Yesterday I did a lot of talking about my goals. Remember, these are my goals, not goals I think you should impose on yourself. You need to figure out for yourself how fast you can write and how fast you should write. This is just a step-by-step look at how I do things. That’s all. I wouldn’t hold anyone to the level I write at (except myself that is)
So I set word count goals. I also track those goals to see my progress. What good is setting a goal if you’re not going to check up and see how you’re doing, right? So I’ve got an excel file that I use. You can use the Magic Spreadsheet (I’ve mentioned it before) and many people do. I think that’s great. I built my own because I love to play around in excel.
* NOTE – If you’d like a copy of the spreadsheet I use, feel free to email me and I will send it to you. You can modify it for your own needs, but bear in mind, it’s personalized. So many of the columns I have may not work for you and you may end up spending more time rearranging things when you could have built you own. If you like mine, use it as a guide to build your own.
So on my spreadsheet I track my progress. How many words did I write today. How many words have I written this month, this year, what does it compare to against last year, How far ahead (or behind) my goal am I? How many days did I spend working on a particular title?
As I said, it’s more than just a list of days with numbers next to the day. I also track what title I’m working on that day. I have a column that shows how many words I wrote, how many words I need to write that day to stay on target (for 2014 it’s 1100 words per day). I had have a field that shows how many words I should have written so to-date, and the actual number I’ve written to-date. This is the indicator that helps me understand how close I am to my goal. I like to get ahead in case something happens.
I also track the books I’ve written as well as the books I’d like to write. I track the word count, release dates, where in the process a certain book is. Things like that. I also track my short stories and where those stories are on submission. I have a tracking page for the total word count of all my stories.
Now let me pause here for a minute. Keep in mind that I started this spreadsheet at the end of 2011. I use it every single day. Almost without fail. even on days I didn’t write,I still opened my spreadsheet. But being that it’s been an ongoing, growing spreadsheet, I’ve continued to add to it. So as I felt the need to have additional data, or formatting, or extra pages, I added them. Yes, I understand that all I’m tracking seems a little excessive, but it’s part of the process that keeps me motivated. Keeps me moving forward. I have a lot of ideas, and this is one way I’ve been able to keep track of them all in one central location.
Another thing this spreadsheet does for me is it allows me the ability to inspire myself. When I don’t feel like writing, I can look at this spreadsheet and remember that there’s a lot I’d like to accomplish with my writing and the only way to do that is to keep writing. Write quickly. Finish something. Move on to the next project.
That doesn’t mean I’m just pounding out first draft after first draft. I’m going back, I’m editing, I’m adding covers, I’m doing the interior layouts (covers and layouts I need to do better, but I’m learning). My spreadsheet allows me to track everything I’m doing and see at a glance where any given title is in the process.
Now that I’m thinking about it, I need to add columns to where something is published. I’ll need to make sure all my titles are available on all vendors. See, typing up these posts is helpful.
At any rate, tracking my progress is a way to not just keep myself motivated, but to see where I’ve been. I can see trends and patterns. I can focus on the process with the spreadsheet while my creative side gets to run off and play in all the worlds I create. It gives the logical side of my brain something to do while the creative side is off…creating.
Will this work for you? Again, as I said, this is my process. It works for me. I’m a data guy and I like numbers and spreadsheets. You may be different. Maybe you don’t want to track everything I’m looking at. Maybe you just like to sit down, open word, and got for it. I think that’s awesome. If it works for you, keep on doing it. I’m just offering up my method.
So this will likely end my little series. I’m glad you were here to follow along. I’d love to hear about your process. What works for you? How are we similar? How different is my process than yours? Any feedback? Ideas? Thoughts on improvement? Let me know!
Until Next Time!
While this is part 4 of this series, please don’t look at this as writing advice. I’ve sort of sworn myself off the writing advice bit and all I’m doing is tell you how I do what I do vs how you should do what you do. There is a difference. I used to think there was a one-size-fits-all solution to writing (and programming for that matter), but there isn’t. There really isn’t one way to do things and that’s one thing that a writer needs to understand. Yes, there are some basic rules to writing, but those apply to structure, grammar, and things like that.
At any rate, as I said, this is just how I do the things I do. Take it for what’s it’s worth. All I wanted to point out is that this process allows me to sit and write with great speed. Not nearly as fast as some of my heroes like Dean Wesley Smith (who can rack up around 100,000 words a month) but I’m doing the best I can with the time I have.
Let’s talk about resolutions and goals.
I no longer set resolutions. I used to. Every year I’d resolve to do something (quit smoking, lose weight, eat better, write more, etc) but those were always vague things that don’t give me a path to accomplish what I want to accomplish. They never worked for me. Ever. Quitting smoking came when I just flat out said, “enough” and stopped one day. I’d have an occasional cigarette or cigar, but for the most part I was done.
Losing weight, eating right? I’m still working on those, but I’ve got a goal and a plan. The goal is to get back down to 200 pounds (at least) and I’ll be doing that by doing a juice cleanse and then eating a nearly vegan diet (not vegetarian, VEGAN! Raw vegan at that). I’ll be having 2 meals per week of whatever I want, but mostly it’ll be fresh fruits and veggies. Extreme? Hell yes. But that’s how I managed to quit smoking. It was abrupt and extreme. I’ll also start walking and build back up to running.
Write more. That I’ve also done. I started in 2011 going into 2012. I wanted to write more so I started blogging more regularly. The blogging would get my brain into writing mode and once I was done, I’d flip to the latest novel I was working on. During that year, between blog posts and fiction, I’d written over 490,000 words of my 450,000 word goal. It was amazing. Sadly, only 267,000 of those words were new fiction, but I’d hit a grove with my writing and I was happy. So 2013 I was going to try and up my fiction count by cutting back on the blogging and get to work on the fiction.
Well, 2013 fell apart on me. I didn’t hit my goal of 365,000 words. Life happens, as it has a tendency to do, and I needed to come into 2014 more focused with all the stress of 2013 left behind. I did, however, manage 172,000 words in the 5 months I did actually write and I can’t be sad with that result. Yes, it wasn’t where I wanted to be, but hey, I did make words happens and completed a few projects.
Now we’re into 2014. I’m still setting goals and what I’d like to do. For 2014 I plan on averaging 1100 words per day. Yes, I upped my word count goal from 2013 (1000 words per day average) so I’ll push myself a little bit more.
Let me explain first off what I’ve done. I’ve gone on and on about numbers, but none of that means anything to you, right? Well those numbers are my goals. 2012 was 450,000 words, a combination of new fiction and blog posts. 2013 was 365,000 words of new fiction. 2014 is 401,500 words of new fiction. 2015 is 438,000 words of new fiction.
Let’s break those numbers down because they’re pretty high. I’ll skip 2012 because it’s a blend. But 2013 I wanted to write 1,000 words per day. That’s an average, but obviously if I had been able to stick to a schedule, I probably would have hit or surpassed that goal. 1,000 words really isn’t that much. It’s just a matter of hitting a rhythm and a good streak of days strung together. Add a few good days in there and it gets even better, right?
Well, that was the plan. As I said, I only got 5 months of writing out of 2013 due to an unexpected move and the fact that the company did away with my job. Both of these sucked out my soul and made focusing on writing impossible.
Now look at 2014. I upped my goal from last year. I increased my goal by only 100 words per day. 100 words is nothing. That’s less than 5 minutes of typing. It’s a snap. Upping from 1000 to 1100 seemed logical to me because it’s not that much of an increase. Yes, I looked at 2013, but on the days I actually wrote, I hit a much higher word count. So I knew setting my goal a little bit higher would push me to actually write.
Then 2015, yes, I’m planning for the future, I want to write 1200 words per day. This is also a small increase and it might change. I don’t know yet. It was a 10% increase from 2013 to 2014, why not a 10% increase from 2014-2015? Should I shoot for 1210 words per day? We’ll rethink that when 2015 gets closer and I see how I did over 2014.
What I’ve done over the past few years is to plan how much I want to write. I set that goal, then I break it down into much smaller chunks and work on one chunk at a time. I don’t look at it as I need to write 100,000 words to make a book. I look at it as I need to write so many words per day to get to that goal in a certain amount of time. Looking at the smaller bits makes that HUGE, overwhelming goal look all the more manageable.
Next time I’ll talk about tracking and how I keep myself inline with the goals I’ve set. No, I don’t use the Magic Spreadsheet. I have my own spreadsheet. It’s taken me years to set up, but it keeps me on track.
Until Next Time!
Yeah yeah yeah, this is my third installment of my weekly update this week, but I’ve got things to say. I won’t mention that Sputtery Truck is all Sputtery once again. I’ll do that in my fourth installment of the Weekly Update. Or I’ll just fix the darn thing and shut up about it.
I’ve noticed lately (okay, I’ve always noticed) that there are a lot of writers talking about writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s about how to write a book or a short story, how to write a synopsis, how to write a query letter, how to find an agent, how to self-publish your book (OMG search on ebook pricing and watch the results. Good Gravy!). One thing I know for sure is that there is an abundance of information that others have written and called advice. Yes, I’ve been guilty of it as well. On more than one occasion, one more than one podcast, on more than one blog.
What is it with writers writing about writing?
Mike Stackpole said it best that writing about writing and (more often that not) talking about writing is sometimes more fun that actually writing. Writing is a lonely thing to do and many writers, given the chance, will talk about what they do ad nauseum. Yes, again I’m guilty. But I’ve always wondered, even as I look back at my own writing advice, what was the point?
Sure, there’s the chance to teach someone else about writing. There’s the opportunity to interact with other writers who may like your wit or your turn of a phrase. There may even be a chance to interact with other writers that you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to interact with had you not written something about writing.
But overall, what’s the point?
I ask this for two reasons. Let me start out with #1: Other authors most likely won’t buy your book. Sure there will be those close friends that will pick up your book out of support. There will be some that may actually read it. But for the most part, other authors (and mostly wannabe authors) will read your advice and you’ll never even hear from them. It’s a painful cycle that less than 10% of those who hear or read your words of advice will ever interact with you. Trust me. I see my numbers on my Unorthodox Writing Tips. I know who’s engaged me in conversation. I’ve talked to other podcasters with writing advice podcasts. I know some of their numbers compared to their amount of feedback. It’s severe.
Why did I stop posting Unorthodox Writing Tips? Because it wasn’t accomplishing what I had intended to accomplish. It was words I wrote that served no purpose. (Well hey! Why am I writing this post?). Pfft, procrastination, most likely. I guess just making an observation. An evolution from writing advice to writers to writing articles for fans. This one is somewhere in the middle I hope.
Now I’m going to say something that will either come off as profound or just annoy everyone I know. All writing advice is crap. All writing advice is worth your time.
It just depends on who you are and where you’re at with your writing. Honestly. Almost all the writing, editing, pricing, etc, advice that I read isn’t important to me. I’ve been involved with the writing community, reading writing advice, trying things out, doing things and failing, doing things and succeeding, for going on 20 years now. I say that and it scares me a little bit. Now much of that 20 years is on again and off again, but I’ve been wanting to be a writer for very long time. It’s just recently that I’ve gotten serious about applying everything that I’ve read, said, and learned. It’s been a very long road to get to where I’m at and I’ve taken my lumps along the way. I won’t lie. It’s been really hard and I don’t expect it to get any easier any time soon.
Will this stop anyone from offering up advice? Probably not. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone doing something that makes them feel good when it comes to writing. Like I said, it’s tough, it’s lonely, and camaraderie is a good thing. If you can surround yourself with a great bunch of writers than more power to you! Keep at it for as long as you feel you need to. Build great friendships. Interact and learn! Don’t just interact. Expand your thought process beyond just reading of listening to that advice. Engage with people. Get out of your comfort zone. Give feedback to those that give you that advice.
I posted an unorthodox writing tip that was rather ironic. When to say when. When to stop taking advice and just write. There’s also a point, I feel, where a writer needs to stop giving advice and just write. That’s where I’m at these days.
Yes, last year I wrote a lot. I blogged a lot. I wrote a bunch of writing advice even. I took some of that advice to heart. That’s why I’m not writing advice any more. It wasn’t getting me what I was hoping for and that was to attract fans. Yes, there are a couple writers that are fans of my work, but for the most part, those who read my work aren’t writers.
Then there’s point #2 (you thought I forgot about point #2 and was just going to keep rambling, didn’t you? Sure you did. Don’t lie. I know I almost forgot about point #2). Writers are a needy lot. Needy like “please give me validation! Please publish my work! Please help me be a better writer! Please help me fix this story!”
Okay, stop it! Just stop right there (I almost said write there, LOL). Once you’ve stopped I want you to do something. Assess where you are as a writer. Are you just starting out? Have you been writing for 30 years?Are you unpublished? Have you been published multiple times? One thing that you’ll understand is there are different levels of need when it comes to being a writer.
One level is those just starting out. They are desperately seeking validation. They want to know what they’re doing is good enough. They want someone to pat them on the bum and say “good writer, have a cookie”. They want to get their work out into the world and have everyone rave about how good it is.
Sorry starting writer. Your writing is crap. It’ll be crap for a long time to come. Trust me on this one. No matter how badly you want validation, you’re not there. You just aren’t. You won’t make 100% of your free throws your first time on the court. You won’t run a 4 minute mile your first time and the track. You won’t write a best seller the first time you sit down at the keyboard. It’s just not going to happen. It’s a learning curve and for some people it’s steep and will take years to over come. Others will run up a little hill and be on their way. It doesn’t matter. You will need time to learn your process and no one on this Earth can learn it for you.
That being said… quit asking. I’m about to unsubscribe to a dozen writing forums because there are SO many needy writers out there asking the most basic of questions. I’m pretty sure most of them are looking for a magic bullet to make them a better writer. I know I was on that quest for years. What did I do? Did I ask and ask and ask and ignore ignore ignore?
I read and read and read. I read in my genre, I read out of my genre, I read novels, I read short stories, I read magazine articles, I read books on writing, I read on websites, I read in forums. I did this for a few years before even participating in the discussion. I wanted to have a certain level of knowledge that I knew wasn’t going to be bestowed upon me by the great writing fairy in the sky.
I also wrote. I wrote bad fiction with a crazy, wild-eyed need! I had a desire to get stories out of my head to get the voices to stop talking to me. I had ups, I had downs. I finished a lot of stories, I didn’t finish twice as many as I finished. I wrote, I submitted, I got rejected time and again. I let it get to me and stopped writing. I picked myself back up and tried again.
What am I trying to say? I’m saying that no one just handed me the ability to write a novel and to complete what I started. I worked very hard to be able to write the stories I write. Some are good, some a terrible, but overall I enjoy my own writing enough to keep at it. You may not like what I write. Others may think I’m totally nuts writing the dog poo that I put on a page. Hey, art is subjective. (someone once said about my writing : Wow! That’s a lot of dialogue) . None of that matters (well, except people liking my work. That’s the point of this whole post is to find an audience.
I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of authors have stopped giving you advice. J.A. Konrath blogs only lightly compared to when he started. Mike Stackpole hasn’t put out an issue of the Secrets in months. Jake Bible has stopped podcasting (an giving away his fiction). Of course there are many more, I’m just listing a few that have changed their tactics. There will always be someone to fill the void. There will always be a lot of advice out there.
My point is to not ask, but do you due diligence first. Do your home work. Don’t just ask and wait for someone to do it for you. If you want to write you cannot be lazy about this. You need to put in the hours, the days, weeks, months, years to actually improve your craft. You need to finish a story, book, collection of books. Only then will you realize what those stories are lacking and be able to either truck that novel, rewrite that novel from the start, or chop it into pieces and try again. Do the work needed to get better. Don’t expect someone to tell you how to get there. This is an individual path and you must take it yourself.
Wow. That’s long. Isn’t it? Where I’m going with all this is that there is advice out there if you look for it. There are some great books on writing if you look for them. This advice will never get bad or grow stale. It’ll come from published authors and unpublished authors alike. Some will still doling out advice, others have moved on. Writers will always write about writing just like they will always talk about writing. Why? It feels good.
Until Next Time!
One of the many things I’ve gotten wrong in my books over the years is the amount of time it takes to perform a task, travel from place to place, hold a conversation, pause for dramatic effect
No, really. I’ve written a page of dialogue before and in my mind hours had gone by. When I’ve gone back and read what I’d written the conversation would have taken all of four or five minutes. Heck, Even when I did the podcast version of V&A Shipping I had to correct some timing issues. I had to figure out how long something took because it just didn’t feel correct after going back and reading it.
I have a stop watch. No, really. I have a stop watch. If my character is going to do something, cook dinner, get dressed, build a bomb, tie a knot, I need to know how long that task will take. Now I’ve never built a bomb, but understand the dilemma here. The time it takes your character or characters to accomplish a task needs to feel right. As I mentioned, that one page of dialogue was a short conversation, but in my mind I needed them to be in a different place after the conversation.What did I do?
The conversation took place while the characters were walking from one place to another. I needed a certain amount of time to pass while they walked and talked. This scene needed some fixing not only with the distance traveled, but with the flow of the conversation. What did I do? I took a walk and timed how long it would take at a casual pace to travel a certain distance. Even the walk, not enough time had passed in my story. I needed to figure out what would slow them down.
Okay, color me dumb here. The walk they took was in a heavily-congested, downtown area. Brilliant me I walked in a straight line. Taking a trip to downtown San Diego provided what I needed. I’ve walked with groups downtown before. There are a large number of things that will stop you as you walk. Window shopping, street vendors, street lights, cars, bikes, other pedestrians. Not only did all of these items add a little flavor to the scene I was trying to fix, it provided the length of time I was looking to introduce in the scene. It also helped to break up the dialogue so it wasn’t a long stream of talking.
This scene would have worked as-is, but but stopping myself and timing the event to make sure it had the right feel helped me flesh out a scene that, once I’d re-written it, worked so much better than the original.
Am I suggesting you get a stop watch and time every little thing you do? Well, not everything, but I do recommend you watch the clock when you’re doing something you would expect a character in your book to do. A minute can be much longer than you suspect and an hour much shorter than you know. Give it try. Maybe you’ll discover something more than just the amount of time something takes.
Until Next Time!
I’m a curious person. I like to try new things and I’ve never shied away from trying something different. Earlier in the week I needed to take my favorite daughter to 7-11 to get a snack (old mother Hubbard went to the cupboard and the cupboard was bare).
In the same little strip mall is a sweet shop, Pistachios. For us this has been an ongoing joke. I want to say they’ve been setting the place up for a few months now and we’re trying to figure out when they’ll open the place. We put our faces up against the glass and peeked inside. There were some lights on the left side of the store wall that look like they will hold signage and a nice look counter behind which are some shelves with a few bags of pistachios and a couple boxes of candy. That’s about it. It looks bare, but I’m hopeful it’ll be filled with good things to be had by all.
Walking from Pistachios to 7-11 is the Rancho Market and Bakery. Now I’ve only been in the area for a few months and I’ve seen it dozens of times. I kept telling myself I needed to actually go inside and look around. I figured, why not teach my favorite daughter not to be afraid of going into a new place. I diverted my steps and went inside.
“Papi? Where are you going?”
Let me interject here. I have a tendency to walk astray just to confuse my favorite daughter. It’s funny most of the time and sometimes I do what I did on this day. I didn’t say anything, I just entered the store.
Inside standing next to the fresh fruit was a group of men. They could have been Greek, the could have been Arabic, I didn’t know. They just had that swarthy complexion that I’ve always associated with the Mediterranean. Now I was even more interested. Sure the Market and Bakery was located in Rancho San Diego and I expected it to be run by Mexicans, so I was a little surprised.
Inside I found a great selection of fresh cheeses I hadn’t seen before and a large number of dairy products. Even a great selection of salamis and meats. I still had no idea of the nationality of the products displayed. I didn’t talk to anyone until I reached the dessert section. I’m a BIG fan of desserts. Each looked amazing. I had to ask.
“What type of desserts are these?”
Ok, I’ve seen baklava before. He wasn’t going to get away with that simple of an answer.
“This doesn’t look like Greek baklava.”
“This is middle-eastern baklava. In Lebanon we have over 150 varieties of baklava.”
Okay, now I was really in new territory. My favorite daughter kept picking out ones to buy, the man gave me a 5 minute lesson about baklava, and $8 we were out of the store. I went back the next day and bought $5 more. I know I’ll be going back again and I’ll be trying more than just the baklava.
What did I learn? I learned lot more than just what kinds of baklava are available. It’s something I’ve know and try to put to practice.
1) Don’t be afraid to walk into a store and talk to the proprietor
2) Don’t be afraid to try something new be it food, a book, a new sport, anything.
3) Be opened minded with the experience.
4) Seek out opportunity, don’t just run into them by accident.
Do I think baklava will make it into my writing? Probably not. But one thing I’ve heard over and over with writing advice, write what you know. If you limit yourself a little box you’ll only ever be able to write about that same little box. The more you allow yourself to experience the more flavor you’ll add to your writing. Get out there. Try somewhere new. You’ll thank yourself one day.
Until next time!