Holly Black [userpic]

How I Wrote THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN (the novel)

December 7th, 2012 (09:43 pm)

Now that the copyedits are in, I think it's safe to call COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN finished, which means it's time for a "How I Wrote" post breaking down the word count and how long it took to write this book.

Previous "How I Wrote" posts are: How I Wrote Black Heart and How I Wrote Doll Bones.

I started doing these to keep myself honest and to learn more about my process. Along the way, I realized that what might be the most helpful to other writers was seeing that finishing a book isn't about writing lots and lots of words every day. It's about the practice of just continuing to put words down, even if you're only writing 300 words at a time. And as I post more and more of these, its interesting how clear it is that every book is written a little differently and poses different challenges.

Please note that writing this book wasn't all I did with my time. Sometimes there were good reasons why I didn't write more or didn't write at all, such as other work. Sometimes there weren't such good reasons. If I remembered (or noted) what was going on on a particular day I tried to jot it down.

This book posed three fairly significant challenges: (1) It was based on a short story, which you can read here, so I had to decide how much of the short story went into the novel itself and whether any of the characters overlapped. (2) I had to decide how to get all the stuff I love about vampires in the book without making it feel derivative. (3) I had to introduce the rules of world in a way that wouldn't be confusing or slow the pace, but would be enough information for the reader to buy into it.

Oh, and there turned out to be one more challenge. This book is 110,000 words and thirty-nine chapters. So, basically, the longest thing I have ever written.

My average writing day was about 1,010, which is high for me and may be the result of the fact that much of this book was written on writing retreats. It would be even higher if I hadn't had to do so much rewriting, which dragged down the totals. There appeared to be 94 days of actual writing, which is kind of amazing. During that time, there were 36 days I didn't work on Coldtown. Of those days, 10 of them were spent working on another project, 10 were days off, 9 were travel or teaching, 3 I was sick and 4 were planning revisions. There is a lost bit of August and July not represented here where I was working on edits, teaching, writing a short story and other things.

Added together = 94 days of actual writing/revising @ 1,010 average.
If you add in the days of planning revisions, that gives us = 98 days of writing/revising @ 969 a day.

YOU CAN DO THAT. IT'S TOTALLY DOABLE.

I started writing COLDEST GIRL in France, on a writing retreat with some friends. I wrote five thousand words in the first week. Unfortunately, they were the *wrong* five thousand words. For more, read on:

July 3 - START (300 words)

July 4 - 1,300 (1,000)

July 5 − 2,200 (900)

July 6 − 3,200 (1,000)

July 7 - 4,000 (800)

July 8 - 5,000 (1,000) - started over. <---This is the day that I realized I was going to have to start over with an entirely different beginning.

July 9 - 6,100 (1,100) <--See how I am in denial about that? I haven't adjusted the word count.

July 10 − MOVED LOTS OF STUFF - 3,100 (1,000) <---But now I did. And I managed to salvage some of it. Or at least I managed to pretend I wasn't going to have to throw all of it out.

July 11 - 3,800 (700)

July 12 − 5,000 (1,200) 

July 13 - 6,500 (1,500)

July 14 − 7,700 (1,200)

July 15 - 8,700 (1,000)

July 16 - 10,300 (1,600)

July 17 - 11,700 (1,400)

July 18 − 12,600 (900)

July 19 − 14,300 (1,700) 

July 20 − 15,600 (1,300)

July 21 - 17,200 (1,500)

July 22 - 18,900 (1,700)

July 23 - 19,500 (600)

July 24 - 0 <-- I worked on the proposal for a different project instead of Coldtown.

July 25 − 20,500 (1,000)

July 26 − 22,000 (1,500)

July 27 − 22,400 (400) <--- My word count is low here because I wrote up part of the actual proposal for Coldtown to send out to editors instead of writing the book.

July 28 - DAY OF FUN <--- We were in France! We had to spend at least one day visiting cute towns, drinking wine and swimming in the pool.

July 29 - 23,200 (800)

July 30 - FLY HOME

July 31 − 23,500 (300)

    JULY TOTAL = 23,500

August 1 − 24,400 (900)

August 2 − 25,600 (1,200)

August 3 − 26,100 (500)

Other edits = 29,600

    AUGUST TOTAL = 6,100


So at this point, I had to stop working on COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN. I had to write DOLL BONES -- and you will can see how that started up in September (with a break where I was working on a couple of other things) here.

February 13 - 1,000 (30,600)

February 14 − 900 (31,500)

February 15 - 500 (32,000) <-- Edits on old chapters

February 16 - 1,500 (33,500)

February 17 - 0 <--wrote on a different book

February 18 − 1,300 (34,800)

February 19 − 1,000 (35,800)

February 20 − 1,100 (36,900)

February 21 - 1,100 (38,000)

February 22 - 1,700 (39,700)

February 23 - 1,300 (41,000)

February 24 - 400 (41,400) <-- also wrote part of a different book

February 25 − 1,000 (42,400)

February 26 − 1,100 (43,500)

February 27 − 2,100 (45,500)

February 28 - 1,300 (46,800) 

February 29 − 1,200 (48,000)

    FEBRUARY TOTAL = 24,800


March 1 - 1,000 (49,000)

March 2 - 0 <-- wrote part of a different book

March 3 − 1,000 (50,000)

March 4 − 1,500 (51,500)

March 5 − 1,200 (52,700)

March 6 − 1,500 (54,200)

March 7 − 1,000 (55,200)

March 8 − 1,300 (56,500)

March 9 - 0 <-- wrote part of a different book

March 10 - 0 <--DAY OFF

March 11 - 0 <--FLY HOME

    MARCH TOTAL = 8,500

When I got home I had DOLL BONES edits to do and did. Which meant that I couldn't get back to COLDTOWN unti the end of April. But after this, I got to write the rest straight through. There was only one problem. I realized that I'd made a big mistake in March. I needed to rewrite about half of what I'd written, so what follows are some very low word counts because I decided that no matter how much I cut, I would only count forward momentum. I'm not sure this was a good idea.

April 26 - Plan Revisions, which mean re-writing the first third significantly and gutting the second third before I write the third third.

April 27 - Plan Revisions

April 28 - Plan Revisions & Revisions 1,700 (58,200)

April 29 - some more revisions…

April 30 − 900 (59,100)


APRIL TOTAL: 2,500

MAY 1 - 500 (59,600) REVISION

May 2 - 0  <--SICK DAY

May 3 - 200 (59,800) REVISION

May 4 − 500 (60,330) REVISION

May 5 − 200 (60,500) REVISION

May 6 − 500 (61,000) REVISION

May 7 - 500 (61,500) REVISION

May 8 − 400 (61,900) REVISION

May 9 − 500 (62,400) REVISION

May 10 − 600 (63,000) REVISION

May 11 - 0  <--Family stuff

May 12 - 0 <--Family stuff

May 13 - 0 <--Family stuff

May 14 − 1,400 (64,400)

May 15 - 0 <-- packing for a business trip to go to Doodle4Google and then on to SCBWI Nevada to teach.

May 16 - 0  <--NYC

May 17 - 0 <--NYC

May 18 - 0 <--NEVADA

May 19 - 0 <--NEVADA

May 20 - 0 <--NEVADA

May 21 - 0 <--NEVADA

May 22 − 750 (65,150)

May 23 − 750 (65,900)

May 24 - 1,400 (63,100) <-- This is where I started noting deletions. I cut almost 5K out of the book on this day, so even though I wrote a significant amount, the total word count went down not up.

May 25 − 1,300 (64,400)

May 26 - 0 <-- DAY OFF

May 27 − 1,600 (66,000)

May 28 - 1,500 (63,200) <-- Deleted another almost 5K from the book here.

May 29 − 900 (64,100)

May 30 - 500 (64,600)

May 31 - DOLL BONES

    MAY TOTAL = 5,500

June 1 - DOLL BONES

June 2 - DOLL BONES

June 3 - DOLL BONES

June 4 - DOLL BONES

June 5 - DOLL BONES

June 6 - NYC

June 7 - 600 (65,200)

June 8 - 2,200 (67,400) 

June 9 - 1,600 (69,000) 

June 10 - 1,200 (69,500) deleted 700 words (68,300)

June 11 − 1,600 (71,100) 

June 12 - Nada. I didn’t mean to take the day off, but I did. Stayed up too late on the 11th. Drove up to Vermont. Went to friend’s house. Had some wine.

June 13 - 500 (71,500) <-- spent most of the day helping a friend with her project

June 14 − 300 (71,800) <-- spent most of the day helping a friend with her project.

June 15 − 0 (71,800) <--spent the whole day drinking and talking to artists.

June 16 − 0 (71,800) <-- tried to install Lion and fucked up my computer, leading to day of total computer misery. Did manage to outline all of what goes into the rest of the book, though.

June 17 - 1,200 (73,300) <--deleted another 300 words.

June 18 − 600 (73,900) -  <--birthday dinner with friends, but on the whole just a dismal day.

June 19 − 1,300 (75,200)  <-- Robin and Maureen visit!

June 20 − 1,100 (76,300) <-- Robin and Maureen visit!

June 21 − 1,100 (77,400) - <-- Long business phone call in middle of day.

June 22 − 900 (78,300)

June 23 - Visting friend

June 24 - Visiting friend

June 25 - 800 (79,100) <--Dropped off friend at train station.

June 26 - 1,200 (82,100) 

June 27 - 0 <-- Medical leave.

June 28 - 0 <-- Medical leave.

June 29 - 1,000 (83,400) 

June 30 - 1,400 (84,600) Deleted 200 words.


JUNE TOTAL = 20,000


    July 1 − 1,200 (85,800) 

July 2 - 1,000 (86,800) 

July 3 − 1,300 (88,100) 

July 4 - Fourth of July! Day off in celebration of writing the last line & now return to beginning.  500 (88,600)

July 5 − 700 (89,300) Went to river. Planned interstitials. Messed with ending.

July 6 − 800 (90,100) Interstitials. DONE!!!

Well, not really. Although that's when I wrote the last sentence and stopped recording, I spent the rest of the month restructuring the ending and turned it in on July 30th at 95,000 words. Subsequent editing and then copyedits added about 15K, during which there was a massive restructuring of a couple of chapters, but I didn't record that editing in this kind of detail.

    JULY TOTAL = 10,400

Comments

Posted by: Respice finem (malsperanza)
Posted at: December 8th, 2012 03:22 am (UTC)

These "How I Wrote"s are possibly the coolest thing ever.

Posted by: susancolebank (susancolebank)
Posted at: December 8th, 2012 04:02 am (UTC)

I agree with malsperanza. Coolest. Things. Ev-ah. ;o) Thank you for showing me that the slog is worth it, day by day, until it truly is a book.

-S.

Posted by: Holly Black (blackholly)
Posted at: December 8th, 2012 07:18 am (UTC)

I'm glad!

Posted by: from tolstoy to tinkerbell (mars_daydream)
Posted at: December 8th, 2012 07:12 am (UTC)

Unbelievably helpful. Thank you so much for this, seriously.

Posted by: twittertales (twitterstory)
Posted at: December 10th, 2012 01:28 pm (UTC)

Wow, this is fascinating. Totally makes me want to start keeping track of how I write, except I'm worried that would just be depressing...

Posted by: Holly Black (blackholly)
Posted at: December 10th, 2012 06:28 pm (UTC)

It's depressing at first. (And not just at first: I mean, I have a cold right now and I wrote down 100 words for yesterday.) But you don't ever have to show it to anyone. And it does help you see how you work.

Posted by: gkbyrne.com (gkbyrne.com)
Posted at: December 10th, 2012 10:14 pm (UTC)

Thank you for sharing these, Holly! They are hugely validating. I have to keep reminding myself that each book is and should be different - in process as well as in fact. Speaking as a frequent slave to my own high expectations, it's great to hear from an author I admire that the amount isn't nearly as important as the act itself.

Posted by: Felice Kuan (Felice Kuan)
Posted at: December 20th, 2012 06:19 am (UTC)

Thank you, Holly!

Posted by: Chelsea Pitcher (Chelsea_Pitcher)
Posted at: January 10th, 2013 12:16 am (UTC)

This is so amazing, thank you for posting it!!! I think this sort of thing could really help me hold myself accountable each day!

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