Writing and Reading for Pleasure: December 2017 – Douglas Burcham

I’m delighted to say Douglas joins us for his year-end post “Writing and Reading for Pleasure” column with details of activities in 2017 and his thoughts for 2018.


On writing

My writing for pleasure year in 2017 has been more productive than in 2016. Completion of the self-editing process for drafts up to a final read through is likely to make up four books. This totals a word count of half of the million draft words written between June 2010 and January 2014. I hope I can do as much again in 2018. It will be harder because self-editing so far has been on 95% completion of earlier drafts. This percentage falls to as low as 50% on some draft storybooks and their completion will therefore push total words over a million.

Writing is certainly a long term activity. After January 2014, it has taken me a couple of years to wade through the treacle of advice on how to write to settle my own overall formula and content.

My writing is produced in short story format, with the themes and outcomes accumulating into long-story books. It is written mainly in present, active tense and also breaks with normal editor’s rules by using a variable point of view.

My fantasy content is about the time travel and dreams of a main character, Henry Cross, his family and the women in his many lives.

I have mentioned before the problems of setting and keeping to a daily target for self-editing to drive the task forward. A daily average and new writing target of 750 words enabled me to complete a million words in just over three and a half years. This autumn I have tried to average at least an hour a day of writing activities by getting up an hour earlier each day, even when it is dark and cold outside.  In this hour plus, another half-hour scrounged from the rest of my day, I can on average work on 1000 to 1500 words. This is made up of self-editing, some rewriting, as well as a few hundred words on the completion of previous stories and more new writing.

The other big help has been the use of editing software. I have tried most of the packages, discarding the ones that make the activity an end in itself in favour of an old version of Autocrit and StyleWriter. They are not perfect and do not do particularly well, with mixed reviews. Mainly, I believe because like finding books you like to read, it becomes a very personal choice. However, for me, they provide an easy-to-use and time efficient way of improving my text.

Autocrit provides an excellent facility to highlight word repetition and overuse. It also runs a Flesch Reading Ease test. I checked the text of some bestselling authors with this test and found it to be over 80. Most of my old writing is over 70. More recent writing is around 80, so some good writing habits must have been implanted in my brain during the last seven years.

StyleWriter software suggests changes and rates your text over four factors – Bog, Passive Style and Readability. The comments range from dreadful to excellent.

Bog factor – Extracts from StyleWriter HELP

I find this useful because before 2010 the fiction I wrote was in business reports – though not as bad as the following example.

Original: The model utilised an explicit linkage of projected deliverables with benefit opportunities with the incorporated working assumptions and quality factors for three scenario pricing points.

Bog Score: 16 – Sentence Length 25 words

Redraft: The model linked the project’s likely benefits with the working assumptions for three possible prices.

Bog Score: 1 – Sentence Length 15 words

Passive Factor, as you may be aware from my previous posts over the years, I have become fed up with all the ear bleed over show and tell -especially from those who believe they know how to write but somehow miss out on being bestselling authors. I prefer active/passive.

An average of only one or two passive verbs in every ten sentences is a sign of a competent and professional writer.  Replacing these with active verbs means your:

· style becomes more personal and less official 

· style is simpler and less awkward 

· readers get more information 

· meaning becomes clearer and more precise 

· sentences are shorter and more effective.

Style and Glue Words – From StyleWriter HELP

Original:  I was able to use the contacts that I have in the regional office and spoke to a number of people about the issue that had been raised of staff morale.

Glue Words: 58% – Sentence Length 31 words

Redraft:  I spoke to several contacts at the regional office about staff morale.

Glue Words: 33% – Sentence Length 12 words

The redraft saves 19 words in a 31-word sentence.

I listened to Desert Island Discs a few weeks ago and heard Jane Gardam, born in 1928. Who? You may ask. Many years ago she said a writing agent found her writing and commented how good a writer she was and encouraged her to write professionally. I thought her writing could be worth a look and ordered her book of short stories Going Into a Dark House. The first thing that hit me was her use of short sentences. The same point picked up in the StyleWriter analysis of my writing. To me the story and content is also good. I muse on the issue of a good story being written badly being better than a poor story written well.

The final factor analysed in StyleWriter is ease of reading. I am pleased to say the software reports most of my writing scores well on this factor.

I recommend StyleWriter. It is good value for money because you buy the software rather than paying an annual subscription, which is what you have to do with Autocrit and a lot of other writing software.


On Publishing

I note several of my peers state in blog posts that they are now writing for pleasure. I am not sure whether we have independently come to the same conclusion or my lead is being followed.

So, what next for my 500k words? The four books are all printed off in A5 page size because this allows double-sided printing on A4 paper. I prefer Royal Octavo size because of my small published book of short stories – “Ywnwab!”

I could use a little computer program to convert them to Kindle books, or send a file to Ingram Spark or just bind them as hard copies. I am taken by an article in the weekend press about a bookbinder and his description of the process for all. “To make your own book you do not need to spend hundreds of pounds.” I did pick up a hardcover sample in 2014 from doxdirect.com and this company can print and bind a few copies for what looks to be a reasonable price.

There are some nice ideas here.

Also, see these book covers on thebookdesigner.com.

For 2018, the priority is making progress on another five to seven books – 500k to 700k words prepared to final read-through stage.


On Reading

Something has to give to allow me time to write and self-edit more and this has been my reading. Two books a week in previous years has dropped to one at most. Another factor here is that I am finding it harder to find books I want to read, particularly fiction. Last summer, with a dearth of books I wanted to read, it allowed me to read all the Lee Child Reacher books again. His simple formula – a hook to keep the reader reading, easy reading (I suspect high readability scores) short sentences, bloke’s stuff – including cars, weapons and numerical puzzles. The latest Jack Reacher Midnight Line returns to remote places in the middle of America where strange events happen. It took some time to get going, but then the punch line revealed itself earlier than usual. Even for a bestselling author, it must be hard to produce a book a year to and maintain a consistent standard – even if he sells a book every seven seconds somewhere round the world.

I had some disappointment! Robert Harris is one of my favourite authors. His new book Munich is good in showing that Chamberlain was successful buying time for the UK to rearm more. Otherwise, the subject is almost too big for fiction. I reread Fatherland and found it just as good as on the first read.

Jeffery Archer has published a small book of short stories to keep his book sales going and as a trailer for his next long book series – a remarkable number of yarns with fraud, crime and illegal activity.

It is now that time of year for recommended books for Christmas. The top fifty in my weekend supplement left me cold with little interest in reading. A nice couple of comments caught my eye recently. “Have people forgotten how to write short books?” and “Giving books away is like throwing out my memories.” This is particularly apt because I have taken over 300 books to Oxfam during the last few weeks.


On blogging and other peripheral writing activity

This is the area I have cut down on to make space for intensive self-editing. I sometimes make what I believe to be fair comment on other blogs. Most seem to be left for publishing but when I get near to a difficult truth, they get removed. For example: querying why the BBC short story competition is restricted to existing authors and the relationship between the nationality of winners and sponsors. Also, having entered many short story competitions, I believe those involved in selecting shortlists are pretty narrow in their choice of subject because anything unusual seems to be put in the bin. The big fiction book competitions seem more adventurous, although many of the winners are not to my taste.

Gary Smailes of Bubblecow recommended me to Seth Godin’s blog of pithy comments. One piece of writing subject advice I picked up since 2010 is to write about work because many readers can instantly identify with the subject. When at work meetings, it used to drive me mad and I liked this from Seth.

One of my old bosses used to stage all his meetings – if he could – with people standing up and no refreshments. I am sure much more real work got done!

I wish you all good writing and reading for 2018.



Douglas Burcham started writing on 1st June 2010 and self-published under the Allrighters’ name – a storybook ‘Ywnwab!’ in September 2013. A million words of draft writing reached completion in January 2014, split between 900,000 words of fiction and 100,000 words of non-fiction. The latter was about writing and memories of buildings, trains, boats and planes. Since then, slow progress continues to be made in converting draft writing into final books ready for possible publishing. These are short and long storybooks under the Allrighters’ name. He contributed monthly posts for TIPM up until June 2016 and now posts at six monthly intervals.

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