Book Review: KNIFE OF DREAMS sets up an epic final act for THE WHEEL OF TIME

I recently finished reading Knife of Dreams, The Wheel of Time #11. You may remember that in my previous entries about some of the books in this series, I have lamented the plodding pace of the narrative, especially for particular point-of-view characters.

After a few books’ worth of dragging plotlines, Knife of Dreams finally brings some real momentum to this series, and ties off a few narrative threads in the process.

For the most part, the reader spends several chapters with a particular character at a time, watching their narrative unfold in more depth. Unlike in previous books, however, there is actually forward progress with the main characters, and Jordan even returns to each character towards the end of the book to see where they’ve landed.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was glad to find it spent the most time with only three of the primary characters: Mat, Perrin, and Elayne. There are check-in sections with Rand, Egwene, and others, mostly serving as compelling placeholders for things to come in the next book(s).

The three or four smaller plot lines that are all tied off in this momentous installment is clearly guiding the reader and each of the characters towards one thing: the Last Battle. With only three books left in the series — I say that as if each book wasn’t more than 600 pages — Knife of Dreams is definitely setting up the end game for the series.

I’m not ready to forgive the narrative slog that was books 7 through 10 (especially 10). I can see that groundwork that Jordan was laying for the mini-climaxes in previous books. I’m just not convinced that it needed to take as long as it did to get to this point.

Anyway, I feel like I’m over the hump of the middle part of this series, and I’m ready to jump into the final three books, which were completed by Brandon Sanderson after Robert Jordan’s death. The Gathering Storm (book 12) will be my first introduction to Sanderson’s writing, so I’m excited to see how he adapts Jordan’s story and narrative style. Then I can start reading Sanderson’s own work!

Steve D

Ending a Story is an Act of Courage

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.

Steve D

Wheel of Time TV Series Pre-Hype Thoughts

I have not been paying attention to the developments and under-current of hype surrounding Amazon Prime’s The Wheel of Time series. I sort of forgot that it was coming out this year until I saw the below trailer. I haven’t looked at casting choices (although I recognize a few faces), I haven’t read any theory-blogs about how they’re going to tell this massive, sweeping story on-screen, and I have no idea if it will be any good.

And I’m slowly getting more and more excited for this series to debut.

I think that’s largely because I know so little about The Wheel of Time show. I’ve read exactly one piece about this show over on MLS Weech’s blog, which got me excited and inspired me to write this post. I have no pre-conceived notions of what this show should be. I just want it to be good.

I also don’t want them to speed-run to the series finale in 20 hours. This is the type of series that deserves several seasons of earnest plot- and character-building before they streamline the ending. However, unless Amazon is planning to do this for 25 seasons, this series just feels too massive to be done faithfully on TV. (If any streamer could commit to a 25-year plan for a series, it’s probably Amazon.) I’m honestly excited to see how they fit that much plot into a television format. I’m currently on book 11 out of 14 in the book series, so as long as I can finish the series before the show ends, I’d be satisfied.

To me, the story is pretty straightforward through book three, The Dragon Reborn, but once the two primary groups of main characters splinter into their own individual narratives, the storylines become more complicated, so many more characters are introduced, and the sub-plots-within-sub-plots become more convoluted.

Somehow, Brandon Sanderson was able to corral all of that narrative bloat into a three-book finale really well, so I’m hoping the showrunners for the TV show take a few pages from his book on telling a sprawling story in a concise form, without losing the flavor.

The one other thing I’d like to see with this show is a serialized release. Rather than dropping X episodes on their platform at once, I’d like to see Amazon release the show one episode at a time, similar to what Disney+ has done with its Star Wars and Marvel shows. The Wheel of Time deserves to be “event TV”, and releasing it per episode will help make each new installment feel like an event.

Two of my cousins-in-law are also eager to watch the show, so I’m hoping we can all experience it together — at least virtually.

Okay, now I’m getting a little hyped. Let’s check back after the first couple episodes, shall we?

Steve D

September Write Day: Stretch Goals

August was pretty chill, despite the blazing heat for most of the month. I was on paternity leave for three weeks, having only returned to work on Monday, meaning I was off for almost the entire month. It was great to really disconnect from work and just spend time at home.

The infant is doing well. He’s grown more than two pounds in his first few weeks, and the toddler is adjusting to his new baby brother well… so far.

I’m happy with the progress I made on both writing and reading, and we (meaning I, since my wife has been recovering from childbirth) managed to get a lot done around the house.

Let’s get to it!

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Actually enjoy paternity leave.
  2. Write 8,000 words.
  3. Read 3 books.

So how did I do?

Enjoy paternity leave?

I did! There was little sleep to be had, but it was great being home with the family all day. The toddler is really sweet with his baby brother, saying hi and goodbye to him and even kissing him on the forehead at bedtime.

We do not expect that to last. As soon as the baby is crawling around and grabbing at all the toddler’s toys, it will be a different story. For now, though, it’s lovely.

It has been a long time since I’ve been able to completely disconnect from work for such a long stretch. I have the type of job where even a week-long vacation can be interrupted by an “urgent” meeting that I call into from the basement of a beach rental wearing only a bathing suit.

So being required by law to not respond to any work messages, turning off email and chat notifications on my phone, and not being called with “emergency” questions worked wonders for my mental health. My supervisor also did a great job protecting me from any such nonsense while I was out.

Write 8,000 words?

Yes! I beat my goal! I wrote 8,409 words in August, and I had actually been somewhat hoping for even more.

I got off to a good start and was never out of reach of my goal. There were still a few too many gaps between writing days for my liking, but I’m just picky like that. I wrote 18 of 31 days, and I had a good spread of volume, ranging from 44 words to 900+ with a good mix in between. That means that even when I struggled to write much, I was able to rebound pretty quickly.

The one downside to being able to focus on writing so much without work is that I now wish more than ever that I could write full-time. I’m not financially prepared for such an endeavor, but it will definitely linger in the back of my mind. Even if I can retire a few years “early” to focus on writing, that would be awesome.

Mini Update on Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1

My draft for this story now sits at just over 40,000 words, and I anticipate another 3-4k to finish the story. I ended up writing a large portion of this draft from scratch, scrapping entire chapters from my previous draft because of changes I decided to make to the plot.

I definitely want to finish this draft quickly, but then I want to reread and revise it a couple times to ensure I have the main plot points and details worked out. That will be the goal for September before I begin the second draft of New Earth, The Herb Witch Tales #2.

That’s the title I’m probably going with, by the way.

Read 3 books?

Not quite. I read two books in August, both of which I published reviews for: one a historical fiction set in Roman Dacia, and the other being Jurassic Park.

I’m about 80% done with another story on Audible and will definitely finish it in the next few days. I didn’t read much in print copies, but with a week-long beach vacation coming up, I plan to remedy that.

Goals for September

  1. Finish current draft of Uprooted and write 5,000 words. I don’t know exactly how much I’ll need to write to complete THW1, but 5k should get me there. If I finish the draft having only written 3.5k words, I’ll be satisfied. I’m also not planning on writing much more than that because we have a busy month, including the aforementioned beach vacation, where I will be staring at the ocean instead of a computer screen.
  2. Read through Uprooted. This will be a self-editing phase for this story. I already have some notes I want to make, but this will help me see the entire story together as one piece, rather than the little sections I’ve been writing for months. I will likely print out my manuscript so I can read and mark with red pen while on vacation.
  3. Read 4 books. With one book nearly completed, this shouldn’t be too hard. The bigger difficulty may be in deciding which books to read. I might be ready to jump back into The Wheel of Time.

Steve D

NaNoWriMo as a Year-Round Tool

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.

Steve D

Self-Critique on My Writing Progress

Now that we’re nearly five months through the year, and with my writing progress not going as quickly as I had hoped to this point, I’d like to take a look at the particulars of my writing habits this year. This is on my mind, because I’d like to start doing conventions again in 2022, and I would like to have some new material to showcase.

My ongoing work-in-progress has been a two-part novella that I will publish as separate stories in ebook and then print as one volume for conventions: Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1 and [untitled], The Herb Witch Tales #2. I haven’t technically finished the first draft of part 2, and I am really only just starting a third revision of part 1, followed by a pretty significant overhaul of part 2.

In short: I’m not nearly as far along in this process as I had hoped to be, considering I would like to have these stories published and ready for readers in the next 12 months, if not less.

So, I’m going to examine my own writing progress so far this year and try to identify where I can improve — aside from just Writing More.

First let’s look at the overall progress I’ve made month to month compared to my goals for those months:

  • January Goal: 7,000
  • January Actual: 6,270

Okay, that’s not bad. I came up short, but still made really solid progress.

  • February Goal: 6,855
  • February Actual: 3,346
  • March Goal: 6,000
  • March Actual: 4,074
  • April Goal: 6,000
  • April Actual: 4,437

The last three months were markedly worse, although after a significant drop-off in writing productivity in February, I’ve started to climb back up.

Still, that’s a deficit of 7,728 words written in the first four months of this year. Let’s break this down further.

January Deep Dive

That image is from my NaNoWriMo writing goals tracker, which I’ve been using all year to track my daily writing progress and my monthly goals. The light blue line is a daily average to achieve my writing goal for the month; the dark blue line is my actual writing progress. Looking at my January progress above, a few things become immediately apparent:

  • I started writing late in the month, not logging any progress until Jan. 9.
  • I logged progress 11 out of 31 days.
  • I used some heavy writing efforts at the end of the month to try to squeeze by my goal, ultimately coming up short.

There are some obvious conclusions to draw there, but let’s look at the other months first.

February-March Deep Dives

There’s February. My progress was a little steadier, but I still only logged progress 10 days out of 28. There are also two noticeable gaps where I went a few days without any progress. My pace looks steadier in that line graph than in January, but I just didn’t write enough.

And it’s much the same story for March and April, respectively. I don’t want to overload this post with screenshots of line graphs, so I’ll just summarize those months:

  • In March I wrote 9 days out of 31, which sounds terribly low.
  • My March progress was always backloaded with my trying in vain to catch up.
  • In April I wrote 12 out of 30 days, a solid improvement.
  • However, 2 of those days totaled less than 200 words, and aside from a few big writing gains at the end of the month, I had too many gaps between writing.

Analysis

So out of 120 possible writing days from January through April, I only logged writing progress on 32 days. That’s time spent writing only 26% of available days. If I extrapolated that across the year, I would only write about 95 days in 2021.

I’m never going to be an everyday writer, and I haven’t tried to be in a long time, but I feel like that effort is pitifully low.

For the 32 days I actually sat down to write, my average word count per session is 566, which is honestly higher than I expected. If I can have that same kind of output over the course of more days, my writing progress could take a noticeable leap.

I’ve also had a habit of getting a late start in in the month, going several days or even a week before logging my first writing progress. This leaves me far behind my goal and scrambling to catch up.

Finally, I too often have gaps of 3+ days between writing sessions. That is obviously part of what contributes to me only writing somewhere around 10 days out of each month. I just need to write more consistently.

Changing It Up

As I said at the top, I need to be a bit more proactive than just trying to Write More. I need a better strategy to fit writing into my day, even if it’s not every single day.

I started to try one new strategy at the end of April, and it really seemed to help. I think it’s also helping me write mote often in May.

I started to bake writing time into the end of my work day. I’m still working from home for at least the next couple months, so I started to logoff my work computer around the usual time, and then login to my personal/writing computer for 15 minutes or even up to an hour to focus on writing.

This allows me to use the mental energy that I typically still have at the end of my work day to focus on my writing. Otherwise, I logoff work, spend time with the family, prepare/clean up after dinner, try to relax a bit, and by that point it’s 9 or 10, and I’m exhausted.

Writing immediately after work allows me to decompress, tends to be more fruitful than writing later in the night when I’m tired, and allows me to relax with my family more without the weight of not-writing hanging over me.

I’ve written 7 out of 18 days in May so far, and my word count per session is around 400. With two busy weekends in a row coming up, I need these post-work writing sessions to carry me for the rest of the month. We’ll see how it goes, but this is already working better for me than my previous non-strategy.

Steve D

Numberbrag 2020 and Best-Laid Plans

It’s (roughly) the beginning of a new year, so it’s time for another edition of one of my favorite series on this site: Numberbrag! If you’re new here, Numberbrag is my generally annual post where I review how my blog performed the previous year, using only WordPress stats. Here’s last year’s edition.

In that post, I alluded to a new blogging routine that really carried me through 2020: one long-form post and one haiku, on the same days and at the same times, every week. I occasionally missed my usual publication time, but I never missed a day. In short, my blogging routine for this year was nothing short of a massive success, for me personally and for my number-bragging.

Let’s get to it.

The Top-Line Numbers

First of all, very strange that 2021 is the eighth year of this site. Secondly, 2020 was pretty solid!

  • Views: 6,135
  • Visitors: 4,692
  • Likes: 923
  • Comments: 52
  • Posts: 134

Now, some folks might find the slight downward trend from 2018 to 2020 a little odd or even disconcerting. However, 2018 was the year I published my first novel. As part of the run-up to that publication, I used pay-per-click ads to drive traffic to this site, boosting the totals for 2018 by over 1,000 Visitors and Views. So that peak is a little inflated.

Secondly, I’m not the least bit concerned that 2020 did not match even 2017’s total Views. In 2017, we had two bloggers posting 3-5 times per week for a total of 262 posts. Want to know how many posts were published the last two years? 214 and 134. One hundred and thirty-four posts in 2020, in a year that started slowly, and my numbers are still on par with, if a little short of, past performance. That’s efficiency.

It also indicates quality of content. Check out this deeper annual comparison. (Note: I realize that the Total Posts in the below screenshot say 131, whereas the image above says 134. I know there is a logical if annoying reason for that happening in WordPress’s system, but I don’t remember what it is.)

2020 posts were waaaaaay down from previous years — every year since we started, in fact. Comments per post are steady, and Total Words are down. But Average likes per post is up (7.0), the second-highest rate we’ve ever had, and Words per post (404) is the highest ever. That means that the content we’re publishing here is more popular, even at higher word counts, where readers may get bored and leave.

This post is officially longer than 404 words, by the way.

The Fun Numbers

I’m going to skip over the usual Top 10 Posts section, because there’s not much different to say from any other year. Our new Home page clocked in at #4 with 184 Views. The other 9 on that list are old-familiars that were published prior to 2020.

What I’d rather look at are the categories I personally posted in this year. Marcy contributed 25 posts of her own, and I’m so happy she did. But this section is about me!

I ended last year’s Numberbrag by guesstimating how many posts I wanted to write in each category, so of course I have to follow-up on that. Here’s the gist of what I predicted/wanted to achieve this time last year:

  • Haiku – 50+ posts
  • Fantasy – 16+
  • Reviews – 15+
  • Creativity Sessions – 12+
  • Marketing Your Novel – 10+

So what did I actually write last year?

  1. Haiku – 55 posts
  2. Fantasy – 15 posts
  3. Reviews – 12 posts
  4. Creativity Sessions – 10 posts
  5. Marketing Your Novel – 8 posts

Wow. Chalk. I’m honestly surprised at how close my predictions were. My Reviews were only down by 3, even though I stopped commuting to work and thus couldn’t listen to Audible as reliably. Creativity Sessions and Marketing Your Novel were each down by 2, but that can be explained by the 3 extra Haiku I posted on non-haiku days when I was too busy or stressed to write a real post.

Also, I definitely would have written at least two more Marketing posts if I had gone to a number of conventions greater than 0.

So, a boring rundown, if precision can be considered boring.

I honestly thought that section was going to be longer, so I’ll round out this post with some more generic stats.

We’ve done “Thank You” type posts in the past when we’ve reached certain milestones, but I didn’t do any of that this past year, because my more sensible blogging schedule meant I consistently had other things to talk about.

As of this writing, we’ve eclipsed 28,000 Visitors and 40,000 Views. We also now have over 700 followers. (Shout-out to all the fitness bloggers who likely found us because I talked about yoga a lot in 2020.)

That’s awesome. Thank you, dear readers, for your continued support. Despite the lack of humility in this post (it’s called Numberbrag!), I really am chuffed that this site has evolved so much over the last 7+ years, and yet continues to have an audience. I don’t particularly care that we don’t see 100 hits per day or thousands of followers. I’m always happy to see familiar avatars liking and commenting on our posts, so I hope you all keep coming back. I’ve firmly settled into a rhythm with this site, and I’m sticking to it.

At least until I need another change-up.

Steve D

We interrupt this writing post…

Normally I would be posting about October writing goals today, but September got a little hairy with unexpected events, so I have something I’ve got to talk about first…

At the beginning of September a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Tiran and I have been friends for over 25 years. We grew up together, went to college together and although our lives and careers took us different places all over the country, somehow we have ended up in the San Diego area together in the last couple years and it has been wonderful to reconnect.

Befitting the word “acute” in the name, the timeline of his illness went like this: I spoke with him one Sunday by phone and everything was fine – he was healthy, going to work the next day, and we had a good conversation – by the following Sunday, he called me to tell me he was in the ICU. He could barely breathe and his prognosis was dire. He was calling to say goodbye in case he was unable to have that conversation later. I was floored by how fast this leveled him and left him near death. It was another shock in a year of shocks. And we have 88 days left in 2020 for more to go wrong happen!

Continue reading “We interrupt this writing post…”

August Writing Goals and Recap

That sound you just heard was July whooshing by and now it is August. I confess I did nothing towards my writing goals (with the exception of posting here regularly) until the last week of July. I co-procrastinated (if that’s not a word, it should be) those alongside a work writing project that had a hard submission deadline at the end of July. But! I got everything in on time (well, more or less).

Recap of July Goals (linked here for accountability purposes):

1. Keep posting here on Mondays and on my other blog, Illustrated Poetry, on Tuesdays.

Did this! At least one post per week on each blog. Didn’t adhere to the precise day of the week so much on my other blog, but eh.

2. Rewrite the first chapter of Enjoinjure.

This I put off until the absolute last minute. I do mean opening the file on July 30 and working on it on July 31. I’m fudging a little because I didn’t really attempt to smooth out and combine the new bits with the old bits until this weekend, which is technically August.

3. Put together an outline for my current untitled story.

I did do this!

I kept the bar low on these writing goals, I know. But overall it worked – I finally addressed that first chapter, which I had been actively avoiding.

Continue reading “August Writing Goals and Recap”

Leaning on the Small Things

Have you ever started writing something without knowing at all where it was going? That’s what this post is.

Today (Tuesday) was my first day back at work after a 5-day vacation to a family lakehouse. Five days doesn’t seem that long, especially over an extended weekend, but it was a strange return anyway.

I’ve found it more and more difficult to let go of work. Difficult is not the right word. I look forward to letting go of work things at the end of the day. But I feel more and more guilty about it. I don’t think anyone is placing that guilt upon me, except myself.

Our lakehouse vacation was supposed to be an escape from work, from our recent spate of home improvement projects, and from the occasional monotony of semi-quarantined life.

It was all of those things, for the most part. I just had one afternoon where I selfishly decided not to spend a lot of time with my son, and it’s been bugging me. I don’t think anyone else felt I was ignoring my family, but that’s how it felt to me.

All this is adding up to the notion that I am often too hard on myself, and I have trouble letting go of little things that have more to do with my perception of myself than with my interactions with other real people.

So I spent much of today (again, Tuesday) trying not to stress over things that are either done and in the past, or completely out of my control.

Fortunately, a few things made me feel better over the course of the day:

  • a solid yoga session, which is really the only reason I can be productive for 8-10 hours a day
  • reading and chatting with my son before his bedtime
  • This song, by an incredible singer/songwriter from somewhere near DC:

I’m going to listen to this for the third or fourth time tonight and then go to bed.

Steve D