Write-a-Thon Final Progress Report, Week 6

Clarion West LogoWeek 6 of the Write-a-thon ended, for me, yesterday. (I did the writing on a week that runs Monday-Sunday.) Here’s my weekly update!

If you don’t know what this Write-a-thon is, and want to know more, see here. (While I have a few generous sponsors already, I’d still love a few more, and if you’d like, it’s easy. More info on what’s in it for you at the link above.) Clarion West is still taking donations for the next couple of weeks, if you’re interested in supporting an amazing workshop program.

So… big sigh of relief! The write-a-thon ended (for me) last night, and I’m happy to say, I achieved (and surpassed) my pledged wordcount for the final week, which means I managed to pull it off for all six weeks!

This week was a lot slower than Week 5, for several reasons:

  1. I had just finished a major section of the book, and had to go back and plan out the next section I’ll be working on–not just in terms of plotting, but figuring out how things fit together through the section.
  2. I got food poisoned1, which ended up leaving me useless for about 36 hours for anything but binge-watching a TV show I kind of hate, but couldn’t stop watching.2
  3. I was kind of stuck with a whole new set of writing problems, from suddenly needing to know a lot more about Georgian pot-stills and distilling, to having to educate myself about alchemy as practiced in the 1720s, to trying to write the opening of the book.
  4. I spent some time doing other things, like applying for jobs and entertaining guests on Sunday night.

Anyway, the Reader’s Digest version is that I wrote 15,300 words for the week, which is above my 12,000 word limit, so, yay, I managed to keep my pledge. Whew!

In more detail, about 3,000 words were outline, and another 1,000 or so was for the glossary (yes, this book has a glossary), and I’m not sure how much of the remaining 11,000-odd words actually will end up in the manuscript. Sometimes you get chickens, sometimes feathers. The thing is to show up every day. I think I might take a break for a few days, immerse myself in some of the reading I need to do, and then come back to it.

Still, it’s hard to feel dismayed: I finished one section of the book, and completed a second, during the write-a-thon. My total output was:

Week 1: 17,100 words
+ Week 2: 13,000-ish words
+ Week 3: 13,400 words
+ Week 4: 21,900 words
+ Week 5: 32, 600 words
+ Week 6: 15,300 words

= Total: 113,300

I’m a bit in shock, actually: I hadn’t done the math, and hadn’t quite expected it to be that many words! That’s a little longer than your average new paperback genre novel, though, I’ll note, probably about 9,000 of those words were on other projects besides my novel.

What have I learned? Hmmm.

For one thing, I think tracking my writing is useful. Certainly, it helped me to have an explicit short-term goal: a certain number of words a week. By Week 4, those word count goals were less crucial to me, but they did help get me going at first,and keep my going when I petered out later on.

Also, I learned a lot about plotting: how it can help you, but how it can also be a neurotic form of self-deception. The plot I set out earlier on was a useful skeleton for me, briefly, but I departed from it quickly, and not only that, I think the book is better for the departure. I think planning out sections works for me. Planning out a whole book, not so much… at least, at the stage I’m at.

I also learned a lot about why writing historical fiction is so much harder than fiction set in the contemporary world, or the future, or in a wholly invented world… if you want to get it “right,” anyway. Yesteryear really is an alien place, and even when you don’t realize it, you’re likely to impose your own mistaken assumptions onto it… in ways that people who know better will notice. If you care about that, then historical fiction is very, very hard to write well.


Then there’s the characters who take on a life of their own. They start out as just, you know: butlers and scoundrels and chambermaids and blurred figures in the distance, and then end up being the linch-pin of the story, the character with whom you can’t wait to spend some more time, the one you end up feeling worst about when bad things happen to them.

And I guess finally, I learned that there’s a natural flow and rhythm to the work, at least sometimes. Sometimes, you can’t write a thing because it’s not ready in to be written; you can still make an effort, and it might make the result better to try, but you end up writing and knowing, “Yeah, this is all wrong, but I have to write more of it anyway so I can know just what’s wrong with it, and not repeat the error.” Other times, a massive chunk of story just sort of flows out of you like spiderweb, congealing into sense and structure as it is exposed to the air. You cannot control this: you can only put in the time and think carefully and make an effort to be there for when it does happen,w ith the understanding that showing up is what allows it to happen more regularly, and more naturally.

All of these are lessons I’ve learned before to some degree with short fiction, but which usually aren’t such an issue anymore with shorter stuff, so I had to relearn them again.

(I also learned a ton of things about early Georgian London, the gin craze, the brewing industry in the 1700s, the South Sea Bubble, and alchemy, which, well… my blog here has, for the past few months, contained the highlights, if you’re interested!)

Anyway, I’d like to thank all my sponsors. Thanks to you, I helped raise $223 $255 (including donation matching by an anonymous donor) for the workshop…

Oh, and remember those prizes I offered at the beginning?

  • The top sponsor gets to pick a person to be tuckerized into the book: this includes the name and the appearance of the person, and is limited only by feasibility.
  • The next three highest-pledging sponsors will get their choice of:
    • A lesser tuckerization: your favorite English pub, one first or family name, or a place in early Georgian London (in 1736) if you’re crazy enough to have a locale in Hogarth’s London in mind. Or,
    • One 500 word text in modern English of their choosing, written by me: a love letter, a rhyming poem in their honor, a stern letter to an editor, a pornographic satire of their choosing, batshit crazy political manifesto, etc.
    • One 300-word text in Georgian English (spelling and orthography, but I warn you, I’m not an expert).

I won’t announce who got what, since the donations are open for a few more weeks, but as soon as Clarion West closes the books, I’ll contact the happy parties to arrange for the fulfillment of their rewards!

Anyway, the Write-a-thon was a grueling but extremely productive experience this year. I could probably keep going a few more weeks–or do it all over again if I had a two-week break–but Mrs. Jiwaku is quite happy it’s over till next year…

1. Actually, I’m pretty sure I was chemically poisoned, not food-poisoned. The new 닭갈비 place in our part of Saigon (may it fail, or burn down, or be hit by lightning) seems to have imported an old, idiotic practice that was the basis of a news scandal back in 2007 or 2008 in Korea: using lye (aka caustic soda or sodium hydroxide) to wash their grilling plates. But, you know, not being all that attentive to the washing-off-the-lye and rinsing it clean… so that eventually it gets into the food… and makes customers violently ill. Which is a little reminiscent of how some Georgian distillers put turpentine into gin to add flavor and kick… heedless of the fact it’s highly toxic. Food adulteration was rampant in the world of the book I’m writing, but… well, it’s still a problem today, in a lot of places, obviously. Hm.
2. Entourage, Seasons 7 & 8. Awful, I know.

Here are the other weekly reports for past weeks of the write-a-thon.

2014 Clarion West Write-a-thon:

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