On writing my first novel

This is an informal account on writing my first novel, "Dust to Bits". I began chronicling the experience on Monday, February 28th, 2017, although actual writing for the novel began on Sunday, October 30th, 2016. This account will finish with the publication of the novel.

"Dust to Bits" was my second attempt at writing a novel. The first one also began in 2016, with a story written in Spanish, called "La Barbería" ("The Barbershop"). Any writing on "La Barbería" stopped months ago, when lack of interest and the stress associated with moving my family from San José, California to Hillsboro, Oregon took the best of me. I started writing again as a response to a friend of mine mentioning a book writing challenge in which you were supposed to complete the entire draft for a new novel from beginning to end in a month. After doing some research, I concluded that a 60,000-word book would fulfil the requirements and that I would have to write about 2,000 words per day to be done by November 30th. After another set of calculations that I no longer remember, I came with a slightly more ambitious number: 4,200 words per chapter and a total of fifteen chapters, which would have forced me to complete an average of 2,100 words each day.

Now, being an engineer, I tried to establish a somewhat systematic approach to writing: First, I decided what the story would be about, how it would start and how it would end. From that, I wrote a basic treatment for each one of the chapters and then, without much preamble, set off to write chapter 15. Yes, I concluded that the best way to get my work done this time, was to write the final chapter first. Being a runner, this felt like the equivalent of registering for a race before the start of your training. Either you train and get ready for the race or you drop from it and lose the money you already invested registering. I don't want to lose my money.

My initial target of getting 2,100 written every day was, as you have probably guessed already, too ambitious for someone with a full-time job and a family, among other personal activities. At some point, I found myself struggling to even get a couple of hundred words in. Needless to say, the challenge of finishing the entire novel in November failed. However, I did manage to finish a third of the novel, up to chapter 5, by January 3rd, 2017.

So, how did I get from one third to two thirds? First, a friend of mine, during a casual conversation on Whatsapp, expressed his interest in reading my novel, at least the part that I had already finished by that point. That motivated me to start publishing chapters that were already finished, in draft form. So, I began posting every chapter, after reading it again, correcting some mistakes and even making some major changes, on Medium. My friend hasn't yet read a single chapter. Funny how this things work.

In any case, posting to Medium awoke the engineer in me again, and I started crunching some numbers on when I would be done if I managed to post the draft for one chapter each week. My final number was 700 words per day. That means that, assuming I begin on Monday, I'll reach 4200 words by Saturday, leaving Sunday to read the draft, make some changes and post it, which usually takes about two hours total. This is how all chapters from 6 to 10 have come into the world. Of course, it hasn't been a smooth ride all the time, and I frequently find myself unable to write at all during one particular day and then doing 1,100 words the next day. But it is working as a way to gauge my progress and making it very likely for me to have the first full draft of the novel by the end of March.

One amusing thing about posting on Medium is that it gives you stats, which show essentially have many people have viewed your posts and how many have read them. This can be very encouraging, if you get a lot of reads, and a test of resiliency if, like me, your latest chapter has two views and no reads. It happens, but I have to keep going.

On the side, I have continued to research what's needed for a book to be published. There are a few style guides I intend to follow once I have the final draft and more than a dozen book promoting services that I may or may not end up using. I have given myself a very low standard for low, medium and high success for this writing endeavor: Low will be if I get one person or less to read the entire novel for free, medium if get two people to read it, still for free, and high if I get two people to read it for free and one to pay for it at Amazon. We'll see if it works.

This is all for now. After this point, I will start writing in chronological order; not day-by-day, as this will make this even more painful to read, but just when I have something to say about what hopefully will be less than two months before "Dust to Bits" gets published.

February 28th, 2017

Chapter ten left me a bit unsatisfied the first time I read it. On the positive side, this is the chapter on which I have made less corrections and rewritings when compared to previous chapters. That said, once I was finished and after publishing the draft on Medium, I thought some of the big philosophical discussions that I intended to happen in the chapter were left superficial at best. I decided to leave it as it was, fearful that further editing would slow down the start of writing for chapter eleven and even put at risk the goal of completing the first draft of the novel before the end of March. Because of a surgery I had on Friday, in the same week I was working on ten, I ended up running late into finishing the chapter, which happened after midnight, already Monday the 27th of February. Funnily enough, 24 hours after that is exactly when I started writing the blog about writing the novel, oh well.

After having written less than a hundred words of chapter eleven, I stopped and did some additional research on how to publish a book on the Kindle Store. Nothing really new, except that I noticed the sample book contained the word copyright next to an author's name, which made me do even a little bit more research, this time on how to copyright a book in the United States. Turns out the process appears to be quite simple and relatively low-cost. I'll probably write a bit more about it once the book is done. Time to go back to chapter eleven now. It's 12:46 am and I managed to do write 124 words out of the 700 that should be written by now. I should probably try to be less concerned about reaching a certain goal, but it does help me to stay focused. Time to go back to writing a bit more before going to sleep.

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