Various and Sundry 2/4/08

I sent Zoe in to Tor last night after one last quick-read through and edit (chopped up a chunk of dialogue; added 1,000 words through the book to make things clearer; put in acknowledgments) and now my brain has said “see ya,” and appears to be on vacation for a couple of days. So in lieu of actual coherent thought, here’s some little bits about what’s going on with me right now.

* Two nice things in the mail today: First, my Geffen Award, for Best Translated Novel, voted on by the visitors at Israel’s ICON convention. The translated novel in question was Old Man’s War; the other nominated books were The Stars My Destination, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Naked Sun and Lost in a Good Book, so I’m pretty pleased to have won. The award’s on the top of my bookshelf now. Thanks, Israel!

Second, the 2008 Rough Guide catalog, in which I learn that the second edition of The Rough Guide to the Universe is going to be released in April, which is in between the two released dates I heard of earlier, March and May (that’s the UK release date, I suppose; Amazon here in the US has it as May 5). I’m pretty pleased with that release date; it means I’ll have a book out in April, August, September and November/December. That’s not a bad spread of books for one year.

* The Android’s Dream debuts at #2 on the Locus Paperback Bestsellers list this month — go TAD! The book seems to be chugging along decently these days, which gives me hope for The High Castle when it comes out in 2009.

* The Last Colony makes SFRevu’s suggested list for Hugo nominations, which is nice. The rest of their suggests for year are also excellent; it’s a pretty strong field for Hugo nods this year.

* I have nothing to do with this. I wonder who does. And why. But it’s definitely not about me; I’ve never been known as “Johnny.” My childhood nickname was “John-John.”

* Completely unrelated to any of the above, some has asked me in e-mail why I don’t put up those “progress bars” many writers do, showing the progress of their writing on their various projects. The short answer is that it just doesn’t have any interest for me; the long answer is I don’t write at a regular pace anyway, so putting up one of those little bars won’t actually tell you anything about my progress on a book.

Zoe’s Tale is actually a really excellent example of this. It took me the better part of six months to write the first half of the book; the second half of the book I wrote in the last two weeks. And more accurately, it took me about five months to write 30,000 words, another month to write another 18,000, and two weeks to write 48,000 words. So if you were watching the little bar graph on my Web site, it would like I was drinking cough syrup, then I started drinking caffeine, and then I started doing crank.

But there’s a reason for this, not simply related to a cycle of procrastination and panic. Basically, while I’m establishing characters and laying out the various plot threads in the book, things go really slowly, because I’m making things up as I go along and I have to get it straight in my head what’s going on with whom and why. But eventually the characters are there, and the plot threads are as teased out as they’re going to get, and it’s time to start tying them all together again. When I’m at that point, everything gets easy because I know everything that’s going to happen from that point; all I have to do is write it. I call this part of my writing “the downslope,” and to be entirely honest about it, when I get to that point my major concern is writing too fast — I’m in such a rush to get everything down I’ll sort of skip over details just in a mad rush to write “The End.”

Incidentally, 48,000 words in two weeks isn’t my record for the most words gushed out; when I was writing The Android’s Dream I did 30,000 words in about three days, the last 15,000 or so in one crazed 24-hour push. I don’t recommend that. However, 48,000 in two weeks is not too hard for me; that’s about 5,000 words a day with a couple days in there to reinflate the brain. It’s quite doable, especially when one is on “the downslope.” And when, for example, one stops writing on one’s blog and focuses just on writing one’s book.

But the point is putting up a bar wouldn’t actually tell you how the work is going. Even when the writing is going slow, I’m still doing tons of work. And when I’m writing fast, very often most of the hard work on the book is already done. The bar wouldn’t tell you what the progress on the book is. It would just tell you how fast I was typing. As a picture of my writing process, that’s incomplete to the point of being unrepresentative. Better not to have a “progress bar” up at all.

Mind you, this is just me; for other writers it may actually be accurate, as regards progress. We all have different processes. But for me, it doesn’t work.