Holly Black [userpic]

How I Wrote DOLL BONES

March 26th, 2012 (09:27 pm)

I was planning on doing a word count post for BLACK HEART.  For some reason, I thought the post I had done listing the daily word counts was for RED GLOVE when it turned out it was actually already for BLACK HEART, leading me to a lot of frantic searching through my journal for a post I never made.  However, if you'd like to look back at the "How I Wrote" post for BLACK HEART, it's here.

Oh well.

Anyway, I realized that I could do a new "How I Wrote" post after all, but it would be for DOLL BONES.  DOLL BONES is my new middle grade book, which should come in Spring 2013.  It's about three kids -- Zachary, Poppy and Alice -- who go on a journey, despite their own uncertain friendship, to bury a doll that may or may not be haunted.  It's creepy and fun and about that period in your life when everyone around you has stopped playing pretend and you realize that maybe you're going to have to stop too.  It might be the most difficult thing I've ever written, but I am really proud of it.

You'll see what I mean about it being hard for me to write the book as you scroll through my chart.  I gave myself the goal of 500 words a day.  After all, in my mind this was a 40K novel, so it seemed like I could get it done very quickly at that pace and that with such a modest goal, surely I could hit it every day...right?  Oh, and I was going to take weekends off.  Ha!

SEPTEMBER 

26 − 600

27 - 400 (400)

28 - (400)

29 - 100 (500)   <-- what all those strike-throughs mean is that I kept writing the first pages of the book & then deleting them

30 − 400 (400)

TOTAL SEPT = 400

OCTOBER 

1 - WEEKEND

2 - WEEKEND 

3 − 1000 (1400)

4 −  500 (2,100)

5 − 1,600 (3,700)

6 - working on another project

7 - working on another project

8 - WEEKEND / FAMILY

9 - WEEKEND 600 (4,300)

10 - TRAVEL FOR WORK

11 − 600 (4,900)

12 − 100 (5,000) (in office training assistant)

13 - TRAVEL FOR WORK  400 (5,400)

14 - REVISING (5,400)

15 - WEEKEND / BOSTON BOOK FESTIVAL

16 - WEEKEND / REVISING 100 (5,500)

17 - What did I even do this day?

18 - SICK

19 - READING AT KGB

20 − 1000 (6,500)

21 - ADMIN WORK AT OFFICE

22- WRITE ANGLES - 200 (6,700)

23 - WEEKEND - 800 (7,500)   <-- at this point you can tell I have entirely given up on not working on weekends

24 − 400 (7,900)

25 - 500 (8,400)

26 - WFC - travel 100 (8,500)

27 - WFC - 500 (9,000)

28 - WFC

29 - WFC

30 - WFC

31 - WFC

TOTAL = 9,300

NOVEMBER

1 - travel home from WFC

2 - OTHER PROJECT (100) 9,400

3 - Kalamazoo - 0 (9,400)

4 - Kalamazoo - 0 (9,400)

5 - Kalamazoo - 0 (9,400)

6 − (300) 9,700

7 - (500) 10,200

8 - (200) 10,400

9 - Birthday festivities - 0 (10,400)

10 − 40th Birthday in Vieques, PR - 0 (10,400)

11 (100) 10,500

12 (100) 10,600

13 - Wedding anniversary (100) 10,700

14 - 500 (11,200)

15 − House cleaning for Sarah Rees Brennan’s arrival - 0 (11,200)

16 − 500 (11,700)

17 − 500 (12,200)

18 − 600 (12,800)

19 - Release party for Flight of Angels - 0 (12,800)

20 - 600  (13,400)

21 - 500 (13,900)

22 − 700 (14,600)

23 - 600 (15,200)

24 - Thanksgiving 0 (15,200)

25 - Day after Thanksgiving 0 (15,200)

26 - 700 (15,900)

27- 500 (16,400)

28 - NYC event 0 (16,400)

29 - 400 (16,800)

30 - 500 (17,300)

TOTAL NOVEMBER = 8,000

DECEMBER

1 − 900 (18,200)

2 − 100 (18,300) 

3 − 500 (18,800)

4 − 700 (19,500)

5 − 200 (19,700)

6 − 600 but then deleted 700 (19,600)

7 − 400 (20,000)

8 − CRAFT DAY

9 -  100 (20,100) rewriting, much deleting

10 − 500 (20,600)

11 − 500 (21,100)

12 − 300 (21,400)

13 - 500 but then deleted 300 (21,600)

14 − 1,100 (22,700)

15 - 200 (22,900)

16 - 800 (23,700)

17 - Cleaning

18 - Cleaning and wrapping

19 − 800 (24,500)

20 − 200 but then deleted 400 (24,300) SICK

21 - SICK

22 - TIME OFF

23 - TIME OFF

24 - TIME OFF

25 - TIME OFF

26 - TIME OFF

27 - TIME OFF

28 - TIME OFF

29 - TIME OFF

30 - TIME OFF

31 - TIME OFF

TOTAL DECEMBER = 7000 (24,300)

JANUARY

1 - TIME OFF

2 - TIME OFF

3 − 1000 (25,300)

4 - 200 (25,500) 

5 - 100 (25,600) Sickish

6 − 300 (25,900) - 400 (25,500) + 200 (25,700) = 500

7 − 26,000 (300) - 500 (25,500) + 300 (25,800) - 600 (25,200) = 600

8 − 800 (26,000)

9 − 700 (26,700)

10 - 500 (27,200)

11 - 300 (27,500) 

12 − 100 (27,600) TRIP TO NEW YORK

13 − 0 (27,600) TRIP TO NEW YORK

14 − (500) 28,100

15 − 800 (28,900)

16 - 900 (29,800)

17 − 700 (30,500)

18 − 900 (31,400)

19 − 500 (31,900)

20 − 500 (32,400)

21 — 600 (33,000)

22 −- 600 (33,600)

23 -- 1000 (34,600)

24 − 100 (34,700) CRITIQUING

25 - (must finish draft!)  1300 (36,000)

26  - TRIP TO NEW YORK

27 - 200 (36,200)

28 - [EDIT CHAPTERS 1-6] 100 (36,300)

29 - [EDIT CHAPTER 7 & 8] 400 (36,700)

30 - [EDIT CHAPTER 7 & 8] (-700) +500 (36,500)

31 - [EDIT CHAPTER 9] 500 (37,000) - 100 (36,900)

TOTAL JANUARY = 12,600

FEBRUARY

1 - NYC

2 - NYC

3 - [EDIT CHAPTER 9] - (-900) +500 = 36,500)

4 - [EDIT CHAPTER 10} 800 (37,300)  (Actually, I deleted so much that I wrote like 1,800 today)

5 - [EDIT CHAPTER 10] 600 (37,900) (Again, so much deleting and rewriting) −900 (37,000) +400 (37,400)

6 - [EDIT CHAPTER 11] (PREPARE FOR SHOWER] Finished chapter 11

7 - [EDIT CHAPTER 12] Finish Chapter 11

8 - [EDIT CHAPTER 12] Half of Chapter 12  (37,400)  

9 - PACK  ACTUALLY FINISH 2000 (39,400)
    10 - TURN IN

You'll see that this time, I deleted so much that I started counting some of the deletions to make myself feel better.  I rewrote so much of this book trying to get it right and I still have to actually revise it!  I've been working on the first four chapters this week and my workshop is convening on Sunday, so I have lots of revising still to go.

So, editing aside, it took me about 114 days to write.  With editing, it took me 127 days to write.  Of those 127 days, I actually wrote on about 90.  The rest were mostly conferences, appearances, other travel, holidays, or the occasional day off.

So, that means if you count all 127 days, it only took me 300 words a day to reach my goal.  That's pretty slow writing, I know.  But the reason I put these word counts up is that I want it to be clear that whatever it takes to get a book done, whatever plodding or sprinting method you have: in the end, if you keep at it, you get a book.

And also, you people who have day jobs, look -- 310 words a day!  You could do that!  You could do that at lunch!  You could do it on the train ride home!  You could do it in the dark of night while watching television!

Okay, yeah, it's harder than it looks sometimes, but still!

If you only count the 90 days when I was actually working, it still took me only about 440 words, which was only a little shy of my 500 word goal.  You will notice, however, that unlike BLACK HEART, where I spent a month abroad, intensively writing, this book was written without any writing retreats or trips -- just a little at a time, almost every day.

So there you have it.  In the fall, when I am actually done, I will put up the word count chart for Coldtown -- a book that, so far, has ONLY been written on writing retreats.

Comments

Posted by: Anaquana (anaquana)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 01:37 am (UTC)
Om

Thank you for this post. I'm a slow writer at times and it's occasionally disheartening to see the daily word counts some published authors put out. It sometimes makes me feel like I'll never be able to make it in publishing because I don't have two books a year in me.

I know I'm not supposed to compare myself with other writers and that it isn't a competition, but man is there a vast difference between knowing it and internalizing it.

Again, thank you for a bit of perspective.

Posted by: Holly Black (blackholly)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 01:55 am (UTC)

You have to write at your own pace and discover your own process.

And, as slowly as I wrote this book, I've had 1-2 books come out every year for the past 8 or 9 years, so you can write two books a year, even if it takes a while to write them. This year, I only have BLACK HEART out, but last year I had RED GLOVE and two graphic novels, the year before that was WHITE CAT, a graphic novel and a short story collection. It can be done!

Posted by: davidjfuller.wordpress.com (davidjfuller.wordpress.com)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 03:14 am (UTC)

Wow, do I ever love this post. I attempted to chronicle my own attempts to finish my WIP on my own blog recently but was nowhere near as statistical as this. I had high hopes of 7,000 words a week (aiming for about 120,000 words, with editing to get it down to 100,000 or so), but the reality is closer to 5,000. But what you argue here is what slowly dawned on me -- a little bit every day is how you get there. I've tried doing massive writing days but they are never as productive as I hope they will be. But: a little writing on lunch break or commuting, and the word count piles up. Given the number of times I've revised this novel, I am hoping when it's done the next one won't take as long. And maybe I should write shorter.
Again, thanks for this. I'm going to point everyone I can to this post.

Posted by: Atreyu Bat (boywarrior)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 03:56 am (UTC)

I adore you.

Posted by: Twilightcat (twilightcat)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 05:30 am (UTC)
party

You have an assistant now? Cool!

Posted by: lindorm (lindorm)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 09:11 am (UTC)

How long would you say that you used to plan your books in advance? Did you do the detail planning for the entire Curse Workers series in one swoop or book by book?

I'm extra curious since your wordcount is similar to mine and I've always felt inferior to those writers that hammer out 3000-4000 words a day without breaking a sweat.

Also - thank you for these posts! It's especially nice to know since I admire your work so much.

Posted by: Holly Black (blackholly)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 05:01 pm (UTC)

In terms of planning, I do a combination of plunging and plotting ahead. I need to know something about the character and the premise before I start, but often need to write the first chapter or two of a first book (ie, not a sequel) before I can really figure out what the book is and start more serious planning. With DOLL BONES, I knew a lot of the story, but a lot of the rewriting of the beginning was getting the tone and pacing right. I thought I was going to write this like a longer Spiderwick book, but there is a huge tonal difference between writing about a 9-year-old and writing about a 12-year-old.

With The Curse Workers, I actually first planned it to be one book: WHITE CAT. Then about halfway through I realized that it needed to be a series because there was no way I could get Cassel and Lila to the emotional places I needed them to go in one book. So, at about that halfway point, I started planning the two following books. Then, right before I started each one, I sat down and planned it in more detail. And about halfway through, when I realized what was working and what wasn't, I replanned it.

I always envy people who have regular 3-4K writing days too and if I could figure out how to work like that, I would. But I've written a lot of books like this, so even if I never figure out how to write more quickly, at least I know that this way works...eventually. :D

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 05:06 pm (UTC)

Thank you! It's nice to know that you don't start with a perfect plan but replan it. I have done several replannings of my second book and I just hope that this last one will work. During the replannings I had a major confidence crisis, what if everything was bad just because I had to replan? Now, after so many re-tries I'm almost back at the beginning, but this time it works. I hope.

Posted by: Holly Black (blackholly)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 05:10 pm (UTC)

That happens to me a lot. In fact, I am in the middle of replanning some of the middle and ending of COLDTOWN right now and it's scary, because I know the feeling I want, but am not sure quite what happenings I need to get it.

Posted by: LiveJournal (livejournal)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 02:15 pm (UTC)
No title
pingback_bot

User sarafawkes referenced to your post from No title saying: [...] writerly advice to pure WTFery: has a great post up today showing the daily word count numbers [...]

Posted by: Orrin Grey (orrin)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 03:12 pm (UTC)

Oh man, Doll Bones sounds wonderful!

Posted by: Sara Fawkes (sarafawkes)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 06:43 pm (UTC)

I love seeing posts like this. :) It's so helpful as a writer myself to see proof positive that slow and steady CAN win the race here. I've been striving for 1k a day on my WIP and while I've been fairly consistent there are definitely days where I don't quite make my goal. (okay, a lot of days) Still, like you I keep track of my daily word totals and would love to someday be able to post something like this that gives others a chance to realize, yes, even YOU can do it. :-D

Posted by: LiveJournal (livejournal)
Posted at: March 27th, 2012 11:39 pm (UTC)
March 28, 2012 Links and Plugs
pingback_bot

User charlesatan referenced to your post from March 28, 2012 Links and Plugs saying: [...] y Black on How I Wrote Doll Bones [...]

Posted by: Respice finem (malsperanza)
Posted at: March 28th, 2012 12:47 am (UTC)

I love these posts. It's so interesting to see the rhythm, the perseverance.

And here's one of my favorite author quotes for you:

"A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

Thomas Mann (who wrote every morning for 3 hours, like he was punching a time clock).

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