10,000 Word Writing Challenge: Week 2

10,000 Word Writing Challenge: Week 2

This week went much better than the last one.  I still didn’t write every day (missed Thursday and Friday), but doing the actual writing and finding the time is starting to be easier.

I finished the short story I was working on.  First time that’s happened in a few years I’m sad to say.  But it was good to finally break the barrier.  I’m already working on a second story and I’ve started notes on another novel.  We’ll see if anything comes of that, but right now I’m only comfortable being at the noting stage.

What I have I learned so far?

For someone with a liberal arts background, I’m a pretty data driven guy.  My way to get started writing each session is to think about the fact that I’m going to be creating a new data point in my writing tracking spreadsheet for this month.  It gives me something to focus on other than the “oh shit” feeling of looking at a blank page.

I’ve also learned that making a word count writing goal for the month is an excellent way to keep me engaged with writing projects.  Basically because I can use any writing project against the 10,000 word total, it gives me fluidity to move to different projects when I get board or tired of them.  This month I’ve worked on four different projects including this blog.

This isn’t something I could do with a challenge like NaNoWriMo, which forces you to dedicate 50,000 words in one month on one novel.  I’ve never done it despite the fact that it seems really cool because one project with that kind of word count goal feels way too constricting.  If I missed one day because “I wasn’t feeling it,” I’m completely screwed because my average word count would be well past 2000 words a day too quickly.  And as I said before, I can’t write that much in a day.

How am I pushing through hurdles?

In 2016 and 2017, I started tracking each day that I’d write.  I build another spreadsheet that gave me a graph of how how may days I would write each month. The spreadsheets only tracked if I wrote and not how much.  I’d set a goal of how many days I wanted to write for the year and never hit them.

After I started this challenge I created a yearly tracker for this year and was able to figure out when I wrote earlier this year. As it turns out I’ve already written more this year than I did all of last year.  That’s a pretty heartening fact and It’s giving me the confidence to push through blocks because I want to see the graph for this month go up.

Another thing I’ve build is a Trello board for tracking all of my writing projects.  (If you don’t know what Trello is, it’s a productivity app that lets you organize tasks anyway that works best for you and your project.)  The way I have it laid out is each project is a card and each list is a part of the life cycle.  This way I can track which story is just an idea, which one’s that I’m actually writing notes one, or which one’s I’m currently drafting.

I don’t work on that many projects at once, so again, this is manly for psychological effect, but it’s certainly working.  I look forward to finishing a step so that I can move the story’s card to the next stage of the process.

All in all, how do I feel about it?

I need to figure out an effective way to write every day in a week regardless of what comes up.  That, I think, is the overall goal of this challenge.  But it looks like I’m one my way to cracking that mystery.  We’ll see, I let you know how it goes next week.

10,000 Word Writing Challenge: Week 1

10,000 Word Writing Challenge: Week 1

So It’s been a week, and as promised, I’m checking in with my first update.  Things didn’t go as well as I would have liked. My first two days went well: I was over quota both days, which meant the benchmark I needed to hit per day actually went down.  However, the 4th of July was in the middle of the week and that threw off any hope I had of achieving a rhythm.

I didn’t write for the next three days after that, but today and yesterday, I’ve been good.  Currently, I have to hit a daily writing goal of 359 words a day, which is higher than when I started.

What have I learned so far?

This is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be and I thought I was going to be hard. One of the things I started this week was a new short story and it is taking me a lot longer in each writing session to hit my quota.  In the few times I’ve worked on the project, it took me the better part of an hour to get to around 350 words.  This is probably because I haven’t written any fiction in about a year and I’m really out of practice. That said, I don’t automatically hate everything I’ve written, which is nice.

I’ve also noticed that changing gears is hard for me.  One of the other projects I’m working in is a computer program to help me set up a media sever, and I’ve noticed that once I start coding, the last thing I want to do is stop and start writing fiction. Conversely, I can’t go right back to coding after I’ve written.  So while I’ve always been good about having hobbies for both parts of my brain, I can move between them that quickly.

That coding project is starting to wind down, which should allow me to focus on writing.  It’s good to know for the future, however, that I have have to be better about blocking out time between these two things and not just assume I can jump between them with ease.

How am I pushing through hurdles?

The thing I like about writing challenges is that they are almost all marathons and not sprints. Finding time to puzzle writing into my life on a consistent basis is one of the things I find the most difficult, and I’m using challenges like this as a way to force myself to create tools and methodologies that will help me keep creative writing as a part of who I am on a daily basis.

One of the strategies that seems to be working is the actual tracking of what I’m doing each day.  I’ve created a spreadsheet that tracks how much I’m writing each day and updates my per day quota dynamically. I find myself really looking forward to putting in my word count each day to watch the numbers move.  This being an Excel spreadsheet, I of course, have a graph that goes up and down with each new data point.

The data tracking is a double-edged sword.  While it does track my progress, it’s also a really good record of my failures.  Seeing those three “empty days” build up was pretty demoralizing and it made it harder to jump back into a writing project that I was struggling with anyway. That’s something to really watch out for as this month unfolds.

All in all, how do I feel about it?

Pretty good so far.  It feels really great to be working on fiction again.  As I mentioned above, I’m starting build strategies to keep working consistently and that’s really the whole point of this.

Anyway, that’s how the first week went.  Now it’s time to dump the word count for this post into my spreadsheet and keep on working.  See you all next Sunday.

Writing Challenge: 323 words

Writing Challenge: 323 words

It’s the first of the month and along with paying my rent, I’ve decided to set myself another writing challenge: write 10,000 words in the month of July.  While I have done writing challenges before, they were usually based on output for that day: write one blog post a day, do any writing of any amount a day, ect.

I saw the 10,000 words in one month challenge on some forgotten Reddit post, and what stood out to me was how the post’s author broke down the challenge.  Writing 10,000 words in a month with 31 days in it works out to 323 words a day. (If you round up.)

I’m probably the world’s slowest writer and when I’m writing fiction, I average about 500 words in a hour.  This makes advice like Steven King’s “write 2000 words every day” very difficult because that would take me at least four hours a day to do.  And unfortunately I’m still one of those poor souls that still has a day job, so that kind of time commitment has been a little too much for me.

But less than a hour of writing a day is something that I can commit to.  At least for a month anyway.

So what are the rules for this challenge?

Given that I haven’t been writing that much this year other than my Dungeons and Dragons campaign, I’m going to allow any kind of creative writing to count.  This means that fiction, blog posts, and notes can count.  (Even as I was writing these rules, I was about to allow journal entries, but I think I’m going to nix that in favor of only writing intended for public consumption.  This normally means that notes for fiction and blog posts shouldn’t count, but since it’s my first challenge like this in while, I’m going to allow it this time.)

I’m also going to be tracking all of my daily word counts in an overly complicated Excel spreadsheet that will re-calcultate what my new per day word count will be.  The point of this exercise isn’t to write 323 words a day, it’s to write 10,000 words in a month. This means that if I write more than 323 words in a day, or miss a day (far more likely), I’m going to need a new per day writing goal.

The last rule is being public about my progress.  I’m going to be writing weekly check in posts to update everyone on the challenge and what I’m working on.  This way, I’m honest.  If I screw this up and fall flat on my face, I’ll let all of you know.

But I don’t think I will.  I guess we’ll just have to wait until next Sunday to see how I’m doing.

Hell, it’s about time…

Hell, it’s about time…

Every personal blog as an obligatory “it’s been a while” post, and this is mine. It’s been about two years since my last confession, so I thought I’d catch you all up on what’s been going on with me in the meantime.

Why did you leave us?

The reasons for that are technical and stupid.  Shortly after my last post I left a very stressful job and was all ready to jump back into writing, but I was a little strapped for cash and I let my URL for the site laps.  After I got all that sorted, it turned out that WordPress.com in their infinite wisdom have decided not to allow you to just buy the ability to add a URL to your sites, but instead only allow you to do that as part of their more expensive subscription services.

I totally understand why they made that change, and I think it’s probably a good one for their business considering that life on the web is becoming more and more about jamming all of your personal data into social media sites so that they can sell it back to you, and less about having a curated online presence.

But it pissed me off at the time and I decided that I would spin up my one site on some hosting that I already have.  As it turns out, hosting your own personal blog is a bit too much of a pain in the ass for me and I would much rather have WordPress do it for the low, low price of one of their subscription services.  It just took me like two years to get there.

Was that it?

I think like a lot of people, world events have made creative endeavors seems really pointless and every time I sit down to do one I feel like all my energy has been zapped away.  I haven’t been writing much fiction either.  (Although I have written some.) And my podcast has seem to have finally run its course.  I’ve alway struggled with having the energy to be creative and the current political climate have not made things any better.

It’s not all gloom and doom, however.  I did get married in the last two years.  (And right now anyone who has gotten married is like, “Why the hell didn’t you just lead with that.  Of course you haven’t had time to write.”)  The wedding was great and one of the best days of my life, but God damn did it take up a lot of my time with planing and being stressed out.

Why are you back now?

My life is a lot less stressful then it used to be.  No, the political landscape has not gotten better, and in fact, we’ve now pretty much lost Net Neutrality, but I can deal with it a lot better and I don’t internalize it like I used to. Plus my default position on world affairs is always one of hope and I’ve finally gravitated back to that.

Plus, not to get too preachy but I think the attacks on Net Neutrality and the corporatization of the web are more of a reason to be running a personal site not less of one.  Our words are part of who we are and we should own that content outright.

But most importantly, I like blogging, I’ve missed it and I want to get really good at it.  Plus, I have this theory that writing begets more writing and I want to pursue more creative things in the coming months. Hopefully this is the start of more updates from me, and I’ll be doing some more tweaks to the site.  (It’s one of my favorite parts about blogging.)

If you got this far, thanks for reading the site and with this, we resume our broadcast day.

You Can Go Home Again: On Returning to Word

One of the things that I’m obsessed with is the tools artists use to create their art. I’ve
always been a process guy. It’s not enough for me to know that an artist created their art. I’ve got to know how they did it. What was the physical process they used to pull this abstract concept – their idea – into being – finished product?

So to that end, I’ve always tired to be very fluid with what tools that I use to create my writing. Once I made the jump from Windows to Mac a few years ago, it was really important to find a writing program that I could write effortlessly in. Because if I was going to give up Windows, I should probably give up Word as well. I wanted to be Minimalist Writer Guy and only have a small blank box that I could write into and a finished manuscript would pop out. I started with Pages. It was much more simple that Word and you can remove almost all of its interface and just have a blank screen to write into. I found that worked okay but I had to reorganize everything for each document. At the time, I was writing a lot of blog posts and I didn’t want to have to set up the program every day so that it’s just how I like it. It was only about three button presses to do it, but I’m so twitchy when I first sit down to write that I don’t want any kind of barrier to entry. So I moved onto and application called Desk.PM. I’m writing this post in it now, and I’ve found that it’s amazing to write blog posts in. It connects to every CMS you can think of and it’s interface gets out of your way until you move the mouse and then what you need is just one click away.

However, the way the application formats text is great for the web but not good for fiction. That is to say, it doesn’t like to use paragraphs indents and it auto-spaces between paragraphs.

I was trying to write most of my fiction in Scrivener, which is bills itself as a writer’s word processor. It has all sorts of tools to help you organize a large project. It was fun to use but most of it’s tools got in my way. I was using them because I felt like I should be using them not because I needed them to solve a problem I have. Now that I think about it, that’s pretty much how I feel about Scrivener itself. It probably does have a place in my work flow, just not for first drafts.

There were a lot of other applications I looked at, but I’m not going to go over all of them. The Mac is not lacking for writing tools. However, just about a month ago, I broke down and got an Office 365 subscription and brought Word back into my life. I got the subscription because my girlfriend was going to need the office apps for work, and I was willing to try anything to find a good text editor for fiction. My quests to find something had been eating up and taking away from the actual act of writing. I was using it as an excuse. “Why should I even writing anything today if I’m just going to have to move my document to another tool with a different file format.”

Sometimes when you’re a writer, you look for any excuse to not write.

So I downloaded the Office apps and fired up Word. I started to write some fiction and guess what? It felt great. Word was the application I first used when I was getting into writing. I’ve tried many times to be a pen and paper guy, but I have to work digitally because of my bad spelling and the fact that I can type faster than I can handwrite. (Although I love the act of actually writing things down.)

And I held on to Word for years even after all the hate on it started. I even defended it during the dreaded Clipy years. The argument I would always use was that it had a really good spell checker and that’s what I needed most.

It wasn’t until I tried to remove it from my life and then come back to it that I actually realized what the real reason I was defending it was. Word just feels like writing to me. It’s not rational and it’s hard to encapsulate. Like most feelings are. But it’s what I’m used to and all of the presets work the way that I like. I like that Word will auto capitalize sentences for me and put in paragraph indents. Those two presets had become such a part of my work flow that using other programs are really hard.

And I like it’s tight integration with OneDrive. I’ve been keeping all of my writing in the cloud for years now with DropBox and I like that my writing tool has a native sync client built in.

But all the features in the world don’t mean anything if I’m not writing. And I’ve found that I’m writing more. I know the tool I’m using and I like using it, so I’ve found that I’ve been writing more in the last month or so that I’ve had it.

Don’t get me wrong. I know Word has a lot of issues with feature bloat and there are a lot of people that don’t like it’s existence. I’m just saying that it works for me and I know that for a fact because I tried to stop using it and I lost – I’m not joking here – years of writing to my search for something I’d already found.

Art is actually a lot like math: there’s more than one way to solve a problem. Unlike math, not every solution is going to work for everyone. My tools work for me. I’m going to be trying new things because I think there’s always a better way, but for now I’m going back to basics and sticking with what works.

Your Blog Can Be Your Indie Band

Your Blog Can Be Your Indie Band

Just in case anyone was wondering, there is in fact an Arnold Schwarzenegger themed metal band called Austrian Death Machine. That kind of shit gives me hope for the future.

Here you have a group of people who decided that not only where they going to go through all the shit it takes just to be in a band, but that they were going to do it to speak to that 80’s action movie/heavy metal cross over set that you just know is out there and untapped. And these people have three albums.

After the 70’s, the DYI movement had clearly made it’s home in the music scene and you had people not just forming their own bands, but their own labels, clubs, and distribution networks. The effect this had was groups of music fans were giving the green light to themselves. That’s why you had Punk, which gave way to Goth, then Metal.

There are hundreds of sub-genres of just Metal (Speed Metal, Doom Metal, Math Metal, Grindcore…) This is because, while Metal does have some rules that make it a genre, it creates a framework for creative decision making that pairs well with a “why not” attitude.

This is why I find the current state of the web so frustrating. I’ve talked about that recently, so I’m not going to labor the point, but I haven’t been seeing a lot of the rapid fire experimentation that makes the underground music scenes so interesting and worth a damn. There’s been some on WordPress and Tumblr, but these kind of feel like the exceptions and not the rules.

I’m probably just taking a short sighted view of the web. The creation of the internet has changed the world fundamentally like the invention of writing and printing press did before. In fact, most people don’t consider human history to have officially “started” until after the invention of the written word. If you take that kind of perspective on it, then the 40+ years we’ve had the internet isn’t that long at all. In fact, we probably aren’t finished inventing the Internet and Web. Everything is still in flux.

For the last few years, it feels like there are a lot of gatekeepers out there and it feels like there a lot of people watching every move you make online. It feels like there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to express yourself on the web. This is a crock because that’s a social contract. Which is to say, something we are telling ourselves. The cost of doing things online is almost free, so the only gatekeepers are us.

It’s only a matter of time before everyone realizes that again. Then things are going to get really interesting. Your blog can be your indie band, so who gives a damn if you get on stage and post 500 pictures of cats or 500 unrelated posts. Who knows, you might find the next new thing for the Heavy Metal Arnold Schwarzenegger enthusiasts.