Category Archives: Blog-Meta

The Density of Words

At anywhere between 80,000 to 150,000 words or more the average commercially published novel might seem like a huge space to fill. I know the idea of creating that many words is often intimidating to my writing students, who may never have written more than 2-3 thousand words on one story in the past. But once you start to work at the novel length, you quickly begin to realise that even with 150,000 words to fill, you don’t have words to burn.

Once you establish the scene structure of your story, the style and structure of your chapters, and the information on character, setting and action you need to give the reader to support the story, there really should not be much dead space on any given page of your novel. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.”

(The last time I posted this on Twitter I got a tweet back from @Neilhimself with the addendum “or be funny” which also works for me.)

NaNoWriMo is an excellent exercise. It’s a great way to demonstrate to yourself that you *can* find the time to write around all other commitments. And it’s great fun. But. Whether you achieve the 50,000 words in that month or not, I would suggest that 50,000 words a month is not a realistic writing goal for any writer.

Can you write 50,000 words in a month? Yes. But they will most likely fail Kurt Vonnegut’s and Neil Gaiman’s advice. Can some writers write 50,000 *good* words in a month? Yes. But only under exceptional circumstances, in an established style they can produce effectively at that speed. Do some professional writers produce and publish 50,000 *bad* words a month? Yes. But do you really want to be one of those writers?

I’m personally comfortable producing around 5000 words of fiction a week, or around 20,000 a month. That’s about what I’ve been doing every month for the last three years. At that speed my first draft is 80% of where I want it to be. Any faster and that dips radically to 50% or less. Any faster for me would certainly not be better.

What rate of wordage do you find most productive?

500th Post – Are blogs good for writers?

Well. This is my 500th blog post.


Coincidentally, it’s also effectively four years since I started blogging. I opened my blog in April 2006, but did not really start using it fully until August that year, when I moved from Blogger to WordPress. Looking back at my first post, it was quite clear I had no idea what to do with a blog. Book reviews coming soon. How insightful!

I began blogging because I wanted a focus for my writing. In 2006 I was starting to gather short fiction publications, and was taking the idea of writing more seriously. After a short conversation with M. John Harrison at the 2006 Eastercon, I decided I wanted to review and write critically about genre fiction. A blog, I thought, would be a good platform for both. And all things considered I think it was a good call.

Blogging often comes under fire, especially for fiction writers, as a distraction and a waste of time. At an average of 500 words per post, my 500 posts to date equals 250,000 words. Or 2 novels and a short story collection. Or 1 fantasy blockbuster. Or 1/10th of a Neal Stephenson tome. Surely I could have written those instead? Perhaps. They say it takes 1,000,000 to complete a writers apprenticeship. All told, including fiction (most of which will never see the light of day), professional and academic writing and now this blog, I’m probably getting close to that. So those 500 posts served at least one purpose, and I very much doubt I would have banged out the next Lord of the Rings instead if I had not started the blog at all.

But as a 500th post celebration, I’d like to share some thoughts on what blogging has helped me achieve as a fiction writer.

A Focus and a Record of Progress – At last years World Fantasy Convention, Ann Vandermeer gave a group of us Clarionauts an informal pep talk about the writing life. Writing, she said, is a long career. Things you do and learn in your twenties can still be paying dividends in your fifties and sixties or beyond. Everything you do as a writer is one more step on the path (I paraphrase, but this was the sense of Ann’s wisdom). I truly agree with this sentiment. I have been writing with serious intent for seven years, with the standard lifetime of generalised ‘I Wanna Be A Writer’ ambition before that. But beginning to blog was an undeniable catalyst for my development as a writer. Writing is easy to lose sight of, amidst the chaos of real life. But just the act of regularly updating a blog can be enough to bring you back to your goal. And it provides somewhere to reflect on your progress towards that goal. You could reflect in a private journal of course, but the public nature of a blog makes the reflection more focussed. You can, as I have done, set writing goals which you then utterly fail to achieve (three NaNoWriMo’s and two novel drafts to date…) but even those can play a part. And it’s a permanent record of what you have achieved. and in my case at least, it has contributed to progress. I’m certain I would not have had the experience to blog for The Guardian, or the focus to get to Clarion in 2008, without starting this blog first.

Research – there is a lot to learn about writing. Books to read. Genres to study. Techniques to acquire. History to get familiar with. In speculative fiction alone, there is more material than you might hope to cover in an under-graduate degree. Add in general literary theory and criticism, and keeping up outside the genre, and the task of really learning the field is no little thing. I’ve used my blog as a repository for a lot of my learning. Each new post represents an aspect of learning, and ideas that have come up as I’ve been studying various areas of SF. Again, the public nature of a blog gives it an edge over a private journal in this regard. You don’t really understand something until you have written it down coherently enough for someone else to understand.

Community – but the most valuable aspect of this blog has been the extended community of writers and others, mostly in the SF community, that it has connected me with. Something I think it’s important to make clear is that a blog is not a promotional tool. Most of the people both blogs and social networks connect you with are not ‘fans’ (for lack of a less cringeworthy term), but peers. Other writers of similar experience, and a few of much more experience. Social networks, primarily Facebook and Twitter, are also valuable for connecting with your community as a writer. But a blog makes a good base to work from. Whilst it may sound sentimental, when I chat with people on Twitter it feels like having a conversation in the street. But discussing things here on the blog feels like inviting people into my home.

Focus, Research, Community. Three genuine benefits of keeping a blog as a fiction writer that I have found invaluable. I’d like to know the opinions of others on this topic of course, positive or negative.

Where next for my blog? I have the serious intention of being able to look at this blog when I’m sixty, and read back through 10,000 or so posts, at an entire career in writing (and possibly some non-writing related occurrences!). I think that would be quite something. But, I’m also intending to put the blog on hold for periods to give undivided attention to fiction writing when it is required. But until that time, I’ll continue to enjoy sharing these posts with whoever wants to read them.

Goodnight all.

The Big Five-Oh

Well. Perhaps not really that big. My blog, yes, the one you are reading right now, raced past the 50,000 visitor mark today. It’s a pretty big five-oh for me, although I might reserve the actual party for 500,000. Or maybe even 5 million!

Not that the number of visitors is really all that important. I started keeping a blog to give my writing more focus, way back in June 2006. And it has done its job and then some. I don’t think half of what has happened with writing since then would have without this blog. I’ve given a couple of talks recently on using blogs and social networks as a writer. As much as they might play a part in promoting a book, their real value for me is in providing a focus of activity. I’ve never really sat down and looked back through my blog and I’m not planning to do so for some time, but I am looking forward to doing it many years from now and being reminded of all the weird things that happen when you set out on a career as a writer. Wherever that career takes me, I like knowing that my blog can and will go with me. Until then a few stats from the last 50,000 visits:

  • The busiest month was December 2009 with 2,856 hits
  • My most popular post is To Self Publish or to Not
  • Top referrer is SF Signal. Thank you!
  • Most used tag is Neil Gaiman. Yes, I am a sad fanboy.
  • Most common search term this quarter is ‘iPad Fail’

30,000th Birthday

A little earlier this week this blog crossed the 30,000 hit barrier, only eight months after crawling over the 20,000 mark in October. To celebrate this wonderous news, a few random statistics for your bemusement.

Total Posts: 363

Best Month: March 2009 with 1,960 hits (An average of 63 hits a day, which this month is on track to beat with 67 hits a day!)

Top referrer this year: (Thanks Em!)

Most read post this year: To self publish or to not

Most clicked link:

What the ?!

All blog owners are aware of the strange (and occaisionaly dirty) search terms people have used to find them. Well today I’ve had my all time favourite….(cue the drumroll)….and Damien’s favourite ever search term is…

unlimited dessert trolley london

Yes, I’ve checked on Google and for some bizarre reason this blog is the 20th result for unlimited dessert trolley london. Wonders will never cease.

I like this because I can sense an entire story behind those four words. Who might be seeking unlimited dessert in London? Why do they need as mauch cake as they can eat? Is it simple gluttony, or some absurd life and death predicament? If the Googler in question happens to pop by again, I’d love to know more. Otherwise imagined suggestions in the comments below please.

20,000th Anniversary

Congratulations reader number 20,000! Tonight you, whoever you are, have pushed this little blog past the 20,000 hit mark. Not much in the grand scheme of things, and probably less than a nanoseconds worth of Google traffic, but a giant leap (made in very small hops) for this little blog. Thank you all who have contributed!

To celebrate, a few random blog related statistics:

Busiest Month Ever: August 2008 with 1,412 hits (Likely cause the post Clarion rush)

Top Post: Matter – Iain M Banks with 511 hits

Top Search: Damien Walter (probably aided by the highly athletic Damien Walters)

Oddest Search: land of the giants fanfic

Total Number of Posts: 290

Busiest Day Ever: Monday 28th Jaunary 2008 with 205 hits.

Thank you!

The 200th Post!!!!!

I just noticed I had made 199 posts to this blog, so thought I would make it 200! I’d better actually write something though or it will be meaningless…

I hate reading blog posts about why someones blog hasn’t been updated recently, so I’m sorry to make you go through this. Between work, freelance projects and writing, my blogging time has been quite limited and almost entirely given over to reviews for The Fix and pieces for Guardian Unlimited. (There is a new post on The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia coming up which I  will link to). I’m going to change this however, because over the years or so I’ve been using this blog I’ve found it really constructive, and don’t want to lose that.

In fact, I think I’m going to make a real, if short post right now!

10, 000 Hits. W00t!

In the early hours of the morning this blog, The Fiction Front, passed the big one zero zero zero zero. I’d been watching the stats for quite some time and menaing to make a big thing of it but I’ve been so busy I almost missed it. Congratulations to whoever visitor number 10, 000 was. There is I am afraid no special prize.


One Year On

As if turning thirty didn’t generate enough excitement in my life, this very blog celebrates its one year anniversary this week.  In that year I’ve made a little over 150 posts, and accrued somewhere in the region of 7000 views. Not bad.

So one year on, do I think its a good idea for fiction writers to keep a blog? Categorically yes. Just the act of keeping the blog provides a continual focus on the writing, and pulls me back to it regardless of what else is going on in my life. Recording the ups and downs of my writing projects has helped me spot where I’ve been repeating the same mistakes. And collecting the various ideas for projects as they emerge has helped me narrow down what it is I really want to write.

Could I have done that as a private journal? Maybe. Would I have? Probably not. I think if I had I would now be looking at an abandoned notebook with a handful of dismal entries serving no purpose. And I can guarantee it would never have been as much fun as keeping this blog is, and hopefully will continue to be.