December Write Day: Distraction Winter

November felt very full, and it also flew by. The holidays have been more fun this year since our 4-year-old is starting to understand the holiday season a bit. He loves all the lights and decorations on houses in our neighborhood.

I’ve been distracting myself from stress at work with some new shows and books, so that’s been interesting, too.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Finish 9-section outlines.
  2. Finish New Earth, The Herb Witch Tales #2 draft.
  3. Read three books.
  4. Exercise three times per week.

Finish 9-section outlines?

Yes, and I finished them so early in November that I forgot I had done them. I created 9-section outlines for five main characters in The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy, most of whose story arcs intertwine with the others. It’s not perfect, but it gives me a general plot direction for each character.

This exercise helped me understand that I’m conflicted about one of my characters. I think their arc will provide some much needed perspective about a particular conflict, but I’m still not sure how their arc will end. So I’ll need to figure that out.

Finish New Earth draft?

No, but I’ve gotten closer, and that’s good. With really only the final resolutions to cover, I’ve been proactively outlining as I go. I will usually take a few notes at the bottom of my document, but more recently I’ve gotten into the habit of writing several lines about the next few beats I want to make in the story.

That has helped focus my writing energy on the immediate plot, rather than side-quests. I do love a good story side-quest, though.

Read three books?

Yes, and I nearly read four. I’m still working through A Memory of Light, and I’ve started working through the Sherlock Holmes series, stories I’ve never actually read before.

Exercise three times per week?

Recently? Yes. For all of November? No. I’ve gone completely minimalist in my routine, because something is better than nothing until I figure this out. A few calisthenics type exercises for one muscle group – 10 or 15 minutes, tops. If I can find 20 minutes for a real yoga session, fantastic. That’s where I’m at right now.

Goals for December

  1. Finish New Earth. I’m so close. I’m not tracking a monthly word count goal at the moment, but I am going to try a weekly goal. I organize my work tasks on a weekly basis, so why not try that with writing? Monthly has not been working of late. I’ll write about how that goes next month.
  2. Read three books. I’m pretty well on my way.
  3. Exercise three times per week. Minimalist.

Steve D

November Write Day: Small Goals

October has come, and gone and so has Halloween. I used to love Halloween, but I haven’t done much to celebrate it in recent years.

Our 4-year-old is now all in. He dressed as a bat this year, and he chose the 1-year-old’s costume as the Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar, which was just a top-notch suggestion.

I think I’ll have to get more into it next year.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Finish 9-section outlines for four POV characters in The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy.
  2. Read 3 books.
  3. Exercise 3 times per week.

Finish 9-part outlines?

Not quite. I finished two character outlines, made good progress on the third, and need to work on the fourth.

I definitely feel like these outlines will help me write more confidently once I return to my partial first draft for The Warden of Eveefeld: Legacy.

I just need to finish them.

Once that’s done, I might try to expand each character outline into a more detailed story outline. I’m not sure how I’ll go about that quite yet.

I’m not planning to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. The timing just isn’t right for me, and I’d rather focus my attention on other story things.

Read three books?

Yes, and I came close to finishing four. I powered through two consecutive books in The Saxon Stories series. You can see a dual review of those here. Then I read The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami, which I reviewed here. I enjoyed all three.

I’m still working through A Memory of Light, the final tome in The Wheel of Time series. I’m going at a steady pace with this one, and I’m happy with it. I’ve been reading this series for too long to sprint through the ending.

Exercise three times per week?

Not really, at least not to the extent I wanted. I have definitely been a little more active day to day, which is progress. But I’d still like to add in a few solid routine days each week.

Goals for November

  1. Finish 9-section outlines. This shouldn’t take much if I can just sit and focus on it for a bit.
  2. Finish New Earth The Herb Witch Tales #2 draft. I just want to close this story out in its current form. I’m not sure what that word count will look like, and it’s not important. I want to put a pin in this story before returning to Legacy in earnest.
  3. Read three books. Same same. I already have one book nearly complete, and I’m eyeing my next choice.
  4. Exercise three times per week. On top of more general stretching, which should really be a daily routine for me at this point.

Steve D

October Write Day: Still Resetting

September was a strangely long month, but it went pretty well. A lot of my attention has been drawn towards watching House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power and listening to reaction and theory podcasts for each episode. I’m a couple episodes behind on Rings, but I’m really enjoying both of them, for quite different reasons.

I’m also a little miffed that those two shows, plus Andor, plus the start of football season all happened in the same month. So Andor will have to wait, although I’ve heard good things.

But in non-TV news…

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Progress my writing.
  2. Read 3 books.
  3. Exercise 3 times per week.

Let’s see how I fared.

Progress my writing?

Yes, in some small ways, which was really my goal. I transcribed notes from a beat-up journal into a larger, cleaner one. The beat-up journal went through a washing machine because I forgot it in the pocket of a pair of pants. So, many notes were lost to wear and ink-bleed, but I’m satisfied with those I was able to recover through the dried, stiff pages as I peeled them apart.

Lesson learned: don’t use journals that can fit in your pocket. It might sound nice and convenient, but they are too easily thrown in with dirty laundry, apparently.

Part of those notes included the beginnings of an outline for The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy. I’m not good at sticking to outlines with my stories, but there are too many factors at play for me not to be a bit more organized with this story:

  • It has now been five years since I published The Warden of Everfeld: Memento, the predecessor to Legacy, which obviously raises a lot of continuity concerns I want to avoid.
  • I have 60,000+ words written already, but I last looked at them in 2019 — so I kind of have to start over anyway.
  • It’s a fairly complex story, with three broad plotlines that hover around each other but do not necessarily cross.
  • It’s based primarily on established characters, so in addition to getting the plot right, I want to get the voicing and the continued character development right.

So I’m building my outline using a few techniques, starting small and then expanding outward.

  1. First, I write a logline for each major point-of-view character, so I know who that character is and what they want.
  2. Then, I’m breaking that logline down into a three-act story — basically three mini-loglines for the beginning, middle, and end of that character’s arc.
  3. Then, I want to break that down further into 9 parts, 3 parts per “act” to identify how that character’s story progresses.
  4. Once I have a nine-section outline, I want to add general notes for each section to help drive the narrative details that will drive each plot point forward.

I’ve never used this method to outline an entire story before, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

So, while I didn’t do much writing in September, I definitely feel like I’m laying the groundwork for a project that has been screaming for my attention for… 3 years.

Read three books?

Checks Goodreads…

No! I finished one long audiobook that was really a lecture series about linguistics. It was John McWhorter’s series on Language Families of the World, one of the Great Courses offered on Audible. I enjoy linguistics, but this was a long listen. I had been picking away at it for a couple months and decided to just close it out in September.

I then powered through a short military sci-fi story that was pretty good.

Two books isn’t bad, but I’m trying for better in October. I already have one book down and another well on its way!

Exercise three times per week?

Vaguely. I don’t have a set routine so much as I have a nagging feeling that I need to move and do some kind of physical activity on most days. That generally takes the form of some basic stretching and yoga poses and some resistance training, and maybe an extra long walk with the dog.

I want to start interspersing those “lighter” days with power yoga videos again. I’ve gotten away from any set yoga routine and want to start it up again, even if it’s just a few times per week.

So, I’m exercising, just not as much as I’d like to, and with no real goals in mind except not feeling stiff, or lazy, or weak.

Goals for October

  1. Finish 9-section outlines for four POV characters in The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy. Now we return to a more specific and quantifiable writing goal. If I can lay out the foundation of an outline for my four primary characters, then I’ll feel comfortable returning to my draft-in-progress to read through it and start building out my outline.
  2. Read 3 books. Like I said, I’m well on my way. This month’s focus is just reading for pure enjoyment, even if I end up reading three books in the same series in a row, which is a stark possibility. Usually I try to diversify my reading list, but nah. It’s time to just read anything that catches my eye.
  3. Exercise 3 times per week. What I want “exercise” to mean from this point forward is not just a few stretches or a long walk. I’d like to get in the habit of 15- or 20-minute sessions of stretching/yoga mixed with resistance training. I have a basic routine down pretty well that combines some yoga poses with deep squats and push-ups, but I also want to mix it up with guided yoga sessions focused on movement and strength. So I’ll just need to be a bit more deliberate about how much I exercise each day.

September Write Day: Time for a Reset

I can’t recall much of August, except for a couple of things that seemed to take up most of my mental capacity for the month.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 4,800 words.
  2. Take the next writing step.
  3. Read 3 books.
  4. Exercise 3 times per week.

So where are we at?

Write 4,800 words?

No. I think a fair bit of it had to do with stress from work distracting me. I had a big presentation and a work trip within a week of each other towards the end of the month, and I think these were just hanging over me. I could feel it during the work day, and it bled into non-work things.

I’ve felt much better overall now that I’m over those hurdles.

And yet I have been unable to craft a decent ending to New Earth, The Herb Witch Tales #2. I generally know how I want this story to land, but I’ve become stuck on the mechanics. I’m thinking I need to step back from this story for a bit until I can work out the ending.

Take the next writing step?

No, but I think that’s what I need to focus on for this month. As I said above, I’m going to step back from New Earth and focus on something different for a change. Switching projects can often be refreshing.

Alternative projects include:

  • Transcribing notes from a small beat-up journal into a newer nice one
  • Revisiting my partial draft of The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy to outline that novel.

I honestly haven’t yet decided what I’m going to work on, and I’m okay with that. It could be a little bit of everything.

Read three books?

No. I’m 100ish pages into A Memory of Light, the final book in The Wheel of Time, and I find myself not rushing through it. I’m definitely enjoying reading it. I guess I just don’t want to gloss over sections just to get to the end.

Exercise three times per week?

I’m getting there, but not quite there. I like my mini routine and may be looking for something additive this month.

Goals for September

  1. Progress my writing. Honestly, I just want to pick away at one of the projects I mentioned above. No quantitative goals. Just forward movement to keep my brain working.
  2. Read 3 books. We’ll see. I definitely want to read more things. I’m just not holding myself to finishing A Memory of Light, so I’ll need to find something else.
  3. Exercise 3 times per week. Same same. Like my other two goals, this is more about consistency than anything else.

Steve D

The Alternate Timeline Work Schedule

After years of food service and now years of office work, I’ve become increasingly convinced that my most effective work day caps out at six hours.

It’s not that I don’t want to work for eight hours — not any less than most 9-5’ers. It’s more that I find it difficult to be 100% focused across an eight-hour work day.

My mental energy tends to peak around six hours, and then flag. I usually end up taking a late break, powering through morning meetings and a couple of big to-do list items before I feel my attention span slip.

So I try to take a break, meditate or exercise or just get away from my computer for a bit. Then I return to my desk and see what I can get done in the remaining hours of the afternoon to clock my average eight. Obviously, there are days when I get caught up in something and work longer, and there are days where a life priority needs my attention.

Six hours.

I sometimes wonder what my daily routine could be with a six-hour work day instead of eight.

I would want to start at the same time, get the kids to daycare and jump straight in.

Then I could work a full shift with limited breaks — a few minutes here or there to refill my coffee, et cetera — and logoff with a couple hours to spare before I picked up the kids.

Some days, I might lounge in relative relaxation. Most days, though, I would tackle all the second shift priorities that I otherwise compartmentalize for most of the day:

  • Laundry
  • Dishes
  • Cleaning
  • Exercising with a real routine
  • Appointments for the doctor, the eye doctor, the vet, the dentist, the mechanic
  • Dinner prep
  • Grocery shopping
  • Yard work

Needless to say, that is far too many things to do in a single two-hour window, but across a week’s worth of six-hour work days? I could get a lot done.

Then I consider my alternate day job, the one so many are chasing or pretending not to chase.

Writing. What if writing could be my job, six hours per day. Six hours of dedicated writing, or world building, or publishing logistics, without the guilt over spending so much time on a hobby, or the anxiety over not spending enough time doing the things you enjoy.

That would be my schedule in an alternate life. I’m not actively chasing it, and frankly, I’d be content with just a six-hour work day.

Life has endless priorities as it is, and it feels like balancing them takes just as much effort as actually accomplishing anything.

I’m curious — who out there has a non-conventional work schedule? Part-time? Stay-at-home? Professional writer? How does the balance shift for you?

Steve D

August Write Day: Closing In

July was a fun month. We started it off with a two-week road trip seeing various parts of our families from northwest PA, to Michigan, and Wisconsin, which came with some great time spent on both shores of Lake Michigan. It was fantastic to just be with our boys for two whole weeks, and convinced us to do more family road trips in the future.

Coming back to work was not so great, of course. I feel like I’m still getting used to wok again in my third week back, but we have a relatively quiet month ahead. So that’s encouraging.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 3,600 words.
  2. Read three books. Road trip audiobooks! I’m already thinking about which books I want to download to my phone for uninterrupted listening time while we’re on the road.
  3. Exercise at least three times each week. That’s kind of my bare minimum right now, to the point that I’m counting 15-minute runs as a full workout. I’m basically starting from scratch at this point.
  4. Disconnect. I feel like I really need to disconnect and just enjoy time with my family for an extended period, and I’m looking forward to it.

So how did I do?

Write 3,600 words?

YES! I wrote just over 4,000 words, in fact. Almost all of that came from two long writing sessions this past weekend, but it still counts! July was the first month this year that I actually hit my word count goal.

Part of the reason is that I’m closing in on the end of New Earth, The Herb Witch Tales #2. I always get excited to be nearing the end of a story, and I’m more motivated to finish it.

Read 3 books?

Nope! I listened to far fewer audiobooks on our road trip than I had anticipated. I’m nearly finished with Tower of Midnight, and not really reading much else at the moment.

Exercise 3 times per week?

I don’t think so. While on vacation, I was pretty good about being physically active most days. Aside from the loads of walking we did, I kayaked, swam, hiked, ran, and still did some stretching. Outdoor activities are my favorite way to exercise now. I just wish I had more time to do them.

Disconnect?

Yes. Two full weeks — the longest vacation I’ve taken in ten years — allowed me to just focus on being with my family. Traveling with a 3-yaer-old and an 11-month-old is still hectic, but we made sure to enjoy ourselves and appreciate our time with the boys as much as possible. We did manage to relax a little bit, too.

Goals for August

  1. Write 4,800 words. I think this should be enough for me to finish New Earth, so that’s my real goal this month.
  2. Take the next writing step. This will probably be to read through Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1 and incorporate some edits/details that I know I need to flesh out more. But, this will depend on me finishing goal #1 above.
  3. Read 3 books. Same as usual. I already have the hard cover of A Memory of Light on my shelf waiting.
  4. Exercise 3 times per week. I have a basic routine formulating. I just need to stick to it.

Steve D

July Write Day: Distraction Summer

Some distractions are important, but they are distractions nonetheless. June has felt very distracted for me. I feel like I spent a lot of mental energy on work, for a variety of reasons, and the rest of my mental energy on things other than writing. Sometimes, it was on spending time with my kids. For a couple of relaxing weekends, it was on disconnecting, which is distraction of a different sort.

I don’t really know where June went or what I did throughout the month, but I know that it felt very full of such distractions from my writing.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 8,800 words.
  2. Read three books.
  3. Continue the exercise climb.
  4. Reorganize this site.

Write 8,800 words?

Nope. I’m actually writing this post a few days before the end of the month, and I already know I’m not hitting that goal. I might get halfway there.

Distractions!

Read three books?

No, but I read a novel and a graphic novel and Did Not Finish another shorter one. The second half of the month was mostly me deciding what my next read would be while otherwise distracting myself with Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+. I liked it, but it had blatant storytelling flaws, which I’ve come to expect from most Disney+ shows in the Marvel and Star Wars universes.

Continue the exercise climb?

No, and at this point, I’m just frustrated. I’m generally bored with whatever I’ve been trying to do with exercise for the last several months, and really don’t know where to go next.

Some combination of yoga, resistance training, mobility training, and something aerobic seems like a good mix for what I want right now. I’m just not motivated enough to build a routine at the moment.

Part of it is also the time commitment. I find it difficult to stash away an hour-long break during my workday, and by evening I’m just tired. I need a reset.

Reorganize this site?

Not quite. I’ve started using my new category tags for each post, and I think it’s working well enough. I just haven’t gone back to re-tag older posts, because I’m not sure if I want to do that yet. Another project for another day.

Goals for July

  1. Write 3,600 words. We have a road trip coming up, from which I will try to post at least one haiku with a cool photo, so the writing goal is light this month. Road trips are the ultimate distraction of the best variety. Can’t wait.
  2. Read three books. Road trip audiobooks! I’m already thinking about which books I want to download to my phone for uninterrupted listening time while we’re on the road.
  3. Exercise at least three times each week. That’s kind of my bare minimum right now, to the point that I’m counting 15-minute runs as a full workout. I’m basically starting from scratch at this point.
  4. Disconnect. I feel like I really need to disconnect and just enjoy time with my family for an extended period, and I’m looking forward to it.

Steve D

The Herb Witch Tales – A Work in Progress Update

It has been quite some time since I’ve spoken in any detail about my current works-in-progress on the story front. Part of the reason is likely that I’ve been preoccupied with other things in life over the past couple of months. Between travel, work, family time, and the most socialization I’ve had since the pandemic, I’ve been pretty busy.

And yet, here I have these two stories, nearing completion of their second drafts.

The Herb Witch Tales parts 1 and 2

For longer than I’d like to admit, I’ve been working on a two-part novel. Really, it’s two novellas that I will publish separately in ebook and together in one hardcopy volume. The reasoning there has more to do with marketing than anything else — people are more likely to read an ebook if it’s not too much of a commitment. It will also cost less to publish 90,000 words as one volume versus two separate volumes of 45,000 words each.

In any case, that’s what I’ve been aiming for.

Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1 has been sitting in its third draft form for a few months at 48,000 words. I rewrote it mostly from scratch earlier this year, so it definitely needs some fine-tuning.

New Earth, The Herb Witch Tales #2 is in its second draft at 41,000 words. Achieving my word count goal for June would put me just shy of 50,000 words for this one. It also needs a healthy dose of fine-tuning.

So in the near future I’ll have two novellas just under 50k words each, and I’ll have a few large wrinkles to work out:

  • Add some more description to individual characters. I left out a lot of physical descriptions – quite unlike me – to expedite the writing process, but I recognize now that it makes some characters more difficult to distinguish, and now it may be difficult for me to go back and add those details in without sounding out of place in the narrative.
  • Ensure that specific details – like the style of dress for my characters’ culture – are referred to consistently.
  • Pacing. My overhaul of part 1 caused a similar overhaul of part 2, so I need to make sure their plots make sense independently of each other. If someone were to read only part 1, would the story and ending make sense to them without reading part 2?

I have a lot of work cut out for myself for these stories, but I’m pleased at how close I am to finishing the drafting process. From here, it will be revisions of each story individually and of the 1+2 volume in total.

Next, Next Steps

It’s been difficult for me not to think about my next full-length novel. The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy will be the sequel to my first (and so far, only) published novel, The Warden of Everfeld: Memento. I had written about 60,000 words of a first draft a couple years ago before shifting focus to what I had hoped would be a much quicker writing process for The Herb Witch Tales.

Turns out I can’t write and publish a full-length story every year. Oh well. I am definitely excited to return to Legacy and my favorite character I’ve created. But I want to finish what’s in front of me first.

So, my medium-term goal, say, through the end of this year, is to get The Herb Witch Tales #1 and #2 into a publishable state. Not to publish them, mind you. I just want to have polished drafts that I can consider publishing in the longer term, perhaps once I’ve really picked up and made new progress on Legacy.

We’ll see. I’m excited, and also just enjoying the grind, for once.

Steve D

June Write Day: Oops

Holy crap it’s June. Apologies for my recent absence. A week of time off and the holiday weekend threw me off. I forgot to post a haiku on Sunday for the first time in like… three years. And then I forgot to schedule this post for this morning. So now I’m cramming.

June is off to a great start!

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 6,600 words.
  2. Read 3 books.
  3. Continue the exercise climb.

Write 6,600 words?

NOPE. I think I write about 2,000 words to start the month, and then did not write again. I was away from home for the week before Memorial Day without reliable internet access, so I knew I had limited writing time in May.

My adjusted goal for available writing time was supposed to account for this, but I need to tweak it to a lower weird count goal.

I’ll probably try for 400 words per available day, or some such.

Read three books?

Almost. I finished two books in May, and I’ve made good headway on three others. One of this might be a comic volume, but who’s keeping track?

Continue the exercise climb?

Another hiccup in May. My week away consisted of virtually no exercise. That was due to the renovation work I was helping a friend with on his Thousand Islands cabin. Turns out that tearing out drywall and old wood, carrying supplies, and installing new flooring is damn tiring. Thus, I didn’t really need the extra exercise.

I had a great week in cabin in the river with a few friends, though.

Goals for June

  1. Write 8,800 words. This is my adjusted goal, counting 400 words per day for twenty-two available writing days. June is (hopefully) a slow month for us.
  2. Read three books. As I said, I feel like I have enough of a head start to reach this.
  3. Continue the exercise climb. I’m back on track, I think, so I feel pretty good about this.
  4. Reorganize this site. You may have noticed some new headers on this site’s navigation. Or maybe not. Either way, I’m shifting my writing topics to themes rather than formats. I’m debating whether I want to re-tag my archive with these new themes, so there may be more changes to come.

Steve D