Category Archives: Evan Braun

The Power of the Word Count Tracker

Last year, when January rolled around, I had to face facts: I had to somehow wade through the toughest writing of my career so far—and in record time. The third and final book of The Watchers Chronicle could not wait another spring, another summer, another year. It was summer 2015 or bust. That wasn’t a lot of time to wrap up my most ambitious book to date.

I needed help. I need motivation.

Some other writer on Facebook (I don’t remember who it was) seemed to be in the same boat, and they shared a blog post which espoused the practice of using an Excel-powered word count tracker.

The picture got my attention right away, and I said to myself, I must try this.

That happened on December 30, so I didn’t have much time to waste. I jumped on Excel and did my best to replicate what I’d seen on that timely, heaven-sent blog.

Sixteen weeks later, this is what it looked like:

Word Count Tracker

The essence is that you write down your daily word total—honestly—and color-code your achievements. Maybe only a minority of people will respond to the reward of getting to upgrade the color of a little spreadsheet box, but I am unashamedly one of those people. I would get near to the boundary between yellow and orange, and pick up my pace significantly.

Of course, the color-coded word count tracker only works well when you’re actually writing loads of new words. And by the eighth week of 2015, I finished my first draft and had to jump straight into some heavy editing.

As you may intuit from my picture above, I reworked my spreadsheet to allow me to account for edited words. Two passes are clearly recorded. From Week 8 to Week 12, I focused on cutting as much as possible, since my first draft was about 25,000 words too long. Each day, instead of counting new words, I counted the number of words I had cut. This worked well enough.

Then, in the middle of Week 12, I set upon my final draft proofing, a kind of work no longer conducive to counting cut words. What I did was count the overall number of words I edited in a given day, then halved that number. This produced numbers generally in line with the rest of the chart (this seemed important at the time, because I was also calculating daily and weekly averages).

Though it’s been less than a year, no matter how long I squint at the chart, I can’t quite remember just what exactly I meant by those brown-colored, italicized “750” boxes in the last couple of weeks. I think I was doing edits of polished material, resulting in very high numbers—and in order to keep those numbers in line with the rest of the chart, I just wrote down an arbitrary average. Hence, 750.

Which is kind of dumb, if I think about it too hard.

Anyway, my point is this: I finished my book at the end of Week 16 and entered into a period of extended hibernation—a state with which I suspect most writers can identify. As a result, I abandoned the chart. After entering in a week and a half of black zeros, I finally deleted the shortcut from my desktop and tried to forget this word counter ever existed.

But the word counter was very helpful for the time that I used it, and a part of me greatly regrets that I didn’t carry on with it for a full year.

That’s a goal I hope to achieve if not in 2016, then at some arbitrary 365-day period in the future that doesn’t have to begin and end at the turn of the calendar. Who’s to say you can’t start on February 22? No one. Absolutely no one.

Today I encourage you to keep yourself accountable, even if just long enough to complete an important goal. As for me, I’ll be starting my next first draft in March.

I smell another word count tracker coming on…

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, whose third volume, The Law of Radiance, was released earlier this year. In addition to specializing in both hard and soft science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.

Getting Ahead of Deadlines

I have always been a dyed-in-the-wool procrastinator, telling myself that I work best under pressure and that turning around projects at the last minute provides me with valuable motivation. This might all be true. Or it might just be something I tell myself to justify continuing to be lazy. There’s really no way to know. (Or is there? Read on.)

I’ve had to change my ways. It turns out that when you become inundated with a certain gross tonnage of deadlines all at once, you can’t actually wait until the last minute anymore. Especially when a dozen (or two dozen, or three dozen) important deadlines all congregate on the same day. When that happens, some advance planning is not just a balm to one’s state of mind; it is non-negotiable. At least it is to me—nowadays.

For the most part, I have a job that allows deadlines to be a little bit flexible. Freelance editing allows for the occasional grace period. And writing novels on spec? Well, all those deadlines exist in my own head and pretty much nowhere else. It’s possible, as a result, that I have developed some bad habits.

But in August 2015, that all changed. Abruptly. In addition to editing and writing at my previous pace, I added a third job—newspaper editor. It will surprise no one to reveal that in the newspaper business, deadlines are extremely inflexible. There aren’t any grace periods. The print deadline is the print deadline. Everything needs to be written, revised, fact-checked, and proofread on time or the whole enterprise falls apart.

This was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me, because frankly I could stand to have greater structure imposed on my work life.

The result is that I’ve been forced to get out ahead of deadlines. If twenty articles are all due on Thursday, some of them have to be finalized on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. There’s just no way around it.

Likewise, I’ve been forced to apply this new approach to deadlines to my other jobs. The result is that I now find myself finishing projects several days before I absolutely have to—and for a lifetime procrastinator, that is a strange feeling.

Having learned this lesson, I can confidently revisit the question posed in the first paragraph of this post and inflict a bit of newfound logic on the situation. While it may be true that working at the last minute results in strong motivation to get things done, it also ensures that only the bare minimum ever gets done. By completing projects ahead of schedule, by necessity, my productivity has significantly improved in all areas of my life.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, whose third volume, The Law of Radiance, was released earlier this year. In addition to specializing in both hard and soft science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.

My Brief Career as a Ghostwriter

Getting to where I am today has been a long and winding road… and it definitely wended through some unexpected territory. I started writing at the ripe-old age of six, in 1989. My first-ever story—titled The Magic Christmas Tree—won a CBC radio contest here in my Canadian homeland and the complete text was read live on the air during the morning drive to about a million people. Hilariously, that probably represents my greatest marketing reach so far. It’s been all downhill from there, folks!

But I kid.

Writing, not surprisingly, does not (yet) pay the bills, which brings me to my day job as a book editor. I got my start when a friend of a friend, who operated a small press, was looking for a contract proof-reader. I thought I was eminently qualified, and it would make for a great book-related part-time gig. A decade later, that gig is now extremely full-time. And not only do I edit books, but I now also edit a newspaper—the perfect encapsulation of how freelance careers constantly evolve and change over time.

For a brief moment in time from 2007–2008, however, I added another line to my résumé: ghostwriter. The combination of my journalism degree, editing, and writing skills made this seem like a perfect fit. In that single experimental year, I wrote a total of three books on contract—one of which was published traditionally, another which was self-published by the author, and a third whose fate remains a frustrating mystery.

The first book I worked on is actually the mysterious one. I was contracted by a publisher to conduct extensive interviews with the author, then fashion that raw material into a 75,000-word memoir—or at least, the first draft. I was hired for nothing beyond that. The project lasted two months, from start to finish, and indeed I wrote a first draft just shy of 75,000 words. That’s the fastest I had ever written, but I was driven to meet the tight deadline. I haven’t read this manuscript since I proofed it, and frankly I’m a bit scared to. The publisher was very pleased with the result, and so was I at the time, but nothing came of the project. While I continued working extensively with that publisher for another year, I never heard back from the author, despite many attempts to reach out—which has always puzzled and frustrated me. I would sure love some closure, but I think it’s unlikely at this point. My strong suspicion is that the author’s relationship with the publisher deteriorated significantly, and the radio silence had nothing to do with me. Anyway, like I said, I haven’t reviewed the manuscript since, but the author’s story was a very dramatic one. It’s too bad nothing came of this. With some additional collaboration and polish, I feel this could have been a phenomenal book.

The second ghostwriting project came along about six months later, through that same publisher. In this case, I was working with two authors—a brother and a sister—on a memoir with dual narratives. Just like the last one, it was a hugely dramatic story and I was excited to be a part of it. This book proceeded similarly, and in a comparable timeframe, but the manuscript was only half as long. It was a very challenging memoir full of child neglect and intense abuse—physical, sexual, and emotional. This was a rollercoaster. The final, edited manuscript ended up just shy of 40,000 words and was duly published. This one I have read since, and I remain proud of it. I also have a great relationship to this day with one of the two authors, and it has since led to a number of great professional opportunities—one of which, in a really roundabout way, was attending the first Superstars Writing Seminar in Pasadena. Overall, a challenging but satisfying experience.

I performed many other editing projects for that publisher, but no further ghostwriting opportunities came up in the months that followed. We amicably parted ways a short time later.

Around this time, a close friend of mine hired me to help him write a book, and this is the one that ended up being self-published. I worked closely for several months with him and his wife, producing a great, short manuscript of about 30,000 words that carried a lot of punch. It was based on the author’s messy divorce and subsequent relationship woes. Instead of being a full ghostwrite, this was more of a collaboration, with the author and his wife contributing about half of the material. I then edited all that and grafted it into the larger manuscript I’d been working on. In fact, I believe this book ended up winning an award or two. I still have copies of this book kicking around my house, and I’m quite fond of it. The authors continue to be among my most cherished friends.

Even though I ended up not pursuing a ghostwriting career, my experiences were largely positive. The only reason I didn’t continue is because I decided not to market myself; starting in 2008, I took on a huge glut of very profitable editing work that took priority, and I haven’t had occasion to look back. I don’t regret leaving ghostwriting behind, but I also can’t say with any certainty that I won’t try it again someday. I can honestly say that it was intensely challenging and enjoyable. I grew by leaps and bounds that year, producing my best writing output before or since.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, whose third volume, The Law of Radiance, was released earlier this year. In addition to specializing in both hard and soft science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.

The Intricacies of Zombie Decomposition

Kids ask the darnedest questions, am I right? Maybe. But when it comes to strange questions, writers got kids beat. The sheer breadth of oddities a writer needs to research to pull off a convincing story is staggering, which is why you occasionally hear from writerly types who get worried that their Google search history might land them on a terrorist watchlist. They may have to look up information about how to make bombs, or how fast bullets travel, or how long it might take for a person’s blood supply to pump out of a slashed carotid artery… I’m telling you, it can get dark.

Google’s great and all, but it’s nice to be able to rely on a flesh-and-blood specialist sometimes. Like a medical doctor, for example! A few years ago, I wrote the following email to a doctor friend:

I have a gruesome question for you. Basically, I have a character who was shot in the chest with a rifle and died five days ago in story time. Now that character makes a reappearance, possessed. I’m trying to describe the appearance and general condition of this individual, but I’m just not sure what kind of decomposition is reasonable to expect after five days. Potentially a relevant story point is that the being who possesses my character can only occupy the dead body for a short time before it completely breaks down biologically, therefore rendering it an unsuitable host. Do you have any general guidelines for me?

Because of course someone with a medical degree will have an answer to this question. I’m sure the intricacies of zombie decomposition are among the first things a medical student has to learn.

But, you know, this particular question was unavoidable. It hadn’t occurred to me until I got to the scene in question that I really didn’t have any personal frame of reference to know how quickly a human body decomposes. And there wasn’t any way for me to effectively pull off the scene without this information. This was a case where my best guess just wasn’t good enough.

My friend acknowledged that his particular field of medicine didn’t bring him into contact with these kinds of bodies (disappointing), but despite his general ignorance on the particulars of neglected corpses, he was able to drop the following knowledge bomb:

By that point the body would have started to expel gases from anaerobioc metabolism; you’d see some changes to the skin, like sloughing, and loss of hair. The eyes would be sunken and there may be some insect activity. There would be rigor mortis, and the wound itself would show some more advanced decomposition than the rest.

If you’re a writer, that short but fantastic paragraph really fires the imagination. I got a lot of mileage out of that description.

So during your wanderings out in the real world, keep your eyes peeled for police officers, medical doctors, paramedics, people who work in forensics (not the accounting kind), etc.—and be extra nice to those folks. You never know the next time you’ll need to hit them up with a gruesome question of your own. After all, sometimes it’s best to keep your darker imaginings off Google’s radar.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, whose third volume, The Law of Radiance, was released earlier this year. In addition to specializing in both hard and soft science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.