read, write, ramble

Category: Write Page 1 of 6

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.

writing log feature image

A free wordcount tracker for 2017

Before I launch into my next post, which will be all about analysing my writing efforts during 2016, I thought it might be useful to share my Writing Log template that I’ve been using for the last few years.

It’s very simple, does most of the calculations for you (monthly totals, averages, etc, etc) – all you need to do is to enter the number of words you’ve written, or edited, each day. I find it particularly useful for working out what my average wordcount is, and for tracking when I’ve been particularly productive, or anticipating when those seasonal slumps might occur.

The download link is below (a zipped up excel file) but I can always share the Google Sheets original if you travel that way. Jump down if you want to get stuck in, or read on for a breakdown of each column:

  • Session – choose between morning, lunch or evening, depending on when you did your writing (or add something else in the Lookups sheet)
  • Action – select write or edit or, if you missed that day entirely, select n/a (this is used to keep a total of the days you’ve missed). Again, you can add different entries in the Lookup sheet if you want.
  • Word count – you don’t really need me to cover this one, do you…?
  • Title – I like to enter the title of whatever story I’m working on
  • Draft – I also like to keep track of which draft of a story I’m working on. Add different entries in the Lookup sheet, if that’s your thing.
  • Target/Actual – I don’t use these, but I’ve left them in anyway.
  • Total/Written/Edited – these are all calculated columns, so let them do their thing
  • Notes – if I missed a day, I usually like to put in the reason here. Also, if I hit a particular milestone (e.g. finishing a first draft) I also like to put it here.

There’s a worksheet called 2017 Totals where some more of the magic happens. As you progress through the year you’ll be able to see your monthly totals and averages here.

If you happen to use this and have any questions, use the comments below or find me on twitter. In the meantime, here’s the link:

Page 1 of 6

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén