Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I did it. Finally.

For the first time since shortly before my bypass surgery two-plus months ago, I have written a new short story--completely new, from concept to final word.

Late yesterday afternoon an editor posted an "urgent call" for a story "4000-8000 words with a solid plot, realistic and gripping dialog, and a suspenseful conclusion," and she wanted it before 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

I saw the call around 4:00 yesterday afternoon. I spent the next few hours trying to imagine a story that would meet her needs and that I could draft in one non-stop block of time that evening.

At 6:30 I booted up my new laptop, started MacSpeech Dictate, and began talking. When I finally stopped at 11:10 that evening I had a complete, reasonably clean, 3,679-word draft. That's a dictation speed in the neighborhood of 13 words-per-minute, though I certainly didn't talk the entire time. I walked the dogs twice, did a load of laundry, and made repeated trips to the kitchen to refill my lemonade glass.

At 8:00 this evening I began editing and revising the story, and by 8:45 I had a final draft of 4,060 words. After reformatting the story from the default format I get when I dictate to standard manuscript format, I e-mailed the story to the editor.

If the story sells, I'll have paid for the dictation software, but I'll need to sell four or five more stories to pay for the new laptop.

What I learned:

The dictation software worked, though I had to make a few word-choice concessions--either using alternate words when the software didn't understand what I said or spelling the words I wanted--and I had to watch the screen closely while I dictated to ensure that I was getting what I wanted.

Part of the reason for this is that I'm not a write-and-revise-through-multiple-drafts writer. I'm a get-it-right-the-first-time writer and dictation software only has value to me if I can dictate my drafts as cleanly as I can type them.

Apparently, I can.


Susanne said...

Congratulations, Michael!

Even YOU must be pleased with this
proof of the progress you've made!!

Anonymous said...

Have you had to give up coffee?

Michael Bracken said...

This is clear progress, Susanne, and I am pleased that I'm making progress, but "writing" this story was so different than how I'm accustomed to working that I'm wondering what the future holds. Does this mark a temporary change in work-style, a permanent change in work-style, or am I developing an additional work-style?

I was never a coffee drinker, Jim. My caffeine addiction was fueled by massive amounts of Mountain Dew (a six-pack in a day would have been a slow day for me).

Post-surgery, the caffeine monkey is no longer on my back. A six-pack of Mountain Dew lasts more than a week...and I'm still working my way through the stock-pile of Dew I had in the fridge pre-surgery.

For good or ill, I've lost the semi-permanent caffeine high. I've also lost the high caloric intake and the effects of excessive carbonation, and the loss of both has clear benefits.

Terrie Farley Moran said...


Congratulations! I am so happy that you completed a great story and that the new software was useful.


Susanne said...

First, let me apologize if there's a Google glitch and similar comments show up twice. My first try SEEMED to disappear into Cyberspace.

I'm not a doctor (don't even play one on TV) BUT strongly suspect that it's much too soon to know when/if you'll ever get back to your comfortable as a pair of gently broken in shoes work-style.

The important thing is that you're making definite progress and discovering ways to adapt to the current circumstances.

AND ... even though I'm sure you're frustrated by the diminished level of production, you're still writing/submitting more than the rest of us!


I have to race through the first draft and then worry about it. Otherwise I'd never finish a project.

Michael Bracken said...

I suspect my desire to write a clean "first" draft is a hold-over from when I started writing. Back then I used a manual typewriter, with carbon paper to make copies as I typed. I was a terrible typist--I'm better now, but not significantly--and when I had to retype pages three, four, or five times, it was woefully cost-inefficient to be a writer. I tried to teach myself to think, type, and live with unintentional "errors" and plot left-turns.

For example, if I intended a female character to be blonde but typed brunette on the first page, she stayed a brunette for the rest of the story. If I meant for a character to shoot "Joe," but typed "Larry," the dead guy was "Larry" for the rest of the story.

Using spell-check, search-and-replace, and other cool tools means I don't have to write clean first-drafts these days, but this is a habit I have no desire to change.

On the other hand, I'm only talking about short stories here. Non-fiction often requires multiple drafts and novels are so large that even a reasonably clean first draft requires a good going over two or three times before considering it finished.

Graham Powell said...

I'm glad you got over the hump. Maybe this will reignite your creative fires.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I think dictating things will just be temporary. Just roll with what you have to do for now and by next summer if not sooner, you will be back to working the way you are more comfortable with. You may find that way works even better becuase you have learned new skills.

The bottom line is you are writing and that is a very good thing.