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Nov. 7th, 2006


Brief Personal Update, With Voting

Life has been busy; Nomi and I have done a lot lately -- seen plays (Hamlet, The Tempest), seen a movie (The Prestige, last night) seen friends (cellio, for one), gone to synagogue (we're sponsoring kiddush this shabbat in honor of my father's yahrzeit) -- but I've been too busy with all those things to spend much time reporting on those selfsame things here. And I've been attempting NaNoWriMo, as you all know. I started with a major push on words but have since fallen back, so I have yet to break 10,000 words. I'm hoping maybe to make a major push again today.

And, as many others have noted, today is election day. As is our habit, Nomi and I went to our polling place before they opened this morning so we could exercise our franchise as early as possible. We ended up being voters #2 and #3. There's something nice about filling out a paper ballot and watching it get slurped by the scanning machine.

I've had so many things I've wanted to write about or comment on, but no time to do so. Ah well. There will be time hereafter.

Nov. 1st, 2006


NaNoWriMo and Me

I'm doing something that I never thought I'd do; in fact, it's something that I spoke out against my doing last year.

I have decided to attempt NaNoWriMo.

For those of you reading who don't know what that means, NaNoWriMo is a challenge given every year for anyone who wants to sign up, to write a "novel," which in this case means a piece of fiction at least 50,000 words long, in the space of a month.

Last year, I noted that I am not naturally a fast writer, and so a challenge like NaNoWriMo would be anathema to me. And so while I wished others luck with it, I said that I myself would decline from participating.

This year I have changed my mind. Which leads of course to the obvious question: why?

Well, for a while now, I haven't been writing as much as I used to. Whether it's because I spent a year working on that novel (which, before you ask, is still in submission) or because I've been working full-time again, I have found that my fiction writing has fallen somewhat by the wayside. There was a time when gnomi and I planned every weeknight around making sure we each wrote 500 words of fiction no matter what. For the past six months, my fiction writing has instead come in fits and bursts, and I've not followed my own advice to all writers: write every day. It seems to me that I need to do something to jar the writing self into action again, and taking the NaNoWriMo challenge is as good a catalyst as any.

Another reason for me to do this project is because I still haven't managed to place a novel with a publisher. Nomi reminded me that I wrote quite a lot of unpublishable short stories before I managed to write one that sold. Perhaps I need to do the same thing when it comes to novels. So far I've only written two. If, let's say, I need to write eight more before something "clicks," whatever that something is...well, the sooner I get those novels written, the better.

Finally, doing this challenge allows me to stretch my writing muscles in a way that I haven't yet done. Besides getting the practice of writing quickly, I mean. I've decided that for NaNoWriMo, I'm going to eschew my usual genre of science fiction. Instead, I'm working on a novel that will turn into either a political thriller or political satire. I don't want to say much more, but I will note that the idea comes from having seen the way this country has chipped away at our civil liberties in the name of security. I've got something I want to say about that, and this novel is the manner in which I want to say it.

Getting a bit more personal, I contemplated not posting about this and keeping it a secret until I was done. Again, you might ask why. Honestly, it's because I'm not the kind of guy who likes to put his possible failures out in front for all the world to see. I'm not sure if I'll succeed, and unlike many braver souls, I'm not comfortable sharing every part of my writing life with the world. (Some of you know I'm talking about you, and bless you for your willingness to be so open with the world.)

But on the other hand...well, the point of NaNoWriMo is to be part of a community of people all striving towards the same goal of writing 50,000 words of fiction in the space of a month. So it seems senseless to me to take on this challenge and then deny myself the benefits of the larger community. To that end, I share here with everyone that I am using the handle mabfan for this project, same as my LiveJournal username. If you're doing NaNoWriMo as well, by all means please tell me your handle, and I'll add you to my buddy list. And for any and all who are interested, here are the links to my profile and progress pages:

My Author Profile

NaNoWriMo Progress for mabfan

Today's wordcount: 2086. A good start.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein

Oct. 27th, 2005


Brief Personal Update

Now that the holidays are over, I'm surfacing briefly just to let people know that I'm still here.

Things have been busy, of course. The holidays took a lot of prep time, and because they were all during the week, I'm busy catching up at work. I haven't had a chance to do much new writing -- mostly revising -- and I'm still waiting for some final feedback on the novel.

I've been reading comic books as I can, though, and enjoying the unfolding storylines in both the DC universe and in Spider-Man. And next month, although I have no plans to do NaNoWriMo, I do plan to get back into the swing of new writing. (Unless I find myself needing to do more revisions of older projects.)

November will also be busy with other things. In my capacity as a Brookline Library Trustee, I have a bunch of committee meetings to attend; and our Fall Town Meeting is taking place starting on Tuesday, November 15th, with a lot of zoning bylaws on the agenda to be voted upon. And then of course there's Thanksgiving, and two sets of families to see.

Finally, one cool announcement (or at least I think so). gnomi and I have signed up for weekly private lessons at the Brookline Arts Center. We're planning to study the art of penciling for cartoons and comic books. I have no illusions that I'll become a Jack Kirby or a Jim Lee, but learning to draw looked like fun, especially given my love of comic books.

Sep. 16th, 2005


Novel Update

The manuscript has been mailed to my agent.

Aug. 26th, 2005


Novel Progress: Second Draft FINISHED at 115,000 Words

Just a few minutes ago, I finished my revisions to the novel. I ended up cutting a chunk, but the second draft is still a good sized book.

I'm hoping that this will be the end of it, and that it's good to go. However, I do have two professional writers who agreed to take a look at the book and give me feedback, and then I have to send it to my agent, and listen to her suggestions. But at this point, I'm ready to take a break from the project again, and concentrate on some other, shorter work that has been waiting for my attention.

Aug. 23rd, 2005


Life Update

Not much had been going on in my life, but given a few recent posts, I thought I'd update.

* The copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that had the upside-down signature sold to a collector in England, and I'll be mailing it out to him later today.

* lensman and gem225 both offered to lend me their DVDs of Star Trek, so I'm all set with those. When I can post more about why I needed them, I will.

* gem225 (who is new to comics) and I went on a comic book shopping trip last week. She reports on what she's started to buy and read in her post "I discover the joy and lure of comics, part 2". (I suppose this doesn't have much to do with my own life, but it's fun watching her get interested in comics. She's picked a good time to do so as well, what with Infinite Crisis on the horizon.)

* Finally, I've been in the process of revising the novel. I'm almost done with Part One, which required the most extensive rewrite, especially since I jettisoned about two chapters worth of material. If I'm able to keep up the pace, I'll have the second draft done by the end of the month.

Jun. 16th, 2005


Flesch-Kincaid: Final Conclusion?

Back in March, I posted about Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics. (I won't repeat everything I said in those posts, so if you need a refresher, you can find them by clicking on, now that LiveJournal allows for tags.) For those of you who don't want to go back over those posts, the gist of it was as follows:

In his book FICTION WRITER'S BRAINSTORMER, James V. Smith Jr. recommends using the readability statistics in your grammar checker to improve your writing. He ran selections from ten New York Times bestsellers through the grammar checker, and developed an ideal writing standard based on what he found:

  • No more than 4.25 characters per word.
  • No more than 5% passive voice
  • No less than an 80% readability on the Flesch Reading Ease scale.
  • A Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 5 (although on the chart, he lists that as 4-6).

On a whim, I ran the first chapter of Neil Gaiman's upcoming novel through the grammar checker and posted the statistics...which generated a wee bit of interest at the time.

Anyway, I've now come to the conclusion that readability statistics might be a useful tool, but despite what Smith asserted in his book on writing, it's not going to guarantee that your book is a bestseller. (Actually, to give Smith his due, he never actually makes that claim.)

What convinced me is that I just ran the full spell-check and grammar-check on the first draft of my own novel in progress. I wanted to have a clean copy to edit, so I figured it made sense to run these checks now, even though I will have to run them again later. Since my novel is divided into chapter files, I ran the check on each chapter separately. This also jibes with Smith's suggestion that checking the readability statistics for a whole novel at once isn't going to yield useful results.

The results are presented in the table below, behind an LJ-cut:

Read more...Collapse )

So what does this all mean? Looking at the statistics, all of my chapters are clearly within Smith's ideal writing standard. And yet, it would be the height of hubris for me to predict that this novel will eventually become a bestseller.

Somewhere in the blogosphere, after a lot of debate, I posted that perhaps the Ideal Writing Standard is a necessary but not sufficient condition to ensure a popular novel. But having just run the statistics again, I'm not so sure.

I think, in the end, what the statistics do is no more than give you a general idea of how readable a piece of prose is. The difference between a readability of, say, 40 and 80 is probably much more significant than the difference between 80 and 85.

So, my final conclusion: play with the statistics, have fun with them, but remember that they are only one of many tools to help us improve our writing.

Jun. 7th, 2005


Novel Progress: First Draft FINISHED at 121,000 Words

The subject line pretty much says it all.

Just a few minutes ago, I finished the first draft of the novel I've been working on. The total word count is about 121,000 words.

In terms of manuscript pages and story chapters, my three-part structure has ended up breaking down as follows:

Part One: 183 pages (chapters 1-6)
Part Two: 225 pages (chapters 7-11)
Part Three: 75 pages (chapters 12-15)

So instead of having three acts of approximately the same length, I have a novel with a long set-up, an even longer middle, and then a quick wrap up at the end. (Come to think of it, that might actually work better.)

Of course, my work isn't done yet. The novel needs some extensive rewriting. For example, by the middle of the novel I had decided that my protagonist ought to be an orphan. This means the chapter where she has dinner with her parents needs to go. (Or, at least, I need to alter it extensively.)

Then, after I rewrite it, I have two or three first readers who have volunteered to give me feedback. Then I have to send it to my agent, and if she has any suggestions to offer I'd be well-served to incorporate them into the final submission draft.

But for now...for now I feel content to rest on my laurels, satisfied with a job well done.

If only it weren't so darn hot today...

Thanks to everyone who has been accompanying me on this journey. We've made it to the first plateau.

Apr. 21st, 2005


Personal LIfe Update

This past week has, sadly, not been a writing week.

I last worked on the novel last Thursday. Part of the problem is that I'm at the end of the story, and I know what has to happen, but I still haven't worked out how it's all supposed to happen. So although I haven't been putting words to paper (words to screen? words to file?) I've been going over the plot resolution in my head over and over, which is a necessary part of the process. But part of me still has that nagging feeling that if pages aren't getting written, I'm not making any progress -- even though in another way of measuring it, perhaps I am.

However, the other reason I haven't gotten much writing done is because of personal life stuff.

Last weekend my new niece Abigail had her baby-naming ceremony. Nomi and I weren't able to attend, sadly, because it was held on shabbat and we couldn't travel. But I did get to attend Abby's dipping at Mayyim Hayyim last Friday in the middle of the day. Which took precedence over writing, being a family event.

Monday I had to go over the galleys for "Sanctuary," because the deadline for getting corrections into Analog was on Tuesday. Again, a necessary part of being a writer, and it was a good thing I had the chance to go over the galleys, because I found a few vital corrections. But Monday being Patriot's Day meant it was also occupied with seeing the Marathon, which I've done every year since 1996. I watched for a few hours with magid and fynixsoul, and I also ran into other people I knew, including ffoeg. But it meant no writing.

Tuesday morning was occupied entirely with Library Trustee stuff; I'm the Secretary of the Nominations Committee, and we had a few issues to deal with in order to understand exactly how to run our officer elections next month. Actually, I enjoy being a Library Trustee a great deal, and my recent role meant that I got to dive into our bylaws, Robert's Rules, and state statutes, to come up with our elections procedure. But it did mean no writing.

And of course, who can even think of writing while watching a new Pope be announced? :-)

Tuesday also went down the drain because of my back pain. I have a chronic back pain condition, and some days it feels worse than others. Yesterday the pain was concentrated in the lower left hip region, and kept me lying in bed reading most of the afternoon. (Do people really want to know this stuff?) Today the pain is much less, thanks to Aleve and perhaps my body's natural cycles, but I'm still not 100%.

And then for some weird reason, last night I couldn't get to sleep until well after 3 AM. I'm having insomnia again tonight, which is why this is being posted around 1 AM. It's a good thing I'm not working a regular schedule this year (thanks again to gnomi).

The other reason I'm not getting any writing done -- Passover cleaning. As gnomi points out in this post, we've done some cleaning but there is stil some to do. On my own list, I need to finish clearing the clutter off the dining room table, and I need to run two loads of laundry. Nomi's done much of the kitchen and the oven and stove already, and tomorrow we have to do the counters and the sink. So once again, I doubt I'll have time to work on the novel tomorrow.

As for Friday -- ha ha! The day before the shabbat before Passover? Anyone actually expects me to get work done? It is to laugh.

At least we got to hear Sarah Vowell tonight, and it was nice of ckd to join us. I'll try to post a fuller report later, if I have the time.

Apr. 12th, 2005


Novel Progress: 110,000 Words

Another 10,000 words accomplished.

I'm not going to go into the usual analysis here, but I am glad to say that the end is almost in sight. I'm almost done with chapter 12. The way my stepsheet outline currently reads, the final chapter will be around chapter 15 or 16.

I am a little worried about the length, though. I've heard that publishers tend to look for books between 80,000 and 120,000 words, and this first draft might end up breaking 120,000 words. But I know the first part of the book needs a major overhaul, and then other rewriting might lead to some cuts. In the end, though, I'll just let the book finish finding its own natural length.

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