Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Tuesday, 02 October 2001

I took my laptop in to work both yesterday and today, and did some rewriting and revising. Yesterday's work was pretty unfocused, with attempts at working on two different stories yielding little results. Today I focused on a third (the insurance story that was my first post-Clarion story) and I did much better. I'm probably two-thirds of the way through the story. The first third of the story was little changed, while the rest of it is going to be substantially rewritten. A good bit of that is done, but there's still a lot to do, including the addition of possibly several hundred new words. Still, it was good progress. I'm pleased.

The writers on the Clarion 2001 mailing list are challenging ourselves to write 5,000 words or submit 4 stories this month.

I can probably write 5,000 words this month, although I'm going to start off behind because I have some rewriting to do before that, and rewriting doesn't tend to produce much in the way of new words. Four story submissions will be easy if the stories I've sent out start coming back, but hard otherwise. I'm probably not going to get four more new stories out to markets this month (although it's not impossible, I suppose).

On the topic of setting goals, I wanted to rant briefly about how hard it is to measure progress while rewriting.

When I'm writing a new story, I keep track of words written. That works fine. It's a limited metric, because it doesn't say anything about how good the words are, but it helps me feel like I'm making forward progress when it might take me two, three, even four weeks to finish a story.

But I don't know what to track when I'm rewriting.

Finished rewrites, of course, have a very natural metric: a submission. And submissions are probably the very best metric to track. They're the last point where the writer really has control. Simply by writing stories, finishing them, and sending them out, a writer can increase the submission count. (Sales are the more satisfying metric, but there's not much the writer can do to boost that one, except writing stories and sending them out--which brings you back to stories submitted.)

Maximizing the "stories submitted" metric requires that you write new stories, but it also requires that you send rejected stories out again.

It's sometimes hard to send a story right back out again after it gets rejected. There's a natural reaction to rejection that makes you think maybe the story really does have something wrong with it. Here is where maximizing "story submissions" works as a motivational tool: It aligns the incentives just right. However hard it is emotionally to get the story right back out to a new market, in practical terms it only takes twenty minutes to print a manuscript and package it up with a cover letter and SASE. You can't write enough stories in a year to get a really high "stories submitted" metric, without promptly getting rejected stories back out to markets.

So, having made the case for the "stories submitted" metric, I also want to say that, for tracking day-to-day progress, it sucks. It's just too coarse-grained.

My rewrites vary a lot in terms of how much they rip the story apart. If I'm basically pleased with the story, I might just tweek a few descriptions, delete a sentence or paragraph that doesn't lead anywhere, and polish up awkward bits. If I'm unhappy with a story I might disassemble it completely, moving large chunks of text to hang off of a new skeleton, and writing whole new sections to fill in. So one story might take four hours to rewrite while another takes twenty hours.


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