In The Emperor We Trust

If you have been following my progress on twitter for the last week or so, you can find me at @abhinavjain87, then you’ll know that work on the novel has been steadily progressing. In fact, it is better than steady because I’ve clocked an average of 2,900+ words over the last four days, which is my strongest performance ever. That average does kind of fall down to a measly 2,200+ however if I take into account the actual six writing days I’ve put in the project because the first two days weren’t really that good.

But, that is not the point of this post. Sure, I want to bask in the pleasure of doing so well on the writing front and share it with the world at large (and end up being accused of word e-peening in the process in which case you all haters can go take a hike) but I want to share just how I managed to do this.

So let’s see what really went down, huh?

A little word-breakdown first from my novel tracker:

Day 1 – 1,244, Day 2 – 341, Day 3 – 3,120, Day 4 – 2,618, Day 5 – 2,582, Day 6 – 3,435

As you can see, that output there for the last four days has been magnificent. If people recall, one of my self-goals during NaNoWriMo was to do 8,000 words in 3 days, somewhere in the middle of the month. I intended to really push myself and get progressing on Raven and Blood, getting down as much as I could. But you know what?

Even though I beat that goal, I approached it the wrong way. Those three days dissolved into a lot of crap writing in hindsight because I was focusing on the word-count itself and not on the actual writing process or being creative or trying to tell a good story.

And that is where these last four days come in. When I sat down to write on Day 3 (of actual writing that is), I intend to hit a self-defined target of 2,000 words. As my writing progress during NaNoWriMo showed me, that is a decent enough goal and if I can’t hit at least that target on a decent day of writing, then the writing gig isn’t really for me. That’s because I follow all these authors on twitter/facebook/blogs and the general sense I get is that 2,000 words is the low end of the spectrum.

In fact, Rachel Aaron has some great tips on her blog on how to go from 2,000 words a day to 10,000 words a day (link). Keep in mind however that the full process is not for everybody, but, you can still make use of several of her ideas and steps to still increase your daily performance.

So how did I make use of that process?

Now, keep in mind that I wasn’t consciously following her advice because what she says in that blog is actually pretty common-sense stuff in my humble opinion and therefore I did what I did because it felt right to me.

Her metric triangle was the first step of course and the first step is Knowledge: know what you are writing before you write it. This was where my chapter-breakdown for the novel came in. I spent a few days in December doing nothing but plotting, charting how I wanted the story to start, what happens in each chapter, the trials and tribbleations faced by my characters, the tensions, the highs and lows, and ultimately, the grand climax and then the end. Let me tell you: this step is essential. I have a ~7,000-word document that is tracking my entire plot from start to finish.

Of course, I am writing the novel in Scrivener and I have all the scenes nicely laid out and stuff but that breakdown has helped immensely in keeping me on track with the relevant parts of the novel and not go off on tangents. The only, well, surprise I guess you could call it is that I have realized that I may have actually put too much action and tension in some of my scenes.  Chapter 2 for example (yes I started with chapter 2 first) is currently just shy of 8,400 words and that is too long for a submissions pitch (this novel will be submitted to Black Library this summer remember?) by about 2,000 words.  Chapter 1 is currently just shy of 5,000 words and has yet to have its own explosive climax, which I anticipate will run to at least 1,500 words and then there is still Chapter 3 left to write.

In essence I have over-plotted my first three chapters at the least. But you know what? That is good. This gives me room to spread out the action over more chapters and keep my first three chapters pretty tight and focused on what needs to happen.

But I digress so let’s get back to the point. Rachel Aaron says that you need to have knowledge about what you are writing before you start. I totally agree. If I take a look at those 3,100+ days I see that those two days I wrote something that I intrinsically know I can write.

The first of those two days was when I wrote a massive 2,000-word scene (I am approximating here since the scene was actually spread out over two days and is in reality roughly 4,000 words), all continuous from start to finish that was nothing but dialogue. What was so special about it, you ask? This scene is one of the most important scenes in the first third of the novel as my heroes are given their quest and have to fend off some internal conflict with their brothers. If that wasn’t a big enough spoiler and if you don’t know what In The Emperor We Trust is, yet, then yes, I am writing about my Angels of Retribution.

The dialogue all just flowed naturally from start to finish and I had fun writing it. The characters all mostly talked as I expected them too and there were a few deviations but nothing too radical from how I had envisioned that scene early on. Of course, I ended up cutting an entire scene from the original breakdown because in the context of how I was now writing the chapter it didn’t make sense for it to be all off on its own.

Lastly, it also helped that I had been writing my Sons of Corax fan-fiction all these past months and I had slowly gotten a grasp on how Space Marines should talk amongst themselves. Plus, William King’s Space Wolf novels helped quite a bit in here because his scenes involving Logan Grimnar and the council of the Wolf Lords really helped me strengthen the entire scene and make it realistic. These novels definitely helped me get in the comfort zone.

The second of those days, meaning yesterday, was when I wrote a full six-part scene with (almost) alternating viewpoints about my bad guys, Chaos Space Marines. I have never written these guys before so I had to turn somewhere in order to understand how to write them even though I had a good idea of what I wanted to write. Therefore, I turned to the Word Bearer novels from Anthony Reynolds in order to get into the mindset of these fanatical zealots and also turned to the works by Jim Swallow for reasons I cannot mention because they would be too much of a spoiler where the novel is concerned. Suffice to say, reading their works and going through certain army codices helped me out quite a bit in psychologically understanding how my good guys and bad guys for chapter 1 should act and behave. My understanding is nowhere near perfect of course, but the experience has been invaluable.

This particular multi-part scene is not yet finished actually and I’ll get back to it soon as I am going to take a writing break to focus on my various blogs and commitments elsewhere. One important thing I would like to mention is also that over the last four days I have been following Paul S Kemp’s advice on ending the day mid-scene and I am glad to say that it contributed a fair bit to my continuing success. Making that conscious decision is all what its about really because while I did follow this advice for Raven and Blood, my entire approach to the novel was way off-mark.

And just generally for the last four days, I have stepped out of my comfort zone regarding the type of scenes I write. That is, I am not just writing Space Marines in standard situations, but I have been mixing up viewpoints from sergeants, chaplains, variety of mortals, Chaos Space Marines, warlords and many others. And my scenes don’t just take part in a standard hive setting and are all bolter-porn either, but I have written from chapels, council halls, Thunderhawks, empty hive streets and others. I am constantly checking various novels to see how established authors have written scenes in similar settings and with similar characters and I have been attempting to make my own writing just as realistic and impactful as theirs.

And that’s how I have approached the knowledge front. I took what I know, did some research and came out all the better for it. In Rachel’s own words:

Of the three sides of the triangle, I consider knowledge to be the most important. This step alone more than doubled my word count. If you only want to try one change at a time, this is the one I recommend the most.

The next step to increasing performance was to look at Time. If you read Rachel’s own post then you’ll know that this part of the metric-triangle is all about finding out what time of the day works best for you and your writing. For her it was about four hours a day at a coffee shop without internet. For me, my best writing time, especially when I have a full day available for writing i.e. nothing going on at work and therefore I can devote time to writing, is at night, usually after dinner which means from 9.30pm-12.30am. That’s not a very accurate time-frame but it is close enough. In all past four days, my productivity has been through the roof during this time because I have been able to keep it without interruptions other than taking short breaks after every 300-400 words to procrastinate on facebook/twitter, but that is mostly to give my writing muscles a periodic rest.

Take yesterday for example. I got only a measly ~450 done at work (my work time is roughly 9am-6pm) which is not that bad actually since I have been aiming for only 2,000 words a day as I mentioned above. I went back home slightly dispirited because the start to the writing day had not been as good as I wanted it to have been. But, I made a point to not let it affect my evening. I went home as usual, had a light snack, went to the gym for my regular hour-long work-out and had a cappuccino before leaving.  Then it was time to get back home, have dinner, finish watching Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (I love, love the Battle for Helm’s Deep) and then sit down to write. Progress was slow, but it gradually built up as I started getting into the zone, referenced codices, skimmed a few novels to get a grip on certain scenes and then low and behold, at 12.40am I had put 3,435 words to the screen all told.

This is something that I have seen during NaNoWriMo as well. My starts are always terrible, whether it is in the morning, in the afternoon or the early evening. But it is always that sweet-spot of 3 hours at night that really make a difference in my writing. Of course, my approach to Raven and Blood was more the tackle it head on and write spur of the moment and not as planned as In The Emperor We Trust, but I do know what is my best time of writing for any given day. And I stick to it as much as I can because more than anything, writing is all about the discipline to write, no matter what your approach is. Just stick to a good routine and you can do wonders.

In Rachel’s own words:

Even if you don’t have the luxury of 4 uninterrupted hours at your prime time of day, I highly suggest measuring your writing in the times you do have to write. Even if you only have 1 free hour a day, trying that hour in the morning some days and the evening on others and tracking the results can make sure you aren’t wasting your precious writing time on avoidable inefficiencies. Time really does matter.

And the final angle of our triangle, just as important and relevant as the other two, if not more, is Enthusiasm. If you are not excited about what you are writing then why are you writing at all? In fact, why do we do anything if we are not enjoying it. Of course, some things just don’t give the same pleasure as others, like work versus hobby although I know that my new friend Jeff would disagree but that’s ok because that lucky chap works at Bioware, but the point still stands. My own day-job is rather lacklustre but my enthusiasm for my writing makes up for the dreariness by far.

Writing is not just a job that you do for a certain time of day and then go back home and call it a day. Its a creative endeavour where you as the writer are trying to deliver on something that you want to share with other people. Its about sharing your enthusiasm with your betareaders and editors and audience. We are telling fantastical stories set in Middle Earth, a galaxy far far away, Forgotten Realms, Mistborn, the grim darkness of the far future, the Olde World, the Alpha Quadrant or whatever you fancy. We want to share emotional, life-changing experiences with people. We want to take them on a special journey through our characters, whether they are empathic Space Marines, psycopathic Chaos Space Marines, noble assassins-turned-valets, mysterious wizards or whatever else you fancy. I am not using all that “special wordage” for kicks there, I am being entirely serious.

If you are not excited about telling these stories then why write them? Being a writer is no easy job, despite what some people think with the advent of self-publishing. The quality of your work is what is going to set you apart from the rest of the people and part of achieving that quality is to be enthusiastic about what you write.

As people know, I handle the author interviews for the Bolthole blog. One of the things that has become extremely, extremely apparent from the last two interviews I have done, with Graham McNeill and C L Werner, is how involved these writers are with their work. They make the point of letting their enthusiasm show in their work and that is reflected in part with all the neat little references they put in that relates to old lore or to a variety of different role.

It is something that I have been trying to reflect in In The Emperor We Trust. Looking through the codices and the novels, I try to pick things that are so matter of course as part of the character/faction description that omitting them is rather, weird shall we say. In a pitch to Black Library, I had a Space Marine who used his Betcher’s Gland to spit poison at an enemy. One of my beta-readers made a note of pointing out how little attention a small detail like that actually gets mentioned in the novels. To the best of my ability, I only recall two instances of this particular detail being mentioned.

Anyways, moving on to the topic of enthusiasm. The story of In The Emperor We Trust is something I really want to tell. It is not a story that is mentioned anywhere in the lore. None of the characters bar one even exist in the lore. The loyalist Space Marines are my own home-made chapter. The entire locational setting is of my own making too and is part of a Sector Project I started about a year and half ago. All in all, I have been very excited about this project because I think it is going to hit the mark for the setting and also will be an exploration of themes and concepts in the setting that usually tend to get ignored or glossed over.

The characters I am writing about are starting to take on a life of their own, sometimes they write their dialogue themselves and leave me wondering just how things turned out like this, and they are helping me grow as a writer as well. In fact, they are just as excited about getting written as I am about writing them. Everything is still in first draft stage of course and things will most assuredly get rewritten before the end, but I am making it a point to reflect my enthusiasm in my writing.

Because as the regular sagely advice goes in the writing world and what Rachel herself makes a point of stating: if you are not excited about your own work, then your readers won’t be either. True words to write by.

And in her own direct, delicious words:

The answer was head-slappingly obvious. Those days I broke 10k were the days I was writing scenes I’d been dying to write since I planned the book. They were the candy bar scenes, the scenes I wrote all that other stuff to get to. By contrast, my slow days (days where I was struggling to break 5k) corresponded to the scenes I wasn’t that crazy about.

I apologize to Rachel if it is inappropriate of me to copy sections of her post but in my humble opinion, these are the absolutely most relevant parts of her entire post and they have had an effect on my writing process. And for that I thank her a great deal.

Comparing my performance on this project with Raven and Blood, the differences are stark.

1. I broke the 2,600 words a day barrier three times during NaNoWriMo, for when I aimed at doing 8,000 words in three days and which I ultimately did get. The result was 2,750/2,827/2,629.

In contrast, without even having as lofty a goal and aiming for only a standard 2000 words a day, with Rachel’s triangle thrown in for good measure, I have pulled off close to 12,000 words in four days. And all because I am writing something I love to write about, being a little more regimented in my writing time i.e cutting down on procrastinating, and knowing what I am writing about.

That qualifies as a success surely?

2. My average for the entire Raven and Blood Project, over a period of 32 days was an average of 2,194 words a day. I actually had some rather crappy days for this too and I hadn’t yet discovered Rachel’s triangle either.

In contrast, over the 6 days and counting of In The Emperor We Trust, I am already pulling more than that, with a 2,223 words a day average. And that is with my first two crappy days where I didn’t get much done!

Its all about applying yourself to your work and letting your dedication show.

Overall, in a nutshell, Project In The Emperor We Trust is progressing quite smoothly, with lots of bells and whistles along the way. I am resolved to play to my strengths for this one and I am sure as time goes on I’ll discover more about myself as a writer too.

I have three planned scenes left to write for chapter 1 and as things are going, I doubt they are going to make it into the final cut. The submission requirements are a minimum 10,000 words that cover the entirety of the first three chapters of the novel. With chapter 2 being as high as it is, and chapter 1 looking to be a big one as well, things don’t look so good for chapter 3. Which means that I might have to split chapter 1 into two parts and trim the fat for the planned chapter 2 which, now that I have been giving the matter some serious thought, would be far better for the novel in the long run. Chapter 3 as it is doesn’t quite fit what I am going for anymore and I think it would be best to take measures to nip the problem in the bud before it grows too big.

And with that, I’ll end this long, long post, which grew to be more than I was planning, but hey, I was excited to share this with all of you!

Posted on January 11, 2012, in In The Emperor We Trust, Submissions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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