Piece by Piece, Line by Line

One of the biggest issues I have when I write is getting anything finished. Not because I don’t have the ideas, or the ability to follow through, but because I need to see my successes. Otherwise I don’t know that I’m doing a good job. Sure, I can tell my friends “hey, I wrote 3500 words today” and they’ll tell me how great that is, but that kind of talk doesn’t get me going as well as actual metrics-based success.

I recently started working on a new project — a choose-your-own-adventure story that I will be publishing under one of my pseudonyms. I talked to an author friend who has written these before, and he gave me some tips, including that each page should be outlined as a separate page in a notebook. Well, there are two issues with that: (1) my handwriting is atrocious and I would never be able to read my notes (2) this is the time of physical isolation, and I don’t have any blank notebooks right now.

Fortunately, since I do most of my writing using Google Drive (I tried Scrivener but it just wasn’t for me), and since I use Google’s applications for pretty much everything outside of work (which is a Microsoft Office/OneDrive shop), I figured I should take advantage of the tools with which I’m familiar. I created a spreadsheet, gave it some columns I could work with, numbered it from 1 to 999, and set to work.

When I finished, two days later, I had outlined 310 individual pages with several different characters and outcomes. To some people, 310 pages can sound daunting, but to me it’s a challenge. My novels are over 300 pages, and my short-story collections are between 250 and 300; I can do 310 pages. (As I’ve written the book, the outline has hit 330 pages because I found things that didn’t work, that I had to rewrite in a different way on their own pages.)

So I opened a new file in the CYOA folder, called it “The Book”, and started with the heading of “Page 1”.

After writing each page, I marked it in purple on the spreadsheet — this is a holdover from when I outline books; I’ll write outlines in paragraph form, more like summaries than bullet points, and as I finish writing a part I’ll mark it purple so I know where I left off. This is how I wrote After the Apocalypse, as well as several long works of fan fiction (we’ve all done it) and an unpublished novel that people are still trying to get me to finish editing. It works.

Apparently when it comes to CYOA, when I have to write each page and keep track of what goes where, it really works. Within one calendar week — seven days — I have written over 48,000 words on this book, and odds are good I’ll have it done in another seven.

I have literally never written a book this fast. I may never write one this fast again. But piece by piece, line by line, I’m seeing myself having success after success, and as long as it’s working, I’m going to keep doing it.

About Josh Roseman

Josh Roseman (not the trombonist; the other one) has been published in -- among others -- Asimov's, Escape Pod, and Evil Girlfriend Media. In 2015, he released his first collection, The Clockwork Russian and Other Stories, and followed it up with 2016's Memories of My Father. When not writing, he mostly complains that he's not writing. Find him online at roseplusman.com, or on Twitter @listener42.
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