June Write Day: Halfway Already?!

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

  1. Write 7,500 words.
  2. Work out at least every other day again.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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

May Write Day: Is it Summer Yet?

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

  1. Write 6,000 words.
  2. Finish 3 books.
  3. 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.

Relax more?

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Read 3 books. I’m well on my way already, but I’m also not trying to rush through Tolkien.

Steve D

April Write Day: Many Paths, One Set of Feet

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

  1. Write 6,000 words.
  2. Work out at least every other day.
  3. 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.

Finish 4 books?

Just 3. I finished one Audible listen, one graphic novel, and one full-length novel, all of which I reviewed in the last few weeks.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Steve D

Story Lessons from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, part 1

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

After some lackluster reading the last month or so, I am embarking on an epic quest: to reread The Lord of the Rings! I will not be reviewing these stories in a critical sense, because how could I? Instead, I will share some storytelling insights I pick up as I go along.

This will be primarily focused on the books, but I will also reference the films by Peter Jackson to compare the stories as they are told between these two media.

Spoilers ahoy.

Continue reading “Story Lessons from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, part 1”

March Write Day: Monotones

Monotonous. That is how I would sum up my February. Whether it was stress at work, an uneventful social calendar, or lackluster exercise progress, February was not great for me mentally, physically, or otherwise. I’m not sure why this monotony hit me now as opposed to any other time in pandemic times, but it did.

I’m glad we’ve entered a new month, because I need something to break me out of this funk.


Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 6,855 words for The Herb Witch Tales #2.
  2. Do more yoga and resistance training.
  3. Finish 4 books.

Write 6,855 words?

Nope. I buried the lead by saying I didn’t make much exercise progress, but I also didn’t make much writing progress! I wrote about 3,300 words in February, which isn’t terrible, but I’m definitely not proud of it. I just lost motivation about halfway through the month for reasons other than my story.

In the last week of the month, I decided to begin the third draft of Uprooted, giving myself a break from drafting its sequel by hand in a journal. I wrote over 500 words in one short sitting, I wish I had turned to this story earlier in the month. I probably could have gotten a lot more done.

My as yet untitled part 2 is still coming along, just not as quickly as I would like. I’m at a pivotal point in the story where tension between two characters is supposed to be escalating, and I’m having trouble hitting the right emotional notes. Now that I’m more than two-thirds of the way towards my total word count goal of 38k, I also have my sights set on the ending. So, this is just an important point int he drafting process that I simply did not have the determinaiton to attack in February.

I’m hoping that revisiting part 1 and shoring up some of the larger issues with these stories in that draft will help me prepare for the ending of part 2.

Do more yoga and resistance training?

I started off strong but fell off my routine a bit towards the end of the month. When I’m in a funk, everything tends to spiral, so I’m not surprised this happened. Luckily, I’ve already started off on a good foot in March, so I’m not too worried. I like exercising regularly way more than I like not doing that. I just need to make it a point to do so during the day.

You’ll see this in my goals for this month, but I really want to focus on exercising more consistently, and continuing to add variety to my routine.

Finish 4 books?

No, but I’m not taking full blame for this one. I finished two books in February and am most of the way through three others. I got stuck on Crossroads of Twilight, which became even more of a slog of a book than I thought last month. I just didn’t feel like reading it, which may be the first time that’s happened with a Wheel of Time novel. Luckily, I’ve reached a point in the book that’s a bit more interesting. At this point, I just want to finish the damn thing so I can complain about it in my review.

On a positive note, I’ve dipped back into comics for my reading for the first time in probably… two decades. I’ve really enjoyed the MCU films, and particularly Thor, so I wanted to read some of the more recent Thor comics. With Thor: Love and Thunder coming out in the relative future, and rumors flying around about Jane Foster as Thor, I settled on Jason Aaron’s run with the Thor comics from about 2012 forward. He wrote the series, Thor: God of Thunder, that eventually leads to Jane Foster taking up the hammer and continued the arc from there.

So I’m buying the collected volumes of those issues wherever I find them. Currently on volume two, Godbomb, and really enjoying it. As a friend and avid comics reader told me recently, Marvel’s “Marvel Now” run of comics in the late 00’s and early 2010’s was designed to bring in non-comics readers by resetting a lot of their characters’ stories and not bogging them down with decades of canon. Which is just… I’m the precise audience for this.

That’s honestly one of the highlights of February for me.

Goals for March

  1. Write 6,000 words. I don’t care which of my Herb Witch Tales drafts I end up putting more time into this month. I just want to hit my word count goal. More than likely I will work on each as the mood takes me, which is probably for the better anyway.
  2. Work out at least every other day. This is a slightly different goal, but is more to the point of my exercise routine. If I take more than one day off in a row, I start to feel it physically and mentally. So, regardless of how many days I work out this month, I just don’t want to let my days off take away from my routine.
  3. Finish 4 books. Okay, I really am in the best position possible to do this in March. I have 200 pages left in Crossroads, barely a chapter left in an audiobook, and a freaking comic to finish. I should be able to finish each of those this week without trying, and easily polish off another book by April.

Steve D

Seeing the Story Trees for the World-Building Forest

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

I already don’t like that strained analogy of a title, but we’re going with it unless I can think of something better. The writing part of my brain pretty reliably ebbs and flows between two points. Sometimes, all I can think about is the story in front of me and how I can bring it to fruition. Other times, all I can think of is all the stories except the one immediately in front of me.

I’ve been pretty heads-down on part 2 of The Herb Witch Tales the last few weeks, but recently, my mindset and thought process has started to shift. This is a natural phase for me, but it’s helped me come to a bigger realization about my writing. I need to focus more on the stories themselves. Continue reading “Seeing the Story Trees for the World-Building Forest”

February Write Day: Movement

January went somewhat fast in retrospect, but in the moment it felt like the longest month since… October. A lot happened, and about the only things keeping me from losing my mind to utter despair about the world are spending time with my son and having my existentialist grounding reinforced by some appropriate reading.

Did that get too dark? That was probably too dark. Onto the goals! Continue reading “February Write Day: Movement”

The Third Draft is Coming

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

I’ve decided recently that my first part of The Herb Witch Tales will definitely need a third draft. Not just revisions, mind you. I’ll likely rewrite the story in a new document from the start.

As I’ve progressed on part 2 of this duology, I’ve continued to think about some of the incredible suggestions my beta readers made. They will help me enrich the world and get the most out of my characters.

But it’s not to get distracted by one story while trying to draft another. I’m about halfway through the first draft of my as yet untitled part 2 of The Herb Witch Tales, but I write it knowing that certain things will be changing. Nothing major, but the relationships between certain characters will. I think some of the finer details about the setting will.

So why have I not given up on this first draft? Because I’m currently trying to solve the problem of what this specific story is really about. If I stop now, in the middle of that crucial process, I may not be able to recapture that same train of thought. As soon as I’m finished with my current draft, I’m going to return to part 1 and rewrite it. That means a full rewrite of part 2 as well, but I’m good with that.

Writing two stories of a series simultaneously, as I’m learning, means having the opportunity to make both stories as good as possible. I’ll probably be going back and forth between these until they’re both finished, no matter how many rounds of rewrites or revisions I have to do. I still intend for part 2 to stand on its own as a story, so striking that balance may be difficult.

I’m also learning that letting a draft simmer for a bit, especially with feedback waiting to be resolved, really helps the writing process. I feel fully confident now that I can return to part 1 and make it better, because I’ve given myself ample time to just ponder on it.

Really, I just came here to say that I’m buckling in for an extended drafting and revision process for these stories. I still want to publish this year, and I know I can do so, but I really won’t be able to publish part 1 until part 2 is also ready to go.

Short post today, mainly because I started two other completely different posts before deciding to write this one. At least I already have ideas for next week!

Steve D