Kage Baker enjoyed status reports. She liked to keep track of where she was on a project, how far she had come and how far was yet to go. I think it was part of her fondness for maps. She used to check off milestones, too, when we were on long roads.

It certainly stood her in good stead as a writer. She always planned out an itinerary before she started a project, even if it was the sort that descends into one’s mind like a levin bolt of creativity, ZAP! “Once the stars and tweetie birds die down,” she observed to me, “you have to sit down and make a list of what your saw before the vision wears off.” And so she did, and took an honest pleasure in marking off  the accomplishment list as she went along.

Sometimes, of course, inspiration just came too fast and sudden for Kage to request the menu. There were a few times I came home from a weekend at Faire, and discovered she had written an entire short story in three days. Like a pitcher working on a no-hitter, she never mentioned it while I was gone; she’d just be waiting smugly when I got home, and hand me a completed manuscript.She was always especially pleased with that.  As well she should have been.

Usually, though, she was working on a novel-length project and not a story; or one of each, trading off to prevent the accumulated momentum from fading. Then it was a matter of how much she got done in a day – not word counts, which was a system she never liked or understood. It was page counts that made Kage feel like she was producing something. I think it was because a word count is just another string of numbers written in light on a computer screen – pages are a stack. When she absolutely had to know the word count, she would have me calculate it – the industry standard, Dear Readers, is 250 words per page – or just wait until the end and run it through the TOOLS menu.

Of course, sometimes she was appalled at how many words she had done. Or still needed. Then there was frantic pruning, transplanting, or furious adding in. But one of Kage’s especial personal talents as a writer was adding to a scene without actually padding – adding real content when it was needed. Once she got started, that was generally no problem at all. She just usually didn’t know she needed more until after she was certain-sure she was done …

I try not to keep track when I write, but when I do: I go by the word count. I aim at 1,000 – 2,000 words a day. Sometimes I fail; sometimes the bulk of that count is actually this blog … I can natter on effortlessly for at least 800 words before I even need a second breath! Of course, these blogs don’t have plots, or character development – they help me tremendously, but I just cannot write prose with the easy blabberment of this venue. I procrastinate more, I whine a lot more; I will spend a happy hour researching green garnets or EM drives or the one species of octopus that mates for life – rather than get my protagonist out of the house where she is hiding from urban zombies …

My point is, Kage’s example is once again a help to me. Change things up, don’t use the same system all the time! she always advised. If you get used to the way you do things, even YOU will get bored. Mind you, she had fits if anyone else dared suggest an alteration to her own system – but if you do it yourself, it’s different.

Day before yestreday, our Direct TV feed croaked it. This is not too much of a disaster in my family – not like losing power, or the Internet. If we can talk and read and look up obscure points of politics, physics and cooking, we’re cool. But, deprived of the happy distractions, I spent a lot of the last 2 1/2 days writing. Yes, writing!

I did 5 pages last night. I’ll have another 5 done tonight, I think. I inserted the word count header into the text, so I can see the electronic stack build up. Change your method from time to time, or you’ll get bored …

So now I’m several thousand words into the zombie story. The UPS man has eaten the next door neighbor, my heroine has acquired a cat, and I have found an interesting way to use promiscuous bacterial sex habits.

STATUS: functional. Working.



About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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