Sunday, September 03, 2006

In his posthumously published autobiography, Anthony Trollope described the discipline he imposed upon himself when writing:

    When I have commenced a new book, I have always prepared a diary, divided into weeks, and carried it on for the period which I have allowed myself for the completion of the work. In this I have entered, day by day, the number of pages I have written, so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labour, so that the deficiency might be supplied. According to the circumstances of the time,--whether my other business might be then heavy or light, or whether the book which I was writing was or was not wanted with speed,--I have allotted myself so many pages a week. The average number has been about 40. It has been placed as low as 20, and has risen to 112. ... There has ever been the record before me, and a week passed with an insufficient number of pages has been a blister to my eye, and a month so disgraced would have been a sorrow to my heart.

I read his autobigraphy years ago, and that passage, and in particular the phrase "a blister to my eye" (ouch!), has stuck with me. I've never kept a writing journal, but I'm sorry to say that if I had, there would be many a page of it that would be a blister to my eye.

Currently, I'm working on a rather large time-travel novel. By "large" I mean that, not only does the plot cover lots of time and space and deal with large issues, but also it's up to about 100,000 words and is probably only half done. For me, that's fairly large. I'm not sure what the longest of my published novels is so far, but I don't think that any of them is over 125,000 words. (They're all listed on this page on my Web site.)

The plot of this novel is turning out to be trickier and more complex in various ways than I originally intended - so much so that it's having a daunting effect. I started it, I think, about ten years ago. I've nibbled away at during that time, constantly putting it aside to work on other books. Now I'm determined to stick with it and press through to the end. I probably should add that for me, the midpoint of a novel is almost always the hardest point. I should be able to tell myself that I'm at the peak of the hill and it's easy coasting from here, but instead the peak seems ever further away, and the effort to get there seems overwhelming.

So I decided to try keeping a journal, but not a written account of how many words or pages I wrote today, or at least not just that. That sort of detail is good and important because of the blister-to-my-eye effect, but I also want to be able to ramble a bit about the specifics of the day's writing, about the plot problems encountered or solved, about the interesting and unanticipated developments in various characters.

Why not just do all of that in a private place where only I can see it? Why a blog?

Well, first, blogs are cool and I've long wanted an excuse to have one. But I wanted one with some sort of substance, or at least the appearance of substance. At the same time, I'm lazy. I don't want to maintain a blog that requires some kind of investigation or effort on my part. But there is one subject on which I am the world's foremost expert: the inadequacy of the number of words David Dvorkin wrote today.

Secondly, if no one else ever reads this blog, as I suppose is the case with the vast majority of blogs, then this is equivalent to writing all of this in a private place where only I can see it. On the other hand, if other people do read it, and especially if they're interested enough to comment, then not only will not having written be a blister to my eye, it'll also be embarrassing to the point of humiliation. And thus, I hope, this will make me pound out those time-traveling words.

If this blog continues, instead of fading away quickly, then eventually I'll have finished the time-travel novel. Next on my schedule is a horror novel, and I'll blog the progress on that one.

5 comments:

David said...

Test comment. Or frist, as they say on the political blogs.

Helen said...

Hi David,

I saw your link on TalkLeft and thought I'd check out your blog. I am a writer too. So far the stuff I've been paid for is mainly scriptwriting, but I have also written some articles. I am working on a novel. The novel is my second, but the first is (and in all probability will remain) unpublished due to it being based on a true story.

I have found keeping a record of what I've written invaluable and have been doing it for several years. I tend to use word count as my measure. It just works best for me. I have many quirks and one of them is liking round numbers, so I can often convince myself to keep writing until I reach one (you can laugh now because, yes, you're right, I hardly ever hit a figure on the nail and at times I have even convinced myself to keep working to get to the next round figure. Deeply sad, but true). I also have many other commitments and so am unable to write full time, so I can say to myself, 'Just see if you can fit a couple of hundred words in while the kids are watching their TV programme' or whatever and that is achievable.

The word count record works in two ways. Firstly, I can't kid myself that I've done some work if the figures say otherwise. If I haven't reached my target, it's back to the keyboard until I do. However the other benefit is that some days writing is like pulling teeth and I feel that I haven't done much at all when in fact the word count record shows I've done a lot - it was just difficult!

I shall definitely be checking out your blog in the future although you should know this: anything you write in it does not go towards your word count that day;)

Anonymous said...

David, I think this is a great idea!

I do something similar to keep myself on target with other tasks and goals, even very mundane things like doing housework and exercising.

This is how it works for me: I keep a simple, factual dairy. Every night, I briefly record things like what housework I did that day, how much exercise I did, what e-mails I sent, even whether I ate healthily that day. Knowing that I am going to record these things truthfully every night gives me more willpower to stay on track. (I don't need to write about my work. That's the same old stuff almost every day.)

Naturally, my diary does not compare to a writer's output log, but I wanted to let you know that other people do similar things, and that I think your idea is a good one.

Good luck to you! I'll be checking in from time to time to see how you're doing. Please keep those keen eyes blister-free! :-)

By the way, I'll be eager to read both the new books when they come out. I'm actually a fan of yours from way back in the 1970s, when I first read The Children of Shiny Mountain and The Green God. I think your versatility is amazing. I like your humor most of all.

I love the essays on your website, too, especially the political stuff. There are lots of us out here in Blogland who agree with you.

A.H.

David said...

Helen,

Thanks. I sometimes wish I had kept some kind of record over the years. Being a techie guy by training, I could put all the numbers in a spreadsheet and generate graphs and stuff like that. Which would tell me nothing and would not contribute to making progress on the current novel, but I could put all of that on my Web site, or here, and it would look really nifty.

Ho, ho, about the words here not counting towards the non-blistering. Yesterday, after I did the work to set up this blog and wrote the first post, I felt proud of myself and felt I'd really accomplished something. Then I had to remind myself that the novel was still at the same point as before.

David said...

anonymous,

Thank you for your kind words about those two ancient books of mine. You're in rare company, since few people have read those, especially the Green God. And the essays on the Web site, which I have a ball doing.

Years ago, I started keeping a journal of the type you describe, but I never could keep it going. I'm finding this much more satisfying, so far.