Hell Track Project Dairy: Day Five

Week one is done and it’s been illuminating. I don’t think of myself as a big word-counts-per-day kind of writer. I know I’ve done it in the past, when jamming towards a particularly tight deadline, but it’s always come with an opportunity cost – other projects get neglected and I usually fall into a heap at the end as anxiety kicks me in the teeth.

The intriguing thing about the six-week sprint is that it’s part of an eight week cycle in which I’m intentionally neglecting other projects until I hit the regrouping-and-planning phase in week seven, then intentionally taking a week off at the end in order to recover in week 8.

It’s a really different mindset, and not having to sort through my pile of projects and make decisions about what gets attention at the the start of the day has been incredibly pleasant.


The first sequence of an Arena-of-Death narrative holds a pretty standard narrative task: showcase the world the protagonist exists in prior to the Arena, so we know what they are fighting for. It usually ends once the protagonist is targeted and captured, leading us into the second sequence where we encounter The Show Before The Show. It’s where they learn the realities of life in prison (the Jason Statham Death Race), get someone else embroiled in the conflict accidentally and encounter the studio flunkies (The Running Man) or see how different life is in the Capital while meeting the other competitors (The Hunger Games).

Basically, it’s a chance to foreground the dark heart in which the corrupt corporate exists and introduce the protagonist to the allies and enemies they’ll be engaging with on the ground in the area.

It’s relatively easy to introduce a large number of fellow competitors in a movie or film, because visuals cover a variety of ills. You point a camera at a big, visually distinct competitor for two seconds and you’ve established him as a potential threat, because the visuals contextualise him inside the setting and give you an immediate physical comparison between the protagonist and his enemy.

This is’t so easy in fiction where everything is interpreted and contextualisation happens line by line, meaning you have to take things slower and manage the reader’s attention and the flow of information. In fiction, this means working with a relatively small cast of bad guys, or figuring out a way to identify the major players.

Naturally, I have made some decisions that make this considerably more difficult than it should be, as I’d started out conceptualising Hell Track as a team sport. This means I need the early allies for my protags, but also a team of central antagonists who will math them on the track (plus the various flunkies who exist to get massacred along the way; you cannot have an arena of death without the death, you know?).

I find myself thinking it’s time to go reread some Agatha Christie, since she’s got a knack for doing a sweeping “this is everyone in the dining car at once” kind of scene ahead of a major murder.


  1. Make some gains on the scenes in Sequence Two so that I’ve got the basic shape of it down.
  2. Introducing a host of new characters into the narrative, and figure out how to make them distinctive.
  3. Managing a bunch of interruptions as the details for my PhD confirmation are finalised.


Today is the first day this week that I’m clocking in under four hours of active writing, but I had a couple of things that needed to be done in preparation for my PhD confirmation before it hits next Tuesday. This meant taking time out to answer some emails and phone calls, as well as setting aside a little time to start refining my 20 minute presentation.

It still ended up a pretty solid day’s writing, courtesy of the fact that I’m heading into the Second Sequence and it’s got a lot of scenes that are pretty easy to put together.

Since it’s the end of the week, some other stats:

  1. I spent just over 21 hours writing across the last 5 days, which means I’m hitting my proposed average of 4 hour a day (or 50% of my work time) pretty well.
  2. I average a pace of about 1,107 words an hour, which is both slightly higher than expected and slightly misleading given that I only write for about 50 minutes out of every hour.
  3. I expected to write about 15,000 words on the project this week in order to stand a chance of hitting my six-week sprint goal. Instead, I wrote 19,658 words, which means my average daily word count is 900 words higher than I needed.
  4. This is good, because I predict that Monday and Tuesday next week will be comparatively low word-count days (and Tuesday, in particular, may involve as little as a single hour of writing work).

If you’re curious about how that kind of word count break downs – and where I am in the project – one fo the nice things about Scrivener is the capacity to break this sort of information out in the Outliner view.

I largely use this to make sure I’m not overbalancing on a particular part of the story, especially given my tendency to write looooong middle chapters. The 15,000k on the first sequence is well and truly over my budget, but I expect that to drop once I finish cleaning up scene and eliminating unnecessary beats within them.


  1. Trying to figure out how subtle I need to be about the fact that one of the teams in this book is essentially a gang of killer clowns.
  2. A minor character from the first Sequence, Amos, earns himself the first spot in my protagonist’s team because a) it makes sense that he gets picked up as part of their arrest, b) I can establish him quickly and easily, and c) he introduces some good inter-team conflict given this is all his fault.
  3. While this is the bulk of my writing every week, there’s little things that happen around the edges related to other projects. This week is all confirmation prep, while next Wednesday will see me switch over to getting the next Brain Jar Press book ready for release. I’m also jotting down quick notes for future projects in my lunch breaks every day, figuring out how to adjust my process to take advantage of the things I’m learning during this sprint.
  4. One of the great challenges of writing is figuring out when you’ve done enough, since your work hours are rarely defined and success isn’t reliant on how many hours you work. It’s rare that I get to the end of the week and feel like I’ve earned a weekend, but I think I’ve earned myself a two-day recharge at this stage of the project.

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