The end is in sight…

…because I’ve just written it!

It’s been a long and tough slog on the first draft of alt.human, but just now I finished the thing, and god it feels good.alt.human by Keith Brooke (Solaris, 2012)

I’ve written here before about the difficulties of fitting writing into a life crammed with day job, family and, you know, actually having a life. This is so much harder when your work-in-progress turns out to be a tough one; in this case, it was a high-concept science-fiction novel, crammed with ideas, a serious attempt to do big, trad SF but retain a close focus on characters.

Writing that kind of book in bursts of a couple of thousand words here or there, interspersed with long breaks to concentrate on the day job, was by no means the best way to do it, but it was the only way available to me.

As things drew towards a close, that became harder and harder, but pressures at the day job made it impossible to take more time away to concentrate on the writing.

Finally, though, with the end in sight, I took a long weekend, which gave me the luxury of a five day burst of head-down, keep slogging away, writing. What I did was this:

  • Up at 6am. During the couple of weeks before this final burst, I was up at 6 most mornings to get a short burst in before work, so on my long weekend I continued with this regime. It meant that by 8 or 9 I’d often got as much as 1500 or more words in.
  • After that early burst, I’d take a break, as I’d find my brain was starting to seize up. Time for Facebook and Twitter, to catch up with email and read a bit of news – the freelancer’s equivalent of a chat around the water cooler at work; and most importantly, time to get away from the computer and clear my head.
  • Refreshed, I’d have time to have another session before lunch and another break. By now, I’d often have hit 2,500 or more words, my normal target for a day, so anything more would be a bonus.
  • An afternoon session would boost the word count considerably, and after another break, I’d sometimes fit in final session, often shorter, but still bonus words.
  • By the evening I’d find that I’d written way beyond my normal daily target, and on the best day, today, I hit 5,700 words!
  • Working in bursts of 1,000-1,500 words has really worked for me with this novel, allowing me to cram far more writing into a day than normal. It’s also allowed me to be flexible: on the Friday I had to take several hours out of the middle of the day for a hospital visit, and I still managed to write 3000 words.

Starting early, and squeezing extra sessions in, I ended up doing 12-14 hour days. That’s far too intense to be sustainable for longer periods, but has worked really well for me at times like this. In five days I wrote 22,500 words – almost a quarter of the novel. It wouldn’t have been possible without the long slog beforehand, though, all building up to that final onslaught.

Possibly the biggest advantage for me is that this approach keeps it all in my head. Breaks away from the writing make it so much harder to grasp the novel as a whole and really dig deep into the ideas; writing intensely fills my head with it all – vital for a big ideas novel.

The end result?

Even though I’d start each session by revising the previous day’s work, this is by no means finished prose. As well as a complete novel manuscript I have another long document covering two areas. I already had pages and pages of notes on characters, settings, plot, etc, before I started, but once you get going you add all kinds of detail and I always keep a running document where I make a note of these for reference as I’m writing. This document also contains a list of things I need to check, and things that I know are broken and will need fixing in subsequent edits.

Written fast, and written intensely, this novel’s going to need a lot of fixing.

But it’s written, it’s written.


About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

5 responses to “The end is in sight…

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