Endings are hard. I think writing endings is the most difficult and also one of the most enjoyable parts of the writing process for me.
You spend weeks or months (or years) outlining, drafting, and re-drafting a story, and you finally get to the ending. Not just the end of your first draft, but The End. The ending of the draft that, while not final, is likely to be as close to final as you’ll come while writing new content.
That’s where I’m at with my current draft of Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1. I know I have a lot more editing to put into this story before it can be considered Final, but I also know that the ending to this draft will look very similar to the ending of that final published story.
I keep thinking about all of the other ways I could tell this story. What if my protagonist was less capable in her survival? What if the dynamics of her family were less positive? What if, what if, what if?
Writing a story is like entering the Multiverse and trying to decide which of the infinite timelines you and your characters will follow. Ending a story is deciding that you followed the most compelling, the most believable, and the most satisfying timeline.
That’s why I think ending a story is an act of courage, from a writing perspective. You need the determination to say to yourself, “Yes, this is the ending I have intended for this story.” And then you need to prepare to move on from that ending, whether that’s publishing the story or starting a new one.
So I’m overthinking my ending, even as I write it. The moment will come quite soon when I need to decide that it is The Ending. Now if I could just get back to writing it.
September was a bit of a crazy month. Between work picking up a lot and a week-long beach trip, I found little time for writing. I knew I wasn’t going to write while at the beach–not with a toddler and an infant to entertain. We had a nice time, though, and I wasn’t ready to get back to normal life.
September was fun, but goals-wise, maybe my worst month on record? Let’s get this over with.
Last Month’s Goals
Finish current draft of Uprooted and write 5,000 words.
Read through Uprooted.
Read 4 books.
Finish current draft / write 5,000 words?
Neither. I wrote 2,500 words in September, and a good chunk of that came in the last two days of the month, after we had returned from vacation and settled back into our daily routine. That also was not enough to finish my draft. Based on progress I’ve made so far in October, I think this draft of Uprooted will finish around 48,000 words, which places this firmly in novella territory.
I’ll talk about this in my actual goals for the month, but I’m trying to finish this draft as quickly as possible so I can do some read-throughs before November. I don’t anticipate any large-scale revisions from this point. I definitely want my editor and maybe some readers to read the story and provide feedback, but at this point, I like how this story ended up. I just want to tighten it up.
Before I get there, though, I need to write the second draft of New Earth, my second story in The Herb Witch Tales. More on that below.
Read through Uprooted?
Obviously not, since I still have to finish the thing.
Read four books?
I finished three books in September, which is actually better than I thought, but they were all audiobooks. I now have two nonfiction books that I’ve started and not been motivated to continue on any consistent basis, even though I find both interesting.
So I started reading Knife of Dreams, book 11 of The Wheel of Time. I’m more than halfway through already, and I may jump straight into the next one. This installment already feels more weighty, plot-wise, than the middle books of the series, and I know that book 12 begins the home stretch of Brandon Sanderson’s work on the series. I also got excited thinking about the upcoming Wheel of Time TV series.
In short, I’m pretty locked into this series at the moment.
Goals for October
Finish current draft of Uprooted. As mentioned above, I have to finish this draft this month. I can’t publish these stories by the end of this year without basically a miracle, but I still have to move to the next step.
Read through Uprooted and takes note. I’m giving myself the first two weeks or so of the month to finish my draft, whereupon I will print it and begin to mark it up with red pen. This should help me see what needs to be done to the story at large before moving on. If I have time before the end of the month, I’ll start to make revisions–not rewrites, mind you. I think this story has moved past the need for rewrites. Once I’ve done that, I will pass it on to at least one reader to look at for me. I have someone in mind, but let me know if you’re interested.
Prepare for National Novel Writing Month. Once I complete the read-through/revisions of Uprooted, I intend to move on to my second draft of New Earth, the second story in The Herb Witch Tales. Between unused sections of Uprooted and the rough draft I wrote of New Earth earlier this year, I probably have 30,000 words worth of content to use. It’s time to get this story into gear, and NaNoWriMo will be the perfect time to do it.
If you know anything about me, you probably know that I like to use spreadsheets to organize myself, whether it’s story outlines, word count trackers (until recently), or timelines, the spreadsheet is my bread-and-butter organization tool.
So you’d better damn believe I have a spreadsheet laying out the entire millennia-spanning timeline of my fantasy universe, Úr’Dan.
Which brings me to the quintessential world-building tool, in my view: the Historical Timeline.
The Historical Timeline
When I talk about a historical timeline as a world-building tool, I’m not really referring to the timeline as a tool for the reader. It is a tool for you, the writer, to aid in your efforts to give depth to your fantasy universe.
Even if you only have a few key events laid out that underpin your fantasy universe — a recent war, a plague that is sweeping the countryside, or the death of a prominent figure — it is essential that you understand not just how and why these events happened, but when.
And a simple timeline, or an outline of a timeline, can help you organize key events to tell your story accurately. After all, referencing historical events in the course of your story through dialogue or, where appropriate, exposition adds greater depth to your fantasy universe, but only if you can consistently describe when and how something happened.
My Historical Timeline
As I said at the top, I use a spreadsheet to organize a millennia-spanning historical timeline for my entire fantasy universe, called Úr’Dan. This spreadsheet is organized into four columns:
Year, or whatever reckoning of time is used in your fantasy universe. There are actually four distinct calendars used in Úr’Dan, so my timeline references each.
Name of the event. How is this event known in your story? Consider whether different groups refer to the same event by different names.
Peoples involved, referring to which larger ethno-cultural groups in my story were involved in or impacted by a particular event.
Description, providing just a few sentences summarizing what the event was, and maybe what it’s immediate impact was.
Additionally, I use color-coding to provide a quick visual differentiator between general types of events:
Events referred to only in myth or legend
Wars, battles, or other conflicts
Founding or construction of cities, fortifications, or other significant places
Birth/Death of prominent figures
Treaties or alliances
Other significant events, trends, discoveries. This is a catch-all category that can include things like mass migrations of people, the invention or prevalent use of a particular type of technology, or notable weather events.
Finally, I also include rows for each of my stories, just so it’s obvious where they each fit into my timeline.
All told, I have 91 rows in my timeline so far, spanning about 1,000 years of “history”, plus significant events of myth, such as those covered in my mythology of Úr’Dan. Many of these events are focused on a few ethno-cultural groups or time periods that I’ve already put a lot of thought into, so one of my ongoing goals is to add more events and flesh out the histories of all of the peoples of my fantasy universe.
The more historical events you can talk about from your timeline, the more space you have for potential stories.
July was a solid month, writing and otherwise. I had a lofty goal, but I also had a plan to meet it. That plan went… alright. There were some bumps in the writing road, but I met my goal for the second month in a row!
And I made some crucial progress on my story, both in the actual writing and in figuring out where it’s headed as I plunge into the third act.
Let’s get to the goals already!
Last Month’s Goals
Write 10,000 words.
Read 3 books.
Enjoy parental leave.
Write 10,000 words?!
YES! I wrote 10,054 words in July, in fact. How did I do it, you ask?! With a pretty hefty push in the final week of the month.
The middle two weeks or so did not go well for me, writing-wise. I fell behind and struggled to keep up, and then to catch up. Our toddler hit a new phase in July where he’d get home from daycare with my wife and pretty quickly throw an ear-shattering tantrum over basically nothing. It’s clear that these tantrums were (and are) because he’s hungry, but somehow the toddler will not listen to reason and sit down to eat a single bite of food. Weird, right? Who knew that toddlers were completely irrational gremlins.
So, I’d hear the tantrum start as I was finishing up work upstairs, and instead of staying upstairs to write as has become my routine, I more often went down to morally support my wife and emotionally support our meltdown-having son. That’s honestly the reason I didn’t get much writing done for the middle part of the month.
I still hit my goal.
There’s my progress chart from NaNoWriMo. You can see I started to fall behind almost immediately, but the wheels really came off around the 12th. I just could not sit down to write each day, and even when I could, it was for a pittance of words at a time.
But, I decided to knuckle down at the end of the month and try to close out strong. Over the final five days I wrote 6,000 words. That final spike on July 31 took three writing sessions, one around 12-1am, one around midday, and one that evening.
The other great piece of this is that, even with all the writing struggles, I still wrote 17 of 31 days. That persistence throughout the month was key to me striving for that goal at the end.
Read 3 books?
Nope. I think I technically finished Return of the King on July 1, but my reading was pretty lacking. Part of that was due to my focus on writing, but I also didn’t have any books pulling me in. I had started reading a work about the importance of nature in children’s lives, a fascinating read, but not the type to really call out to me. I’ll finish that in due time.
I started listening to The Fort, the first in another series by Adrian Goldsworthy, the same author who wrote The Windolanda Saga, following the same main character. I’m nearly finished that on Audible, but that’s about it.
Enjoy paternity leave?
No, because the stubborn kid hasn’t come yet! My wife is nearing 42 weeks, and our midwife already told that if we got to this point, our options were either to induce labor or have a c-section. We’re headed to the hospital Wednesday morning (I’m writing this Tuesday night) for the planned delivery.
Unlike our first, who literally kicked his way out of the womb almost a month early, this one has no interest in facing this capitalist dystopian hell-scape wonderful world. So my paternity leave starts next week!
Goals for August
Actually enjoy paternity leave. My three-week leave officially starts next Monday, and I’m really looking forward to getting to focus on time at home with the family. The toddler will stay in daycare so as not to disrupt his schedule, but I’m excited to see him interact with his new sibling.
Write 8,000 words. I feel really good about this one, considering I wrote 10k in July even with some hiccups. I have no idea how this will go with an infant and, oh yeah, the toddler, but I’ve gotten a head start.
Read 3 books. I don’t like how little I read in July, but that’s the trade-off sometimes. Hopefully I’ll be able to find the time during my leave.
I can’t believe I’ve been using NaNoWriMo since 2014 and never really thought to use it outside of the main competition. I’ve participated in their April and July Camps before, but that’s about it.
It has been an incredible tool the last couple months as I try to improve my day-to-day writing routine.
I’ve always tracked my word count as I write. That’s how I set monthly goals. But that was all on a spreadsheet.
NaNo lets you set goals for whatever time period you want — I do monthly — and then tracks how much you need to write per day to achieve that goal.
This has been especially helpful during the grind of writing. Every writer knows what I mean. You hit a point in your story or your schedule that just drags. You feel like you can’t get over the hump, but you know you have to.
NaNo’s words per day tracker is a lifeline during the writing grind. If I’m trying to eek out a sliver of progress for the night, I use the daily tracker to have that small goal. 500 words needed for the day… 400… 200. Then you’re done and still on track.
That’s a small tool that can keep you moving forward when you hit a natrative or mental snag.
That’s really all I wanted to say today. If you need something to help you track your writing progress, look no further than National Novel Writing Month.
Today I wanted to bring up an interesting conundrum I’ve been facing as I write the third draft of Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1. In a story that is effectively about how one family — and one woman in particular — deals with her entire life being upended, I’m now trying to add more characters.
Uprooted is also a novella. I only intend for it to be 35k-40k words if I can help it, so adding more characters seems counter-intuitive on the surface.
Alpha Reader Feedback
Back in December I asked a couple people to read the second draft of this story and provide some feedback. One of my readers gave me great feedback that I’ve really tried to take to heart in this rewrite.
She said that in settings like mine — a small village in a firmly patriarchal society and culture — the characters would likely have much stronger kinship ties than I had demonstrated in my draft. I focused intensely on the nuclear family of my characters, but that left this reader asking about their immediate relatives, cousins, siblings. aunts and uncles, and the like.
The crux of the story is that tragedy strikes this village, causing my characters to flee. With this now expanded family dynamic, my characters are not as isolated as they had been, but the dynamics of their struggle change. They now have to feed 10 or 15 mouths rather than three or four.
But that’s also 10 or 15 more names to keep track of as the story progresses.
Too Many Characters?
I agreed 100% with this feedback, and I built out a family tree for my protagonist’s family and their clan. This meant that I had to explain what happened to a lot of those family members alongside the more immediate narrative of my characters. What I’ve noticed is that in my third draft, I have to decide when to talk about these extended family members, and when to leave them out.
It should be obvious that the larger clan is still traveling together, and I don’t want to have to list the actions of every single member each day. But I also don’t want to ignore these characters’ existence. After all, they make up the immediate support system for my primary character. She needs them, and thus the reader needs to know something about them.
So I’ve had to figure out how to balance these additional tertiary characters within the more personal plotlines of the three or four characters who really drive the story. If I were writing a full-length novel, I could consider POV sections for a few of these tertiary characters, but Uprooted is not that type of story.
My general rule of thumb has been twofold:
Take a quick tally of the family as they’re moving or something is changing so we (both the reader and I) know where they are.
Try to include these family members in particular scenes, even if they’re just in the background or only offer one line of dialogue.
I think/hope that this makes it clear that these characters are important to the larger family dynamics, but doesn’t overwhelm the reader with too many names to remember.
How do you feel about tertiary characters in a novella? How many is too many?
June was a solid month. We’re already a week into July, so I don’t have many other reflections. Let’s get to it.
Last Month’s Goals
Write 9,000 words.
Spend more time outside.
Read 3 books.
So how did I do?!
Write 9,000 words?!
Can you tell I’m excited about this one? I did it! All it took was a ridiculous surge of 2,100 words on the last night of the month, but I did it.
I started off the month really strong, for once, but started to fall off about halfway through. The final weekend we were at a family wedding, so I have an excuse there. Otherwise, I left too many gaps between writing sessions. Even one or two additional sessions of a couple hundred words would have made that final night far less grueling. But once I got close, I couldn’t not finish.
That gave me 15 days of writing, with 18 total writing sessions. Those three broken sessions where I started writing and then came back later to continue in the same day were strangely helpful. I was also pretty good about writing immediately after work to not lose motivation, even if some of those only took small bites out of my word count goal.
The Herb Witch Tales Progress
It’s been a while since I’ve really talked about my work-in-progress, so I just want to touch on it for a moment. I’m on my second rewrite and third draft of Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1. I knew I had to rethink some of the big plot points, and there have been some substantial changes. This story may end up ending differently, or maybe even longer than I had intended.
I currently have 22,000 words of what I had aimed to be a 35,000-word novella. But at two-thirds the way there, I don’t think my characters can make it to the original endpoint. So I’m debating whether Uprooted needs to be longer, or if it maybe needs to end in a slightly different place.
I know where I want the characters to end up eventually, but maybe they don’t get there until part 2. I’d be okay with that. Right now, I’m trying not to box myself into a specific ending or a specific word count. I want to finish the story, however I get there. That just means I’ll have even larger changes to make to part 2, which is still in its first draft.
I’m really enjoying the process, though.
Spend more time outside?
We haven’t gone for any hikes yet, but I feel like we’ve spent a fair amount of time outside. We’ve hit the record-breaking heatwave part of summer now, and the toddler is not as interested in going outside. He’s definitely an autumn/winter kid.
On Father’s Day I took him to a field near our house where he literally ran back and forth for 30 minutes.
But with storm season in full swing, it looks like we’ll get a few days where the heat breaks and it will be bearable for a hike in the woods.
Read 3 books?
GoodReads says I finished three books in June, but it was really more like four. I finished reading The Return of the King towards the end of the month, then spent another few days reading some of the appendices, which carried my finish date into July. Considering I finished three other books in June, though, I don’t care too much about the timing. One of those was the very long In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales, an omnibus of Lord Dunsany’s work edited by S.T. Joshi. That took me several months to get through, although I took a pretty long break from it.
I enjoyed it overall, but wasn’t a fan of the narrator. I think I need to buy this volume in print and spend more time with it, maybe reading one or stories at a time and letting them stew a bit.
Goals for July
Write 10,000 words. This is my goal for Camp NaNoWriMo, and last month gave me confidence that I can actually achieve it. With all of the changes to Uprooted, I know there will be even more to my unofficially untitled part 2, and I want to be able to bring both to conventions next year. I really need to accelerate my writing progress the next few months.
Read 3 books. I like this as a standard goal.
Enjoy parental leave. We’re due to have our second child at the end of the month, so… that’s exciting! I’ll be taking three weeks of leave to be home with mom and baby, and I’m really looking forward to it.
We’re almost halfway through 2021, which is weird. I went into a long-weekend stay at the family lake house ready for summer, and we got near-winter temperatures and rain, so it definitely doesn’t feel like we’ve hit summer to me.
I also don’t like the notion that I only have half a year to get two stories ready for publication… I need a vacation.
Last Month’s Goals
Write 7,500 words.
Work out at least every other day again.
Read 3 books.
Write 7,500 words?
No, but I wrote over 6,000 words, which is my best total since January. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, I’ve been trying to write after work more to avoid needing to motivate later at night when I’m definitely more tired and usually lazier.
That strategy largely paid off in May. I wrote 12 days, even with a 4-day mini vacation for Memorial Day weekend and averaged over 500 words per session.
My main weak spots were at the beginning of the month (again), and the final weekend, when we took said mini vacation and I was away from my home computer. 10 of my 12 writing days came between May 12 and 25, meaning I just need to be more consistent at the beginning of the month.
I’m already off to a decent start for June. I wrote after work yesterday and feel like I have some solid momentum on my rewrite of Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1.
I definitely did not meet my goal of 7,500 words written, but I feel really good about this trajectory, and I’m motivated to keep it going in June, a short month where I have one weekend of little to no writing ahead of me.
Work out every other day?
I don’t think so, but I feel like I came close. Near the end of the month, I completed the final in a series of yoga videos from Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube. I feel like her videos have helped my technique a ton — breathing and otherwise. However, I was missing a workout element from my yoga. So I went back to Sarah Beth Yoga, who focuses more on the workout aspect, and man, it was great. I’ll probably alternate between the two channels and yoga styles for the time being, as the mood catches me.
I definitely got back into my resistance exercises towards the end of the month, but a nagging soreness in my left hand isn’t helping. I’ve also become the guy who uses a trip to the playground with his kid to do pull-ups on the monkey bars. So there’s that.
Read 3 books?
I only finished one book in May. I’m just about finished with The Two Towers and have two other Audible shorts in progress. My LoTR re-read slowed a bit because the book is split between two halves: the first half focused on Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and the rest of the Company, and the second half on Frodo and Sam over about the same time period.
I’ve enjoyed the Frodo/Sam sections–and they in fact grew on me the more I read, particularly the fascinating chapters with Faramir–but the structure just caught me off guard. I had been really into the Rohan storyline, basically unable to put the book down, and I didn’t realize it was ending when the second part opened.
I said I didn’t want to rush through Tolkien and I’m glad I haven’t. Anyway, I’m almost done with book 2 and will move on to Th Return of the King this week.
Goals for June
Write 9,000 words. I know, this word count is getting out of hand, but I feel like I can do it if I just take my own advice and write more consistently across the month. Once again, I’m adding the word count I missed in May to that month’s goal, so 7,500 plus the 1,500 I didn’t write.
Spend more time outside. I’ve been meaning to take the little guy hiking for a while, and I plan to do it this month. I have a couple trails picked out already for Sunday morning hikes. I just need to motivate and get him in the car.
Read 3 books. This might as well be a running goal at this point. It feels attainable more often than not and helps me stay on top of my reading, at least to some extent.
April went by pretty quickly, but there has been movement in various streams of my life. I’ve gotten both doses of my COVID-19 vaccine, and we’ve started making real preparations for the new baby. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that yet. Baby #2 is due in late July, and we now have two cribs in one room. Sure hope the toddler doesn’t mind sharing!
I’m also quickly getting into my summer groove of not wearing socks and actively trying to get out of my house more. This will be an exciting summer.
Anyway, onto the goals.
Last Month’s Goals
Write 6,000 words.
Finish 3 books.
Relax more, preferably outside.
Write 6,000 words?
I wrote 4,500 words in April, which is better than in March, but still not good enough. Towards the end of the month I started taking 20-30 minutes after I logged out of work to write a few hundred words, the idea being that I could probably be more productive by writing while my brain is still in work mode. It largely worked. This strategy helped me write about 2,000 words in the last week of April, but I started doing it too late in the month to catch up.
The first chapter of The Herb Witch Tales #1 is already several hundred words longer than in my previous draft. I’m also brainstorming a pretty big change to the middle of the story, diverting the characters from a particular locale and plot thread that was problematic to begin with. It could help me streamline the narrative a bit, but it also means writing more from scratch than I had originally planned on for part 1.
In any case, I want to accelerate my writing. The goal is to have these two stories complete by the time I go to my next convention. That may still be 12 months away (at least), but that’s not a whole lot of time in the publishing realm.
Finish 3 books?
Yes! I finished The Fellowship of the Ring, read a comic volume, and listened to Super Black on Audible, which I recommend to anyone interested in comics, history, or American culture.
I’m a quarter of the way through The Two Towers and nearly finished with another Audible short fiction. I’m already eyeing my next audiobook, but May is looking like a strong month for reading.
I think so. We had a couple weekends hanging with family, which is always nice. The toddler has a push bicycle — one without training wheels or pedals that he just pushes with his feet — but he discovered wheelbarrow rides at his grandparents’ house last weekend. Guess which one he preferred?
The last couple weeks have been more relaxing, mostly because I completed a big work project that was taking up a ton of my headspace. But like I said at the top, I’m quickly settling into summer, which means a lot of lounging, walking, or wandering outside.
Goals for May
Write 7,500 words. 6,000 plus the 1,500 I missed in April. I really want to make some better progress on these stories.
Work out at least every other day again. I’ve fallen off this a bit, so I want to do more yoga and resistance training together. I feel like I need more aerobic exercise, too. I could always go running, but I find that very boring. I’m open to ideas.
Read 3 books. I’m well on my way already, but I’m also not trying to rush through Tolkien.
Scatter-brained is how I would describe my March. Not necessarily from me. It just felt like a chaotic month for a variety of reasons, so I feel like I need to re-center.
Last Month’s Goals
Write 6,000 words.
Work out at least every other day.
Finish 4 books.
Write 6,000 words?
Nope. A bit over 4,000 was the final count for March. I ended up putting quite a bit of time into a family tree for my story, both to enrich the character building and to make sure I could keep track of all the kinship ties for this one family. Did I use this as a form of procrastination from actually writing? Yes I did. Will it help me write a better story later? I think so.
I also focused almost entirely on revising/rewriting part 1. Part 2 has not been left in the dust entirely, but implementing my newer ideas in part 1 is keeping me motivated. Honestly, living in the two stories simultaneously — even knowing part 2 will have to change — has not been as distracting as I expected. Even though I know changes to part 1 will mean heavier revisions to part 2 later on, it’s still good for me to work through the plot issues of part 2 as it currently stands. I will likely have to face these plot issues anyway in some form, so it never hurts to noddle a problem for a bit.
Work out every other day?
I think so…? I’m going to say yes! I don’t track my workout progress in this way, but I know I did my resistance exercises nearly every day. I fell off on my yoga routine a bit, but I’m satisfied to have done something at least every other day.
I am more than halfway through reading The Fellowship of the Ring, but that’s my only current read. I really didn’t listen to Audible much at all in March. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts recently, and there are only so many listening hours in the day.
I have plenty of things to listen, but most of them are super-long 15+ hour books, and I’m more in the mood for shorter listens at the moment. Anyway, this is the main reason I didn’t finish four books. I’m really enjoying my re-read of The Fellowship, though, so I’m not currently interested in reading anything else. The power of Tolkien, I suppose.
Goals for April
Write 6,000 words. This is definitely achievable, I just need to put the time in. I think I really need to get back to writing in small chunks when I can, plus a few longer writing sessions. Small writing sessions of a couple hundred words each day can build up quickly.
Finish 3 books. I plan to jump straight into The Two Towers upon finishing The Fellowship. I’d also like to find something to listen to on Audible, but it will likely be a shorter something.
Relax more, preferably outside. I’ve had a lot going on recently, mentally, and it’s been hard not allowing it to bleed into interpersonal relationships. I really just want to prioritize my own relaxation more, even if that’s just wandering around the yard with the toddler. One of his favorite things currently is to walk circles around our garage/sitting room. He just… walks… around the outside of this building. I don’t know what he gets out of it, but I find it quite cathartic. I need more moments like that week-to-week or even day-to-day. I’ve also started using our time outside together to do little things around the yard, like weeding the patio, which helps with the stress.