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

Not today

I’m not writing a real post today. I was honestly on the fence about whether to go through with my regular June Write Day post as recently as 15 minutes before actually writing this sentence.

My brain is frazzled for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the astonishing wave of police brutality on display across the US, from George Floyd’s murder through the protests over the weekend where police departments in numerous cities were actively instigating protesters to violence just so they could whip out the tear gas and batons… and rubber bullets.

Here’s something more positive:

And a quick overview of policing policies that actually decrease police violence: https://twitter.com/samswey/status/1180655701271732224?s=21

Stay safe, everyone.

Steve D

No words, no art

I had planned to post the next exercise in Le Guin’s Steering the Craft, but it doesn’t feel right today.  The death of George Floyd and outpouring of grief and pain and rage in the last week makes writing exercises seem, well…something that can wait. I will just refer you to my post today on Illustrated Poetry, my main blog.  No other words, no art.

Please please stay safe and healthy.

When the Doubt Creeps in

I had totally planned to write about marketing strategies this week, but I am mentally drained. Next week.

For now, I’m just going to unload a bit. A few things coalesced over the last several days that had me in serious doubt about my writing endeavors. As in, I honestly questioned whether I should be in the self-publishing arena, whether I even wanted my stories published at all. That was a first.

Here’s what happened, in the order that I remember it:

  • Writing my short story was extremely slow for me last week, and felt more tedious than anything.
  • I applied to a convention for this autumn, then realized that if I don’t make the cut, it might be difficult for me to get to any conventions this year, which is one of my big goals.
  • In not looking into conventions sooner, not thinking about Awesome Con over the winter, and making unrelated plans that made it too difficult to commit to Awesome Con at this point, I felt like I was already losing out on a big opportunity this year.
  • KDP emailed me saying they found parts of my book published elsewhere online, which is against their terms of service, and they took my book down from their market

That last one still irks me. They claimed to have found places where content in my novel were published online and asked me to provide explanations as to why.

…I have not published a single word of my novel anywhere in any online forum. They asked me to send them links of where they found my book’s content published, as if they were protecting my copyright by not telling me if anyone else was infringing on my copyright.

I sent them four links, two of which were on this site, one on YouTube, and one on Wattpad, and told them that I used my cover image in marketing materials, which is… kind of… what you do when you publish a book.

I then emphatically asked that they identify any other places they had allegedly found my book published online, because I was terrified that someone had stolen my story.

They replied thanking me for my cooperation, confirmed that my book would be made live on their platform again, and gave me no other information!

What the hell?

Am I supposed to assume that the four places I use my cover image online were what flagged their team to potential copyright infringement of my own book?

Maybe. I haven’t even bothered asking for clarification, because I’m 90% certain I won’t get any.

This episode took place over the course of about 18 hours, but that day-and-a-half had me questioning every decision I had made about writing and publishing stories over the previous six years.

The good news is that I’m mostly over it, I think. The first draft for my short story was bothering me, because I know it’s terrible at this point, and I wasn’t sure how to make not terrible.

But I also know that the first draft is always terrible, and that I just need to get the thing written so I can go back, scribble some notes, and rewrite it. I wrote up a small outline to help me figure out how to get from the middle of the story to the end, so that should make the writing process a little smoother.

Except tonight (Tuesday) because I can barely look straight ahead without my eyes drifting.

The moral of the story is this: You will always find a reason to doubt yourself as a writer. Sometimes, the universe gives you several reasons all at once! Take a moment to breathe, and then find a way around it.

I can still publish this short story this year. I can still attend a convention or two. And I can do some quick Google searches to make sure no one has stolen my book, even if it’s just for momentary peace of mind.

Steve D

10 Stories to Experience with My Kid

My son is eighteen months old now, and he loves listening to stories, turning the pages of books, listening to music, and watching cartoons. I’m not sure how much of any of it he understands, but it’s exciting to watch him experience those things.

A colleague recently told me how he was watching through all of the Star Wars movies with his eight-year-old daughters, hoping to bring them to the theater to see The Rise of Skywalker. He managed to catch it with them just last week, and he said their reactions and excitement in the theater was well worth it.

That got me thinking about the types of stories — movies, books, TV — I’m looking forward to sharing with my son. So here’s my top 10. Continue reading “10 Stories to Experience with My Kid”