The last 90%

When you feel you’re 90% done, and you find that that last 10% is also 90%…

OK, that’s not true, it just feels that way. The truth of the matter is you were no where near as finished as passing whatever milestone it was, felt like. I’ve just been through this with the body-change on the vehicle I rolled on responding to the ambulance callout. We got the new body on, to discover the wiring looms did not match. Then it was change the wiring looms. That meant change all the light fittings, including the bizarre little ones inside the front panel. It also meant changing the dashboard to match the wiring looms. Fortunately — barring a few minor differences in the mounting, which needed contrivance — that was do-able. My good friend Jamie was able to go home with a conscience that he had delivered what he said was possible, and I had been terrified by. We’ plugged and fiddled and joined and swore… and it didn’t go. Then after some more fiddling… it did. We have LIFE… Mwhahaha! Frankencar lives! It lives! From dead and disparate parts, stirred the forces galvanic mine creation lives. Life unt voltage I give to it. And bolts through the neck.

Ok, we have only driven five yards forward and back, and there’s the last 10% (yes, that) to do to get it legal and drivable. And I won’t know if it is in fact fine for normal driving… until I can try driving normally… which won’t be until the last 10% is done. No, I am not trying it without brakes (which is where I am, now). I spent a full day on ‘trivia’ (the stuff I thought I could rip through in an hour) today. Still, the interior is now done. And, um, in truth a lot of what I did today… if I had left undone, the vehicle would still be nearly where it was yesterday. OK, it has seats again. That was important. Most of the rest was cosmetic.

It is, I admit, probably irrelevant cosmetic work — For example: The only person likely to know or care that the carpet is securely attached under the seats is me. But I have invested so much time and effort (to say nothing of stress and moments of terror) that to not invest time in that seems wrong.

All of this holds true for every book I have written: the huge relief that I’ve tied all the threads up into a satisfactory ending… and thereby 90% done, is soon superseded by finishing that… other 90%. Look, draft one to seven… editing, proofing, prettying, re-writing sections only I am even going to notice… typesetting, covers, etc. etc. I’ve taken as long about that as I have on the first draft. I shouldn’t. A lot of it is wasted time, really. I have got better as the years (and books) pass. Possibly a little better at not needing the cosmetics in the first place, and probably a little more realistic about the number of drafts I need to go through.

And this is writing point for the day: When the first draft is finished… you’re anything but finished… BUT don’t make it drag on forever. You’re not gaining very much – if anything at all, with endless re-edits and re-writes. Some of this (as in my finessing the body-swap) is possibly fear that all that work has been in vain. It’s not good enough, no one will like it etc. etc… well, like me needing to test-drive, you’re never going to know, unless you do try it.

There’s a time to kiss it goodbye, and start a new book

30 comments

  1. But, but . . . I know there was something I meant to go back and fix . . . I just need to find it. And these wretched Russian names! How can I consistently spell them the same every time when I can’t even pronounce them properly? (Probably explains why they so Evil! Twisted from birth by these Vs in their names!) And why can’t I keep east and west straight in my directions. Check that again . . .

    1. Find and replace is your friend. I drove Margaret Ball insane doing an edit on a book where I had an alien character curse his enemies with the term Corghice! …or something like that. as the book progressed they used the curse again, but I couldn’t remember how to spell it, so I entered Corg–! meaning to go back and fix it later. As you can guess, later never made it. Her comments on what the heck is with the dashes, were almost amusing, except for worries that she would never speak to me again.
      I had to do the same with some character names. Cygnwck was one such.
      Ah! the toils and troubles of the Author class…

      1. I added in custom spellcheck things, they show up as corrections in Word.

        Really useful when a gamer handle is a deliberate “cool” misspelling and I can’t remember if I added a Gratuitous Umlaut here, a Y there or a random H.

        1. Accents! I hates them!

          Character’s name is Até, Goddess of Ruin. Without the accent it’s just ‘ate’. Character’s name is Stjörnubjart, I have to hunt down the damn umlaut. There have been some crazy Icelandic spellings too, Skíðblaðnir for example. That’s the Norse god Frey’s magic ship.

          I keep a list of correct spellings at the end of the document, and copy/pasta from it liberally as I go along. Because I’m always writing at the end, pretty much, so they’re right there handy.

      2. Then you figure out the name change half way through, do the search and replace, and — slip a few times.

        One poor author actually had three slip past all the copy editors. (Though accurate or not, I was unsurprised that the editor insisted on renaming “Godgifu” to “Gemma.”)

  2. Programming Team: “We’re 90% done. We almost have it licked.”

    Programming Manager: “You’ve been 90% done for three months.”

    [Very Big Crazy Grin]

    1. How much does it take to fix it?

      Once I know what’s wrong, maybe a few lines of code changes, and a retest.

      Ok… How much does it take to figure out what’s wrong?

      See, that’s the question you should have asked to begin with!

      … You don’t know do you?

      Not a clue.

  3. The engineering design spiral seems to apply to writing books as well as designing ships (or fixing cars, but I learned about it learning to design ships). It’s like Xeno’s Paradox. The closer you get to finishing (especially with a deadline involved) the further you seem to be from getting done.

    1. Very, very true. And speaking of designing ships, I’ve been having fun coming up with cool, but plausible ships for my fictional Republic of Texas Navy. I can come up with reasonable specs, and I can see them in my mind’s eye, but I can’t actually DRAW them. 😦 I took drafting in high school (early 1980’s) but I am totally useless with any kind of drawing or cad programs. I’d like to be able to put pictures of them in book 2 (or even a revised book 1 someday).

      As an aside for Dave F: You totally need to put large bolt heads on the front fenders of the FrankenCar when it’s done. 🙂

  4. The last bit always seems to take most of the time and energy.

    The research for a book is easy. It’s even fun, I get to discover quite a few interesting things. (Example-how succession works in a salic law-based royal family.)
    I’ve got the outline written (and learning how to write novels from an outline, rather than my somewhat meandering checkpoint-style of writing).
    Now, it’s writing the bloody thing…and keeping motivated to keep writing. And that, my friend, is what eats up about 90% of the energy in my writing work.

      1. blinks You may recognize the principle if not the name. . . .

        Try porphyrogeniture if you want something oddball.

        1. I didn’t recognize the name for the laws of succession, though I’ve run across a few examples of the practice. I’d not particularly gone into detail. On the other hand, Salic law regarding succession is only a small part of Salic Law which is going to take a lot more poking and prodding to dig through in detail. Especially since I’m finding multiple versions.

          Thanks for the tip on Porphyrogeniture. Sounds like it could be as troublesome as the Hawaiian practice of tracing succession through the king’s sister’s sons not his sons.

  5. Thank you, sir. This is very timely. I am currently editing my second novel, and trying not to get insanely bogged down.

  6. Homebuilding an airplane. “I”m 90% done with 90% to go.” The cosmetic stuff, the fiddley bits, the instrument panel and all the required placards and the canopy/windscreen/windows to finish molding and fitting, and then painting, and . . . But hey! It looks like an airplane and it makes airplane noises with you start the engine!

    1. I looked into building an airplane 25 years ago. I found that there are a lot of guys who start one in their 60s and by the time they get it flyable they are too old and they have to sell the unfinished aircraft. This happens to a large percentage of kits apparently, it is a thing in the kitplane industry.

      I decided I’d be better off building cars, and did indeed build a desert buggy that works. But if it was an airplane I’d likely have died. Good decision! ~:D

  7. I feel your pain on the car. I just drug a 25 YO pickup out of a field where it had rust in piece for 8 years and did a rez. on it. A mech. had told us it needed a new motor.Recently a different mech had opined that perhaps it wasn’t as bad as all that. Last month when Hercules died ( My dual wheeled diesel) I was in the hot, one car and two jobs to go to.
    About $1000 later, and much, much more mechanicing than I swore a mighty oath to ever do again, it runs!
    Now that my first book is exiting the agony of editing, I am moving on to such things as how to create a marketing timeline to follow. I live in mortal fear of releasing a book and selling only ten copies – nine to my mom and one to me. I have read a lot, on this site as well as others and now I’m more confused than ever. What I need is some kind of a blueprint, a critical path to set up where to advertise, or how to get promoted on book sites (know of any good ones?) I have followed with interest the saga ongoing with the SFWA and want no part of it. I’m not their kind of people, I am sure.
    Tips and tricks are very appreciated.

    1. Advertising on Amazon, save your money. That’s my short summary of my experience. Net-negative return on investment. Spend hundreds, get back tens in sales.

      First book, you will sell ~100 copies the first couple of months and after that it will tail off quickly. The algorithm will bury it. I offset this by selling them on my own blog, mentioning them wherever I comment, and otherwise not worrying about it. My feeling is that if JK Rowling had originally released “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by itself on Amazon, it would sell a few hundred copies before sinking out of sight. (This is not to say that I am hard done by. Just not focused on pushing my book.)

      Where people are reporting success is when they keep releasing new books every few months, and maintain that pace for a while. This is now hearsay on my part, I’ve only released the first book so far. I’ll be doing the experiment to be sure, as I have six books finished and waiting for covers. When life and brain allow, I’ll be setting up a little cover factory and getting busy. From what other authors say, releasing on a 3 month window seems lucrative.

      Doing your own research is very important. I’ll be interested to hear when you discover things I’ve missed.

  8. Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical. – Yogi Berra.

    Seems there’s lots of things that are greater than 100%.
    Good luck on the vehicle, and the book. Fingers crossed on dealing with the inexecrable government claptrap.

  9. The short story arc I’ve been working on, I got the central plot done and drafted, and went on to, essentially, the epilogue, and discovered the things I thought I’d been setting up, I hadn’t actually set up, and one of the characters that story was going to be following was mostly a limp rag.

    So what was one short story that I already had a solid idea about, turned out to really be three stories I had no idea about.

  10. Dave, glad to hear you have the first 90% done and the thing actually goes. It is a truly beautiful thing when it fires the first time after a major bit of wrenching. Now for the last 90%.

    Here at Chez Phantom I -did- finally put wrench to bolt and ripped the busted frame member out of the lawnmower. I had help, Young Relative leant a hand and we performed the major surgery. Now it has it’s guts spread out all over the floor of the barn, and I can finally get at it. Sparks will fly this afternoon. >:D

    Electrical bits, wire routing, carpet fitting etc. do require the majority of the time, particularly when you have to figure out how each stupid little thing works as you go. As we have learned to our cost over the years, cars (and mowers) are not made with maintenance in mind. Each doodad adds half an hour of head scratching, making life very hard when you can’t just snip the little p.o.s. off and toss it in the garbage can.

    But in the end, the satisfaction of turning the key and driving it down the driveway under its own power will add a whole year to your life. You will feel like the boss that you are. ~:D

  11. bit of a rain day here so I did no vehicle work, but have worked most of this vacation on replacing a transmission, doing some rust prevention, and soon replacing a muffler (old one off, but easier working on other things while it stays off), but to keep my day off from being a day off, I did OT at work, as panic ensued when someone forgot to process an order from last fall, and suddenly they “needs it now!!!! Waaddyamean there is only one guy who knows how to do it and he’s on vacation?” So, while Mondays are now one of my off days (working 4-10s again, finally) I rode in the rain and got it out.

  12. I just realized, Hoyt had mentioned you were TN one who finally talked her through how to foreshadow things well.

    Do you have any recommendations on where to start? I’m stuck on foreshadowing what is, effectively a pretty bad betrayal, and trying to figure out how to set it up so that, even though the main character is completely blindsided by it, it doesn’t drop from the sky like a giant flea from outer space for the reader.

    1. One of the best places to do this is in speech tags. They are ‘invisible’ – but impinge on the reader. You need at least THREE foreshadow hints.

      1. Ah. The rule of three makes sense.

        I’m not sure I’m entirely following on how to use the speech tags for it. Are we talking about using speech tags to show that a character’s actions and tone aren’t consistent with how they present themselves? Or is there more one can do with that?

        Also, are there rules of thumb on how much the reader needs to be able to deduce from the foreshadowing? Basically, do they need to be able to figure it out what is being considered, or is it enough to show that the character is acting oddly, even if the reader doesn’t have enough information to know why?

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