Feb 24

On word counts and interesting books. A response to a commenter.

I’m generally an easy-going, non-confrontational person, but an anonymous commenter going only as “reader” left the following on my previous post, and I feel compelled to respond:

It’s a pity when author says that the main goal is a certain number of word and not to write an interesting book!

Dear Reader–

I’m sorry if this is going to come off as harsh but… Are you for real? (I actually want to say something much harsher, but I’m holding back for now.)

Writing an interesting book is a given. Trust me, that big old plot board on my wall was so that I could write an interesting book that made sense and fit together in an entertaining and appealing manner.

But to get there, I had to write words. It’s called goal-setting.

I mean…Seriously?? If all I cared about was just the number of words, I’d write a book that consisted of

“Kara Gillian summoned a demon. It was really really really really really scary. She told it to sit and stay. It sat. She was very very very very happy that it didn’t kill her.” And so on.

When a builder decides to build a house, he or she most likely has the concept of their beautiful house in their mind. But they sure as hell don’t start building it without a plan, and when the workers start on it, I highly doubt they say, “Okay, we’re gonna build us a house today!” More likely they say, “Okay, let’s see if we can get the slab poured today. Then when that dries we’ll get it framed. The next day, we’ll put the walls on. The next we’ll shoot for finishing the roof.” **

Writing a novel is a lot of work, and can be unspeakably intimidating. Any task that you know will take you 6 months to a year (or far longer) can seem damn near insurmountable, even if you’ve done it before. But the best way to get around ANY huge task is to break it up into manageable segments.

I mean… seriously???? How can this be such a foreign concept?

Every writer I know sets daily or weekly or monthly writing goals for themselves. Most of the professional ones do the daily word counts, simply because it’s the easiest way to structure your day and give yourself a daily goal to help you stay interested and motivated, and keep from feeling overwhelmed. Because, trust me, 100,000 words is A LOT OF WORDS.

When I start a book, the first thing I do is create an outline. Not every writer does this, but an outline works best for me. It usually takes me at least a week of hard musing to create my outline, and it often involves either more butcher-paper covered walls, or giant sticky notes plastered all over the place. Once the rough outline is in place, then I start writing. I do NOT sit down and say “I’ma gonna write this whole book!” What I do is tell myself that even though 100,000 words can seem insurmountable, 2,000 words isn’t. So, for my first draft, I do my best to make myself write at least 2,000 words a day. And, since I’ve been down this road a few times now, I know that my rough first draft will be “finished” at about 65,000 words. Within that word count should be the bulk of my story, and I know that edits, rewrites, changes, and added descriptions will bring it up at least another 30,000 words.

Wait, you may be asking, why do you even care about word count at all? Why don’t you simply write the book at the length it needs to be?

Well, first off, my contract calls for a certain length. Now, it doesn’t have to be spot-on exact, but it needs to be close. This is for a number of reasons, but the one that appeals to me the most, is that 100,000 words is right about the perfect length for my kind of story to be told and hold the reader’s interest. So, it makes for a nice structure for my books.

So, getting back to how I write. Okay, so I have my rough draft, which is somewhere around 65,000 words. Now, I do NOT go in there and stuff in another 30,000 words just to plump it out. No, what happens now is called REWRITING. And do you know why I rewrite?


So, I print it out, and I read it through, and I mark the hell out of it with colored pencils. And I make notes of all the scenes that are horrible, and which scenes work, and what needs to change. I will most likely end up cutting damn near 20,000 words from that 65,000 and rewriting them into something that works better. Then I’ll do another plot outline, drawing out the plot as I have it now to see the “Big Picture” and try to do my best to make sure everything fits together and works. Then I write and rewrite some more.

Finally, when I think it’s as good as I think I can make it, I’ll send it off to a few select first readers. A few days later I’ll get their notes back. Sometimes pages and pages of notes. None of these notes will say one fucking thing about my word count. All of the notes will have to do with what works, what doesn’t, what makes sense, what is confusing, where it drags, etc.

And, so I will rewrite again. By this time I don’t give a shit about word count. Because now that I have a cohesive draft, my goal is more chapter-oriented. I tell myself that I will rewrite X number of chapters a day, which helps to keep me from FREAKING THE FUCK OUT at the pages of notes that my readers have given me and the amount of work I have ahead of me.

Once those rewrites have been finished, off the manuscript goes to the editor. She doesn’t give a fuck about the word count either, except to make note of whether it’s much higher or lower than the contracted amount, because it will make a difference to Production as far as layout, font size, number of pages, etc. She will read through it several times, mark up the manuscript, and then send it and a revision letter back to me. The revision letter for my first novel was 9 single-spaced pages long, and all of the notes had to do with making the book better. You know, more interesting. And I made those revisions, because I wanted my book to be, you know, more interesting. Gooder. As gooder as it could possibly be. Eventually it was published, and I was very happy.

But none of that would have ever happened if I’d been so intimidated by the thought of writing a novel that I couldn’t start.

Before I wrote Mark of the Demon, there were two pieces of advice that stuck with me. The first was via Jay Lake, and it was “The best indicator of future success as a novelist is writing one.” The second was one that actually came from a fitness and weight-loss site that said, “Don’t focus on the huge goal at the end. Don’t say ‘I will lose fifty pounds.’ Instead, say, ‘I will walk two miles every day and eat more fruits and vegetables.’” I co-opted that advice and shifted it to, “Don’t tell yourself that you will write a novel in six months. Instead, tell yourself that you will write 2 pages a day.”

Now, my dear reader, all that being said, if you find my books to be uninteresting, then that is surely an opinion you are allowed to have and voice. But please don’t blame that on the fact that I break down my big goals into smaller ones.


** I’ve never built a house. Please don’t get on my case for the fact that this description is surely rife with any number of inaccuracies. :-)

ETA: Oh, and by the way, those 100,000 words have to be turned in by a certain time or I don’t GET PAID. I can’t simply wait until I feel like writing. I have to make words. Yes, even interesting ones.

Feb 22

I still have a blog..?

Oh… my poor, poor…. POOR neglected blog!

Well, obviously the whole Holidailies bit about posting every day met a hideous death. LOLOL I really only have one excuse for the extended lapse which is:

I’ve been working my ass off!

Seriously, I have been! I have a March 1st deadline for the third book in the Kara Gillian series, and at my last post my wordcount stood somewhere near 40K. And they weren’t pretty and polished 40K either. Oh, no… my plot was a mess, my scenes were out of order, and, well, I still had at least 50K words to write. But I hated the thought of missing my deadline, especially since this is my first deadline with my new editor over at DAW.

This was part of my living room wall for several weeks, while I struggled to Make The Plot Work:

Butcher paper plotting

So, I wrote the ginormous bulk of the book in about a month, then spent about 3-4 weeks rewriting the entire damn thing. I’ve been writing 8+ hours a day, plus time stolen in the evenings, plus as much time as I could squeeze out of the weekends. Twitter became my friend, because I didn’t have to think about writing something terribly coherent. (140 character limit! Yay!)

However, the good news is that the mad crush is over (for this book, at least!) and I’m quite pleased with how Secrets of the Demon has turned out. I think that the lines between Team Ryan and Team Rhyzkahl will definitely be drawn after people read this one!

But enough about book three! Book two–Blood of the Demon–is officially hitting the shelves tomorrow! (I say “officially” because it’s already on the shelves in most bookstores, but Feb 23rd is the listed release date.)

Blood of the Demon.. it's a book!

Purty, ain’t it! So, go get yours!

Dec 27

Princesses and Frogs

Today’s attempt to see Princess & the Frog was far more successful. The crowd at the theater was light (possibly due to the Saints game) and we managed to get in with no wait and score The Kid’s favorite seats (at the VERY top of the theater[g].)

And, I have to say that I’m incredibly pleased that there’s finally a Disney princess who isn’t a vapid idiot who needs rescuing by her Twu Wuv! In fact, both characters were three-dimensional, flawed, and fell in love after [gasp] getting to know each other. Adorable, and with a really admirable message of “Believe in your dreams, but, yeah, it takes work to reach them.”

(I was also quite relieved and pleased to note that the accents were actually accurate!)


The Kid has a “Look and Find Marvel Heroes” book, and keeps asking me who the various characters are. I’m quickly discovering my limited knowledge of the Marvel pantheon of heroes and villains. Sigh. I feel so inadequate.

Dec 26

Not so great with the daily posting, obviously…

Well, so much for the “post every day” portion of Holidailies..! But I’ve being moaning, whining, whimpering, sniffling, coughing, hacking, struggling-to-breathe with the worst cold that any human has ever been forced to endure. Seriously. I’m not being overly dramatic.

Okay, maybe a little. But, writing or being creative has been very low on my want-to-do list, and thus I’ve been saving my creativity for those markets that were, y’know, paying me. Sorry! I’ll do my best in the next few days to make it up to y’all. :-)

Anyway, I did manage to accomplish a fair amount of knitting. I’m definitely firmly in the “novice” category of knitter, though I’ve been around knitting most of my life. (My mother has been knitting for close to 70 years, and can knit ANYTHING.) However, it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I decided to try it out as a hobby–the type of hobby that could be done when I couldn’t be writing (e.g. watching TV with the family, on car trips, that sort of thing.) And, I’ve become an instant addict. It’s exactly the kind of brain-refresh that I need after pounding away at the prose.

So, I started out with several minor little projects, then I moved on to stuff that required me to actually count and pay attention to rows and stitches and stuff. My latest project is an attempt to become comfortable with cabling and twists and other strange stuff like that.

Poncho in progress

It’s a bit hard to see the pattern, but it’s basically a k4 p4 ribbing, with baby cable on rows 4 and 8 and a real cable on row 12. (Sorry, still learning the pattern lingo. I hope that made sense to the real knitters among my readers..[g]) It’s going to be a poncho when it’s done. (I hope!) I probably should have done it on smaller needles, but, then again, I do live in south Louisiana, so I’ll probably have more use for something that isn’t super heavy.

I think that next I’ll try something that requires working on circular needles or something else that will most likely confuse the ever living shit out of me.


In other news, Christmas was as successful as one could hope for. The husband and I gave each other modest gifts and saved the majority of the gifting for The Kid. We managed to not go nuts in that department either, yet she seemed quite satisfied with her haul. I tried to take her to see Princess and the Frog today (which she’s already seen, but was willing to see again since I have yet to see it) however, through a comedy of errors, we were late to the 1pm show, and when we returned later to get tickets for the 3:45 show we were dismayed to find that it (and damn near every other show there) was sold out. Sooo, we went to Best Buy, bought Lego Star Wars for The Kid’s DS, and went home. She played with it for about an hour, then fell asleep on the couch. Woke up an hour later whining that she was tired and hungry. I helped her with the latter issue, after which she fell asleep again in the recliner, where she still remains at this time. (I’m kinda afraid that if I try and put her to bed, I’ll wake her. I prefer to let sleeping five-year-olds lie.)


In other other news, big congrats to Rachel Aaron and her husband on the birth of Nathan. You can read about her (extremely scary yet with happy ending!) experience with regards to that over at The Magic District.

Dec 20

Don’t mind me, I’m just a big fluffy ornament

Angel the cat is caught in the act!

Dec 19

Got belted

Ugh. Sick with a cold, but I still managed to drag The Kid and myself to kenpo for our belt tests. I functioned well enough to earn my blue belt, and The Kid kicked all the ass and now has her yellow belt. (This, by the way, was a Very Big Deal for her. She’s been taking kenpo for about a year and a half now, but up until about two months ago she was in the “kiddie kenpo” class, where the belts they earned were white with colored stripes down the middle. Now she’s in the “youth” kenpo, and earning real belts, and feeling Very Mature about the whole thing!!)

Diana and The Kid with our new belts

Dec 18

Frustrations abound

Today was a day of many frustrations. The Kid only had a half day of school today, and since there was no after-care, I drove down to the “lower school” campus to pick her up. She attends a private school that is split into two campuses–the Pre-K and Kindergarten are in one location, and the 1st through high school are at a campus that’s about 20 minutes away, with normal traffic. On regular school days she rides a shuttle to the upper campus after school for after-care.

So, since there was no after-care today, I had no reason to assume that she would be shuttled to the other campus. I was wrong, because after fighting through construction + holiday traffic which turned a 20 minute drive into a 45 minute drive, I was informed that she was at the other campus. (Where, it should be noted, I was half a mile away from when I began my slog through traffic.) This, of course, meant that I had to fight through holiday + construction traffic AGAIN for another 45 minutes. Finally made to The Kid’s location (by which time I had to pee so badly I thought I was going to DIE) and collected her. An hour and a half of traffic. *sob*

I then had plans to stop by a piano store and a nearby place that offers a variety of music lessons. The Kid has expressed a great deal of interest in learning how to play the piano (and the electric guitar..LOL), so I figured I’d start checking out prices of lessons and the cost of piano rental. Not only was the music lesson place closed, but the piano store had moved to Metairie (a 45 minute drive away which I have zero intention of making at any time in the near future.)

But, fortunately, things started picking up after that. The Kid had a Christmas party at her kenpo school this evening–the kind of party where parents were encouraged to drop the kids off (i.e. a present of three free hours for the parents! Woo!) After I dropped her off I met The Husband, and we had an honest-to-god Date. And we didn’t even have to pay a babysitter!

And, the Date with The Husband was fun enough that it more than made up for a day of frustration.

Dec 17

I welcome the puppy overlord

I tried to post this last night, but my internet was being wonky, plus I’ve been feeling a bit bleh and desperately wanted to do this very strange activity called Get To Bed Early. And, shockingly enough, I managed it! I was in bed by 8:45pm, and (thanks to little chemical help) was dead asleep by 9pm. I woke up at my usual 5:30 feeling–dare I say it–rested. I’m not really sure if that’s what I’m feeling. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this way. All I know is that it only took one cup of coffee this morning to make me feel semi-human. (Of course that doesn’t mean I’ll be stopping at one. I love me some caffeine buzz!!)

Anyway, these are the pics that I planned to post yesterday. The first is our Christmas tree.

The christmas tree after the kittehs have climbed it
It didn’t look like this when we finished decorating it. The angel on top was actually, well, on top. And the various garlands were in an arrangement that looked “decorative” rather than “post-apocalyptic.” And there were more ornaments as well. I think you can find the ornaments scattered around the house right now. Plus there wasn’t that big cat-shaped gap on the right side. You wouldn’t think my two big enormous boy kitties would be able to climb that far up the tree, but they do manage. (I know it’s my big boy kitties because I came out the other morning to find them very comfortably perched in the upper branches. Unfortunately I couldn’t grab the camera in time to get evidence.) Just so you have a point of reference, here are my big boy kitties: (The black and white one is Demon, and the orange one is Angel.)

Demon the cat

Angel the cat

But the other pic I wanted to share was one that The Kid took when she was entertaining herself with my camera. One of these days I’m going to do a photo-essay of the pictures I find on my camera, because it’s sometimes quite interesting to see what she deems worthy of immortalizing in pixels. However, she took this particular picture the other night of me trying to finish up someone’s Christmas present. The kitty perched on the pillow is our not-really-a-kitten-anymore, Seraphim, and between us is Wolf the Poodle. And, I promise, there was no photo-shopping of retouching of this pic in any way. But damn, this puppy obviously has some serious mojo working.

My demonic puppy

I just wish he would use some of his powers to let me know when he needs to go outside!

Dec 15

34 hour day, please!

I’m beginning to think that this is the busiest week I’ve ever had writing-wise. Not only am I slogging away at Demon # 3 (and I’m not sure slogging is the right word. Is there a word for wading through piranha-infested plot-stealing quicksand?), but I have a short piece to write for a friend who needs writing anecdotes for an article he’s working on, plus I have a short story that I’m already late on that I need to finish by the beginning of January, plus I was contacted yesterday and asked if I’d be interested in writing an article for [fairly prestigious magazine] and could I turn it in by the end of the week?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m elated on a thousand different levels to have so much work, and I’m deeply, viscerally aware of how lucky I am that things have worked out so well for me. But, holy crapoly, I really need about ten more hours in each day.

Plus, there’s this little holiday coming up called Klismouse… Kreesmas… something like that. I think I’m supposed to shop for it or some such thing?


My husband has begun reading Blood of the Demon. (I don’t let him read it until it is completely finished, edited, revised, and proofed.) This morning he asked me if it was too late to change the title of the book. “Yes, it’s definitely too late,” I replied. “Go ahead, get it off your chest,” I said, knowing that he was dying to give me some sort of smart-ass commentary. He smiled and said, “I just think that you’d sell a couple hundred thousand copies right here in Louisiana if you changed the title to Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Beat That Demon!”

Heehee! I think he’s right, too! Woo, Saints! 13-0!

Dec 14

Big Kitty

I went to Petsmart this afternoon to buy a proper dog-sized crate for Wolf The Poodle. (We’d been using our cat crate, but the dog has doubled in size in just three weeks, and the poor thing was getting a bit cramped in the old one.) After cringing at the price, I finally ended up picking out a Giant Crate that would be big enough to hold Wolf the Poodle after he’d reached full growth.

As it happened, I also needed cat food, but since I can usually get it cheaper at the grocery store I only got a small bag. The guy at the checkout scanned the cat food then went to scan the barcode on the crate, but since it was so big I had to manhandle it into position for him to use the wireless scanner. While holding it in place I joked, “I have a really big cat!”

Without missing a beat he replied, “Then you’ll probably need to buy a LOT more food.”

*dies laughing*

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