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The Year in Writing 2024

It’s New Year’s Eve 2023 (around 8am) which means it’s the ideal time for me to do my traditional recap of my writing efforts over the year.

The routine

I’ve already recapped the first half of the year right here, so I won’t retread that old ground suffice to say that things have mostly slipped into routine again but I do still need to nail down a proper writing schedule / habit / whatever. For the latter half of 2023 I more or less accepted that I was going to be able to write in the mornings on alternating weeks (for reasons that are far too domestic to bore you with here). While I did find a couple of suitable spots in my workplace I never truly settled on a single, ideal location—it didn’t help that sometimes other people had the audacity to already be sitting in the publically available location that I had preselected for my morning’s writing. People, eh?

So, while I got writing done during the year there was a continual distraction revolving around finding the right place to sit and write, or having to find an alternative place depending on the whims of the rest of the human race.

One thing I did find happening was the occasional urge to write in the evenings: something of a problem given I’d gotten rid of my writing desk. I considered a few possibilities, including writing at my main PC in the front room (oddly, I’ve never felt that comfortable writing on the PC; likely because there’s too much scope for distraction—something that doesn’t happen so much with the ipad). In the end the best solution appeared to be a slight rearrangement of the bedroom (really, the only place sufficiently free of interruption for me to write in) and the purchase of a suitably small desk that wouldn’t prove an obstruction. 

After a fair bit of research (and the disappointing lack of availability of what would have been the perfect desk) I settled for a small 60x40cm desk (my purchase decision helped by a healthy discount) and that’s what I’m writing at right now. 

If you noted the time at the top of this post you might have already concluded that I’m using this desk for morning writing as well. I’ve tried it out for the last couple of days and, yes, it looks like doing my morning writing before I leave for work may, again, be the best option. We do have some incoming changes to the household morning routine next year (primarily two kids starting high school) so flexibility is going to remain the order of the day for at least a few months yet.

The writing

As per 2022 I opted not to record my word counts in the traditional spreadsheet. I’m still reasonably happy with this approach, though not fully committed, and plan to continue not doing this for 2024. The disadvantage is that I lose the quick at-a-glance reference for all of my writing over the year, but the plus side is that I won’t punish myself when I see how (potentially) low my word counts were.

Starting with a brief summary:

  • Stories finished: 6
  • Stories started: 4

One of the major issues with Scrivener (my preferred writing tool) is that it doesn’t provide a revision history, so I get no visibility of the various dates and times that I might have worked on a story. That being noted, I’m fairly certain that all of these stories were started this year, so I’m pretty happy with that output.

Finished stories

Four of those finished stories would count as fan-fiction, inspired separately by Alien, The Thing, The Terminator and an episode of Cabinet of Curiosities on Netflix. During the earlier part of the year I found myself needing to write, but lacking the focus to properly develop new stories and characters so dabbling in pre-established universes helped take some of that load off. You can read three of these stories by following the links below:

The Terminator story is part of a planned collection (as outlined in my earlier blog post). There will be five stories—at least that’s the current plan—and I hope to wrap this project up (and release all the stories together) early in 2024. 

Of the two other stories one was an unplanned tale inspired by a Magritte painting. It’s predictable, but entertaining and you can read it by following the link below.

The Lover

The final story was, I believe, inspired by a book I read at the end of last year about the cosmos (The Universe in Your Hand by Christophe Galfard- very good, go and read it if that’s your sort of thing). I’m holding this one back as it’s probably the only story I’ve written this year that is actually submittable for publication anywhere. We’ll see …

Unfinished stories

Of the four unfinished stories, only one of them has been worked on with any degree of earnestness. This is the story I mentioned in my mid-year post about an explorer who discovers a deeply buried secret about the origin of his society. It’s ended up being two stories mashed together and has required a greater degree of world-building than I’m typically used to. And, because I need to make things as hard as possible I’ve opted to tell it using a non-linear narrative with the last half of the story being told backwards. You can probably blame all of the Christopher Nolan films I’ve watched this year for that.

I have written a reasonable chunk of this one and it’s my next writing priority, so keep your fingers crossed that I can pull this one off.

The other three stories were all random ideas that popped up during the year and I’ll share the prompts that got me started on these for your entertainment:

  • what if being ‘wishlisted’ meant something sinister? what if you were being wishlisted? and for what?
  • what if there was a literal price for death? a cost associated with every death that you cause, whether deliberate or accidental? (this one very much inspired by the movie In Time, which is pretty good!)
  • two people hunting each other across a remote planet, neither remembering why (this is the same story I referenced in my previous blog post)

Other projects and novels

I have three other projects that remain very close to my heart, and which I would also like to make progress on in 2024 (somehow this post has shifted from 2023 reflection into a 2024 resolution!)

My collection of short stories linked together by the end of the universe is still very much on the front burner. I mostly need to organise what I’ve done already and work out where the gaps are so I can plan to get those bits written.

The completed novel. Yes, I did complete a novel a year or two ago. While I’m 95% happy with it, I still want to do a final edit before I attempt to send it out. I enjoy editing, but I’m mindful that time spent editing is time not spent writing so I need to be wary of falling into an editing hole for weeks on end.

The sci-fi novel. I wrote about half of a sci-fi novel a few years back. The idea of it keeps on popping back onto my head demanding to be finished. I stalled on this one due to a few small issues with plot logistics, but those are mostly solved now so it’s just a case of refreshing my plans for it and knuckling down. Maybe something for the latter half of next year?

And that’s it! Tune in during 2024 for inevitable updates and wish me luck. In return, I wish you all the best for your writing endeavours or wherever your hobbies or passions take you in 2024.

Writing update: June 2023

In which I discuss my lack of writing updates …

So, without turning this into too much of a journal type post: it’s not been the most productive start to the year, But it’s fine. I remarried at the end of 2022 and the priority since then has been settling our new merged (double yolk) family (me, my wife, and four – count’em! – four kids). Plus we added a puppy to the mix and Puppywatch took up many of the scraps of spare time that were left for a while (albeit in the cutest way). The good news is the puppy needs less and less direct supervision by the day and the merged family is settling well, so I’ve recently been able to get back into something of a writing routine.

I mentioned a puppy, therefore there must be an obligatory puppy photo …

Inevitably with a big life change like this there are ripple effects and my writing routine was one of the things temporarily caught in the wake. For the last several years I’ve written at a small desk in my bedroom for about 40 minutes each day before leaving for work. However, with twice as many people sharing the house now, the environment is just a little too disruptive for me to be able to focus properly. The [obvious] solution ended up being to leave the house early and find somewhere else to write before starting work for the day. Fortunately I work in a university, which has numerous spots that are conducive to activities such as writing and study and, after trying out various locations, I found the one that worked best for me was [less obviously] a table near the canteen area of our library’s main study level. For various reasons, I’m now writing on alternate weeks but the main thing is that I have a routine again, which means I can get back into some of my writing projects.

I have two main projects that I’m hoping to focus on for now (well, three if you count finding an agent to help me get my novel published). I also have several short stories that I’m in the middle of working on—none of which have anything to do with the above-mentioned projects: I’m nothing if not all over the place.

The main project is one I alluded to in my last post: a collection of stories based around a common plot point: that plot point being the end of the universe. I’ve always wanted to write a collection of short stories that fit together into a larger whole—where each story stands on its own, but you also get something of an overarching beginning, middle, and end—and it seems that this particular idea of people on different worlds facing the impending end of existence in their different ways is The One. I have a few of the stories in the bag already, as well as a decent grasp on major ‘plot’. For the rest I have a shortlist of story prompts (13, including stories already completed) to work from. Maybe this one can reach fruition sometime next year.

Naturally I have been distracted from this project by various other ideas along the way. The second potential project is a short set of stories that might be considered “What If …?” tales inspired by the first Terminator movie. I watched Terminator: Dark Fate in the recentish past (a perfectly good Terminator movie that was perhaps a little too bogged down in the franchise’s iconography) and it prompted me to wonder: how do you tell a fresh story when the original is so effectively self-contained. And how do you avoid—unlike almost every spin-off and sequel— having it revolve around yet another terminator going back to a different point in time.

In the end I came up with three or four ideas that proved interesting enough that they wanted to be turned into stories. I’ve started one of them, but I’m currently debating whether I have this collection openly based on Terminator (and its characters); or whether I change the names and make the source of inspiration a little more vague. I’m leaning towards the latter but since these stories will be pretty transparently based on Terminator (and the reading will likely be more satisfying if you know that) I’ll likely just end up publishing them on my blog (as fanfic) rather than trying to do anything else with them.

And this leaves the two other stories that I’m working on, which I can talk even less about. One is a simple tale of an astronaut stranded on an alien planet with something hunting them—this is my ‘easy’ story that I return to when my mental capacity isn’t really up to solving major plot riddles. The other is a more complex tale about someone uncovering a dark secret from their civiliation’s past. This has been quite a challenge to develop but it’s been a lot of fun discovering the twists and turns of the plot. While I haven’t written a word on this one since last year, I did come up with an interesting twist to take me through the next section of the story which I’m really looking forward to writing.

(Author’s note: I had completely forgotten about these two stories until I came back to edit this blog post, which I started back in February – talk about getting distracted!!)

And then there’s also that unfinished science-fiction novel …

Anyway, there we go: a few projects on the boil, a lot of distractions, and limited capacity to get stuck into them, but I take the view that having some limits on my available time for writing means that I will be a bit more disciplined about taking up the opportunities that do fall across my path, and making the best use of them. Check back in a month or so to see how well that’s going …

Writing Update 2022

2022 was a comparatively big writing year for me: I had two stories published, finished a novel, and started another major writing project. It was also the first year (since I started writing regularly) that I didn’t routinely record my writing stats in a spreadsheet. This is because I, apparently, forgot to set up my spreadsheet for 2022 and not the result of some bold change in my psychological writing strategy. I did, however, jot down most of my writing stats in a notebook which means I still have some data to reflect on.

Broadly speaking (and I can’t easily compare 2022’s stats to previous years) my writing output was probably a bit less than it could have been. It was a weird year, and building more structure and discipline around my writing is a definite goal for 2023. That said, in addition to finishing the aforementioned novel, I also wrote seven new short stories (one of which was published), finished one that I started in 2021, and started three additional stories. That’s not bad.

The Stories

I had the pleasure of seeing one of my earlier stories, The Doorman, published in the Fourth Corona Book of Horror—which you can acquire at all good booksellers should you be curious. I also wrote a story specifically for the Camp Slasher Lake anthology and was delighted to have it selected for publication. You can buy a copy of Camp Slasher Lake Volume 2, which features Disassembler: The Revenge Of Billy Burns as its opening story, on the Fedowar Press website. While I also had three other stories rejected (two of which were shortlisted) by other publications, I’m still happy that my stories are slowly getting out there.

I self-published two new stories on my fiction blog, Slightly Odd Tales. The first is a Halloween-themed tale called Mr Farroway’s Cakes, which I challenged myself to write quite late in October. The second is a Christmas story, The Feast of Christmas, which is the 2021 story that I finished up late this year. I also published a handful of older stories to the blog over the course of the year.

Of the remaining stories that I worked on last year, two were random ideas that simply demanded to be written: one was inspired after watching Terminator: Dark Fate (a perfectly decent sequel which, coincidentally, ‘stole’ an idea I had years ago and never got around to writing concerning the domestic life of a Terminator after it completes its mission). The second story was a technology-related idea I’ve had bouncing around for several years and which, it seems, finally gestated this year—an expression which makes the writing process sound really quite strange and Cronenbergian, so don’t expect me to use that again.

I finished two other stories (and started two more) which were loosely based around a common theme. I’ve long wanted to write a themed short story collection, my original idea being to write a novel where each chapter also works as a standalone short story. That idea hasn’t … germinated, yet. However, something did come up which I’ll probably elaborate separately on in a separate blog post later in the year. For now, as they say, watch this space.

The Writing

In terms of the writing itself—as in, sitting down and actually writing words—I noticed two clear trends in my behaviour this year. The first is that when I do have a clear idea of a story, or a clearly defined project to work on (such as editing my novel) I can be satisfyingly productive. While my average writing session (a 30-35 minute session every morning) yielded around 500 words, there were some days where I drew comfortably close to 1,000 words. Ideally I’d like to get back to my previous average of around 700 words per session, but I still work on the basis that writing any words is better than writing no words.

The second thing I noticed (and which mostly explains the first) was a tendency to get distracted. I will frequently have to stop while writing and let my mind wander ahead through the plot so I know what to write next. In those spaces I found that I kept picking up my phone and getting distracted. The other day I deliberately left my phone out of reach (which will be part of the strategy going forward) and instead picked up a book that was sitting on my desk. While the resolution to this will largely come from self-discipline, I have ordered Johann Hari’s book, Stolen Focus, so I can hopefully better understand why this is happening.

A further element of this comes from my tendency not to overplot my stories—I always come to the blank page with an overall idea of the shape of the story (the main plot, the major events, the pace and tempo, sometimes even a beginning and an end) but it can take me a while to find the story. Some of them come out almost fully-formed, others I go back and forth on until I’ve found the right characters and tone of voice (and a few never quite get there). This can be fun, but it also means a lot more opportunities for me to sit there, stare into space, and get distracted. So, for next year I’m going to look at introducing a little more planning to my work. If all I do is get to the point where I can get up each morning and know exactly what I need to write, then that will count as job done.

Obviously I don’t have the whole year mapped out yet, but I know that my first goal will be structuring this short story project. I’m sure I will get distracted along the way with other tales that demand to be written, but let’s see how this goes for starters.

The Future

I will continue tracking my word counts this year, but in a change to the process I’m going to update my spreadsheet each morning when I finish my writing session. Previously I have scribbled my updates into a convenient notepad and have then, at some laborious point later in the year, transcribed them into my spreadsheet. This just makes the job harder than it needs to be and means I’ve sometimes forgotten what I was working on (especially if my notes aren’t up to scratch). It’s also useful for me to make additional notes if there’s a reason why I haven’t written on a particular day, or have written less than expected.

I’m also thinking of doing monthly writing updates (like this one) for no reason other than it’s a useful way for me to reflect on my progress (and process) and look at what might need changing.

I’m on the fence about whether I should submit more stories. For the most part I just write what I want to write, and not with any particular publication goal in mind. In 2022 I wrote two stories specifically for submission opportunities: one got published and one did not (though I’m very happy with the resulting story).

However, if I’m not going to submit stories regularly then I really need to put more effort into the self-publishing side of things (mostly promotion) which is a lot of work … especially for an introvert like me.

So we’ll see …

2019: the year in writing

So the stats are in and, while I’ve had some decent writing successes over the year, 2019 was a notably less productive year than 2018.

Before we get to the [boring] stats, here are the highlights:

  • I wrote (and completed) 4 brand new short stories;
  • I re-edited and/or completed an additional 8 short stories;
  • I wrote the first 25,000 words of a new novel

The not-so-highlights include:

  • 2 stories were started but not completed;
  • The other novel that I started back in 2018 still stands unfinished at 34,000 words (though I did, at least, do a fair bit of work on it this year);
  • I had honestly expected to wrap up the first draft of the new novel by this point

So, I’m happy to take the victories—any writing done is good progress—but I would have liked to have seen at least one of the novels not finish the year in a state of limbo.

The stats

I record (with varying accuracy) my word counts each day, along with whether I’ve written new words, edited existing words, or not done any writing at all. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, which means I can look at the trends year on year and learn a few things about my writing habits.

Here are the writing stats:

MonthWrite TotalWriting DaysAverage
2019 totals44,142116381
2018 totals91,589143640
2017 totals34,67965534
2016 totals46,71772649
2015 totals85,548118725

Straight up it’s clear that it’s not been a great year for writing new words. With a reasonable degree of confidence I can surmise that the much higher stats for 2015 and 2018 come down to me being focused on writing (yet not finishing) novels. Yes, I was also working on novels in 2019, but at a much slower pace.

So, the number of days I spent writing in 2019 was pretty good, but my average word count was way down. Clearly either distraction, or lack of inspiration and/or motivation were issues here.

Side note: another reason the 2018 total is much higher is that I decided to include words written for my blog that year (which would still only account for another 25-30k words max). From 2019 I continued to record when I wrote for my blog (as in it still gets counted as a writing day) but I don’t record the word counts (because I want the word counts to be entirely about my fiction writing). This, obviously, makes the average word count a bit lower.

Now let’s look at the editing stats:

Edit TotalEditing DaysAverage
2019 totals91,782105874
2018 totals93,77097967
2017 totals91,50897943
2016 totals147,5471421,039
2015 totals130,8651031,271

It’s impossible to properly estimate how many words get edited in any given session, so I simply take the final word count for whatever chunk of prose I’ve worked on that day. Sometimes that total will include new words that I’ve written, and sometimes it will include big chunks of text that I’ve deleted. Either way, since I typically do two further drafts of each story, the editing word count usually ends up being twice that of the writing word count. Maths, yo.

Again, not my most productive year by a long shot, but consistent with the writing stats.

Finally, stats for the number of days in the year that I’ve worked on my writing projects (whether writing or editing)

Total CrunchedTotal DaysDays Missed
2019 totals135,924221144
2018 totals185,359240125
2017 totals126,187162203
2016 totals194,264214161
2015 totals216,413221144

Based on those figures, it’s been an average year. It’s never going to come close to being every day, since I don’t make myself write every single day. For starters, I usually take Saturday off, which means I miss 52 days right from the outset. Then there’ll always be days when I’m sick, or simply too tired to write, or am otherwise not in a position to write (e.g. away on holiday). All the same, I’d like to miss fewer days in future.

Which brings us to …

2020 Targets

For 2020 (and, in fact, for the first time) I’ve decided to set myself some targets in the interests of staying on track and improving on some of the 2019 figures. Those targets are:

  • Total words written: 55k words 
    • Average words written per day: 600 words
  • Total words edited: 100k words 
    • Average words edited per day: 1,000 words
  • Days spent writing/editing: 260 days (min)
    • Days missed: 90 (max)

Those targets don’t necessarily correlate (mathematically) with one another, but each gives me room for improvement (without being ludicrously overambitious) and, to be honest, I’ll be happy if I meet, or exceed, just two or three of them.

Making it work

There’s no point having targets if there’s no plan for achieving them, so here are a few things I’m going to do in order to [help] make it all happen:

  • Get up early. I’ve written about this fairly extensively elsewhere on the blog, but one of the biggest issues I had last year was that my morning routine changed and I ended up with less time in the mornings to write. I was able to correct this towards the end of the year simply by getting up earlier. This proved to be much easier than expected, so I anticipate this making a big difference for the new year.
  • No phone. I’ve noticed, particularly of late, that I tend to reach for my phone as soon as my mind starts wandering during my writing sessions. Once that happens, it’s all too easy to get sucked into social media and get even more distracted from writing words. So, one of the things I’ll be doing this year is removing that potential source of distraction by ensuring my phone is always out of reach whenever I’m writing. 
  • Always write. This will be the hardest to implement. I have a reasonably good sense for when the words simply aren’t going to happen, and typically don’t force myself to write when I know it’s basically going to be mental torture. That said, I’ve probably gone a little too easy on myself over the last year so I’m going to take a more disciplined approach. Even on the bad days, if I can just sit down for 15 minutes and get a handful of words written, it’ll still be better than getting nothing done.

And, of course, I will continue to track my word counts through the year so we can all come back and do this again in 12 months’ time. See you then 😉

Messin’ with author photos

I decided it was time I had something approaching a decent author photo – something that I could stick wherever my books appear. Trouble is I can’t decide which one to use so I need your help!

From the Department Of Words

For my fourth third#yoyo blog post of February I’m going to take a brief look at something that I find really interesting: language policing. I don’t know if that’s the correct term or not but, hey, who’s gonna tell me I’m wrong? I have a few opinions–which I will, of course, share with you–but I don’t have any firm conclusions on any of this. One day I’ll look more closely into this, but for now I invite you to read this hastily scribbled post and comment below.

Writing update: January 2017

Turns out I haven’t done a regular monthly writing update since last March. So here’s one for last month

On rejection

I began last year with the quiet hope that I might manage to get at least one new story published somewhere. While I definitely had some wins, I didn’t end up getting any stories published. What I did end up with was a small pile of rejection emails. You might think that’s a bad thing, but it’s not, and here’s why …

January 25

I wake up at 6:20am feeling like my body is made of lead. Thoughts of getting up for my morning shift are briefly considered, then swiftly abandoned.

It’s a two-coffee day. It’s also bastard hot, which makes the second coffee in particular feel like some sort of Sisyphean endeavour. I have to take Rach home halfway through the day when a migraine hits. I plough through the rest of afternoon with the knowledge that I have a four-day weekend coming my way.

At the end of the day m still determined to start reading something (that hasn’t been published on the internet). Browsing through the swatches of books that I’ve purchase from Amazon I spot On Writing by Stephen King. Perfect. I love Stephen King and I love reading about writing. I settle in and end up reading way past my bedtime.

The writer’s progress: 2016 edition

In which I reflect on my writing progress during the course of 2016, aided as ever by by my trusty Google Sheets Writing Log.

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