anyone ever hears that I did this, I don’t get a letter in the mail and time to call my lawyer – I get a tactical team surrounding my apartment and flashbangs through the window.”

“Maynard, don’t be dramatic, you -”

“I’m not being dramatic. This shit is REAL.”

Vince paused. “OK, you’re right. I apologize. This shit is real, and I appreciate the risk you’re taking.”

Maynard breathed out, finally feeling the least bit vindicated. “OK. Thank you.”

“So you’re on it, then? You’ll print the rockets?”

“Damn it, Vince, I’m doing all the work!”

“I know, and -”

“If I print the rockets, you do all the plumbing.”

“OK, I will.”


“I promise.” Vince picked up his leather jacket from the back of the chair where he’d dropped it. “Thanks, M.”

Posted in Chapters | 5 Comments


I started writing the novel on 1 January 2011.

I’m still working on it today…which marks 1,024 days.


Posted in Stats | 3 Comments