A Week in the Writing Life, 28 January 2023

Welcome back, everyone, to this new experiment of mine to try and have a weekly post on Liegois Media on WordPress and and The Writing Life with Jason Liegois on Substack.

It’s part of my efforts to write online on a more consistent basis than I have up to this point – at least once weekly with what I’ve been working on when it comes to writing and what I’m reading during the week or (in more than a few cases) earlier. The latter item might turn into more reading recommendations, considering how long it can be between me seeing something online and bookmarking or saving it, and me actually reading it.

I have a fairly clear idea of how I’m going to organize these posts going forward, but that could change over time. I’m also not too proud to take requests if I ever got any of those, lol.

Homefront Stuff

The photo for this entry is courtesy of my wife Laura, and it’s what my backyard in Lucas County, Iowa is looking like right now. There’s been some snow off and on for the past week or so, but not as much as the northern half of the state has been getting.

The house we share is around 100 years old. We’ve got three bedrooms and two bathrooms, which is about the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the house I grew up in back in Muscatine. It was newer than this house by about 40 years, as was the four-bedroom, three bathroom home that our kids grew up in. But I do like this house – for one thing, I’m not someone who likes big, complicated houses. For one thing, unless you happen to have a lot of cash, you have to clean that house and maintain it, and smaller houses are easier to do that for rather than big homes. Whenever I see one of these McMansions in the newer suburbs around Des Moines or out by themselves in the middle of the country, all I can think about is how long does it take to clean one of those places? Anyway, I’m happy with my house.

What I’ve Been Writing

I’m now deep into putting together the rough draft of the second book of my series The Yank Striker. (More on the first book in the series in a bit.) I ended up with about a 80,000-word volume last time, and I’m thinking that part two will be close to that length or slightly less.

I’m hoping that I will be able to write regularly enough so that the rough draft will be complete by the fall. This is the first time that I am trying to write fiction on a deadline, even though my publisher (Biblio Publishing, check them out some time) hasn’t set a time limit on when they want the manuscript. For those who don’t know, the whole publishing process, from writing, to revising, to designing, and to publishing, can be a long one. My plan is to have part two ready for readers to take a look at next year, but those plans end up… stretching, when it comes to books and fiction.

As for my online writing, you’ll probably see something posted on WordPress and Substack later about my struggle to keep up with all of the great writing I keep getting emails about from Substack. If it’s not entertaining, I’ll try to keep it short, heh heh.

I’m surprised that I keep coming up with ideas for my A Writer’s Biography series, to the point where I basically have had to admit that I’m tooling around with a memoir. This work is continuing slowly, and you are seeing some of it on my sites. That might eventually get published even if I have to do that one myself.

The older than I am getting, the more my priority is to try and be as productive as possible. It would really suck for me if when my time was up, I left a lot of projects I wanted to finish as just scribbling in some notebooks or a few word document pages.

I’m continuing to experiment with fan fiction, even though it is not my main priority from a productivity standpoint. I have a lot of fun with it and it is a low-stress, low pressure way to be creative. And as I’ve mentioned before, I read a lot of other people’s work and have been inspired by it.

What I’ve Been Doing Having to do With Writing

Apparently the proof for The Yank Striker is on its way to my home in the next couple of days. I am absolutely excited to get my hands on it, review it, and continue the process of getting it published. I believe that I can say that it will be published sometime this year, but exactly when at this point I am not sure. As I keep saying, the minute I know that date, all of you here will be the first to hear of it.

I am keeping active with my Iowa Writer’s Corner group in Des Moines, of which somehow I’ve been selected club secretary. Part of the reason that I’m sharing this with everyone is that I’m trying to remind myself to get the minutes for our last meeting finished up before it’s time to have the February meeting.

I’m hoping to show them some of my work on the new Yank Striker book to get some of their feedback. That sort of advice is valuable for me, as it has been in the past. One of the most memorable bits of feedback I ever got was something that one of my writer friends Misty Urban said to me about an earlier draft of The Yank Striker. She mentioned that it seemed like my main character wasn’t having to deal with a lot of adversity and difficulty, that many things seemed easier to him. And she was absolutely right. One of the themes of this series will be about how my main character has chosen a difficult path, and there will be roadblocks and setbacks along the way. So, I’ll be interested to see what my new group of fellow writers has to say.

What I’ve Been Reading

The Iowa Writer’s Collective is an all-star collection of some of the greatest journalists in the state of Iowa, a couple of which I had the pleasure of knowing during my past career as a journalist. The fact that many of these writers used to populate the papers of this state but no longer do, as well as the growth of this group, is likely worth its own post sometime in the future. For now, check them out and get a paid subscription if you can.

Robin LeAnn is one of the first writers I encountered on WordPress and I really do need to do a deeper dive into her blog. Just recently she put out this nice review about a meta-fantasy book that sounds interesting from her description, and this series reminds me a bit of what I’m trying to do with my A Writer’s Biography. Check her out.

Did you hear that Margaret Atwood’s on Substack? She is, and her page is called In The Writing Burrow. She put out this piece about when she didn’t make the grade and this one about Ontario politicians lying about what their plans were and getting called out for it. She’s always worth a read.

Next time I’ll try and get some more recommendations, I promise.

Final Thought

Just heard Tom Verlaine, the vocalist and guitarist for the seminal band Television, just passed away. He was a great artist who always was trying something different, and I loved his work. I figured I might as well close out today with one of my favorite songs by him. Take care, everyone.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Writing Journal, 25 January 2023: Still on a good streak, but I’m not even beginning to take it for granted

Hi, everyone.

You might have heard that I’m trying a new weekly roundup of some of the things that I am doing on the writing front. My intention behind this is to give readers an idea of what I’m working on, what I’m reading, and other stuff going on with me.

It’s running both on this blog and my Substack, as are most of my posts here. However, I am going to keep my writing journal posts here on Wednesdays, reviewing the past week and the numbers and activity of what I write. As a result, these writing journals will tend to be generally shorter than before and probably even more numbers heavy than before.

However, I still want to keep doing them more for myself than any sense of duty to whoever reads this. If I continue to be public about how productive (or unproductive) I am writing, it motivates me to keep going or do better. I sincerely believe that it also helps me stay honest about how much (or how little) I am writing, so that it helps me to be honest with myself if I am putting what I do out there to the world.

So, speaking of statistics, I’ll print last week’s below. It’s not precisely as jaw-dropping as the big week I had last week, but it was pretty close. I realize that I’m getting pretty demanding of myself when I get nervous if I have a single day I’m not writing anything like I did two days ago.

Writing statistics for the week ending 21 January 2023:
+6,932 words written.
Days writing: 7 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 1 of 7 for 30 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 7 of 7 days.

Below that, as always, will be my plug to sign up for my Substack page and thus join my email list. The more I build my list, the more I’m building up a little online community. And, I can continue to share my writing as well.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

A Week in the (Writing) Life, 21 January 2023

In the words of one of the favorite comedy idols of my youth, and now for something completely different.

I’ve been operating this blog for just over five years. It has been a long process of working from just talking about being a writer and being interested in writing to actually producing something. But I have made some progress – becoming a published writer, starting a companion blog on Substack after a year of just contemplating trying to mess around on it. I’ve certainly been writing more as time has gone on.

However, one thing that I have started to notice about myself is that the more personal writing goals and milestones I reach, the less that I am willing to just sit back and admire my work. I mean, I just wrote more words than I ever did on my own time, and the minute I realized I was going to make that goal, I immediately started to think of what I needed to do next. I started thinking of what this year’s goals were.

I decided to try to write 200,000 words again this year, but for me, that’s more like a quota than a goal for me. If I’ve managed to write more than 200,000 words twice in the past three years, I think it’s pretty safe that I can make at least that many words. Now, I’m going to try to meet my daily quota of writing (which is, once again, 500 words per day or 30 minutes of planning and revisions) at least 75 percent of the time. Considering that I’ve exceeded that percentage only once and neared it just one other time, I can safely call that a challenge goal. Since I want my writing output to be more consistent and not streaky, this seems to be a goal that also has merit.

I’ve also been trying to figure out some goals. In education, setting measurable, attainable goals is something of a mantra, especially when dealing with goals for students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs). You want to set a goal that is measurable – that is, you do something that can be measured in a certain amount of time. It also has to be attainable – that is, something that you have a chance of meeting in the amount of time given.

I should have considered the possibility of applying some of my educational training to this whole business of trying to improve myself as a writer. After all, writing is essentially an academic exercise. And, from my own personal experience, I found that analyzing what I had done and what I had produced over time gave me a better insight into what is possible. Once I knew what I had limited myself to before, I could start to push those limits.

So, I wanted to take a look at some of the tentative goals that I have for this year and apply this idea of measurable and attainable targets to those goals. Shall we?

As I mentioned before, it looks like I have a book coming out this year. As an update on that project, as of right now, I am waiting for the publisher’s proof from my publishers, Biblio Publishing out in Ohio. I am confident that it will be coming out this year, but an exact date is not quite set in stone yet. Once that date is set, of course, you dear readers will be the first to hear about it.

Goals for this project are slightly difficult to quantify in some cases, however. I want to do a better job of promoting this project. I have to think that living near the Des Moines area should give me a good choice of media outlets, so I wouldn’t have to rely on one hometown newspaper, my social media sites, and a couple of public appearances to promote it. It also didn’t help that I moved halfway across the state within a year and that the whole COVID-19 situation hit a year later. I have to think things will be better this time, but I don’t want to quantify that, just like I don’t want to quantify exactly how much I want to grow my email list, for example. I do know that I want to do better on both.

One thing that I need to quantify is how quickly that I complete this next book in the series. I am shooting for a tentative length of at least 80,000 words, so I will probably have to write somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 words a week on it to complete it by this fall. That’s… doable, I think. We’ll see how it goes. Watch this space.

I also want to write more consistently on this blog and on my Substack page. My tentative plan is to try and publish weekly on WordPress and Substack. I think I can manage that, although trying to come up with decent material to write about every week can be tough at times. For the past couple of months, I’ve done pretty well with it.

This leads me to the overall purpose of this post. As I want to produce quality writing on a weekly basis on this blog, I have to start having consistent material, as I said. I’ve decided that every Saturday, I am going to post a weekly journal about what has been going on with me as a writer. This will be separate from the writing journals I have been publishing on Wednesdays where I basically go over my writing totals for the previous week. I think that these new weekly journals – which I will call A Week in the Writing Life – will cover things that I’ve written, things that I’ve read, and anything writing related in between. I might even get into a few things that are non-writing, if I’m having a slow week. And I promise, most of the time I won’t be trying to get you to buy something from me.

This leads me to one of my other goals – trying to start a paid subscription model for Substack and maybe even WordPress. When this happens – and this is not happening right away – you will always have an option to subscribe or read my work for free. However, I will plan to have some material exclusively for paid subscribers, and I will likely release that exclusive material on a monthly basis. We’ll see how that goes.

In non-goal news this week – today, I attended my first meeting of the Iowa Writer’s Collective in Des Moines as its club secretary. Since I already served at the club secretary for my former writer’s group in Muscatine, so I felt halfway confident that I would be halfway competent at it. Today I felt like a reporter for a little bit again as I was recording meetings and writing down notes all over again. I’m looking forward to the experience, and if there’s some things that the IWC present that might be of general interest to writers or anyone else, I’ll post it here, too.

I think that is about it for now. Take care of yourselves, everyone.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Writing Journal 18 January 2023: Massive writing burst this week, but…

I managed to write more than 7,000 words last week. Considering that last year I would consider anything over 4,000 words a week to be a good pace to meet my writing goals, getting about 42 percent more than my typical word count is a cause for celebration.

There is a “but” that should be added to that statement, somewhere. Maybe it’s a sense of maturity and modesty, or maybe it’s a sense that I can just as easily have a bad week of writing as a good week.

Much of my output this week – not all of it by any means – is fanfiction. I have explained/defended my writing of fanfiction before, and I do think that it is a valid form of creative expression. I spent a lot of time pondering issues of “Work” vs. “Fun” writing. In setting my goals for this year, I wanted to try and increase the percentage of my work writing more than before. For example, for at least one or two of my most recent years, I spent the majority of my creative productivity on fanfiction.

Again, not that I think simply “fun” writing has no place – far from it – but I also want to take the other types of writing seriously, as well.

Setting some yearly goals last year wound up being a good success, so I figured that doing so this year might be a good idea. Since I ran that story, I’ve begun to consider a plan for how I would achieve some of those goals. I think I’m going to write a follow-up on my goals this weekend for this blog and the Substack page, which in itself might fit in with one of those goals in particular. So, you have that to look forward to. I will also admit that some of the goals may be fluid in nature, which means I might change them some of them as I go through the year.

Anyway, here’s the stats for last week, followed by my obligatory plugs for my Substack page where you can get on my email list. See you around.

Writing statistics for the week ending 14 January 2022:
+7,004 words written.
Days writing: 7 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 2 of 7 for 60 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 7 of 7 days.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume I, Part 11: Saved Photos

“Do you want some of our old pictures?” my dad said one day.

When you’re a child, you get a lot of things from your parents. They come pretty regularly, such as clothes and food, that you don’t even notice when it happens. Then there’s times when you get a lot of things from your parents during your birthday and Christmas every year.

A lot of kids have the impression that they don’t get a lot of things from their parents when they are older, especially after they turn eighteen. That turns out to not exactly to be the case. You do tend to get things, but the types of things that you end up getting tend to be different than what you got when you were younger. Sometimes those things are valuable and are things you would love to have, while some have more (or less) sentimental value and not necessarily things you would love to have.

What all those things would have in common is that the parents typically can’t keep them anymore. Either your parents or other relatives are moving into a smaller space where they can’t fit as much stuff into it like the old place, or they’re getting ready to try and not have as much stuff before they aren’t around anymore to be able to get rid of it. It’s something that either older people, or the children of older people, know well.

My father spent nearly 50 years of his life helping to build and design engineering projects all around the United States and around the world. Even when he was around 70, he was touring around the US keeping busy with projects.

However, he kept busy with other things. One of those was photography. He was always taking photos of what was going on with me and Mom, of where we traveled, and where they eventually traveled in the years to come. It became a passion for him, especially as he got older.

I’m going to eventually tie this in to writing at some point, I promise.

I’m not a fan of clichés, or at least relying on them. By their very definition, they are sayings (or perhaps memes, nowadays) that are used so often that they are “tired,” so to speak. Sometimes, however, they can be of use, or spark something different.

The cliché that I’ve got in mind is the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.” From my quick Google search on the subject let me know that the saying as such originated from a Fredrick R. Barnard, who wrote it in the December 1921 edition of Printer’s Ink. The intention behind the saying is that an image or graphic can tell a story or convey information just as effectively as a large amount of text.

Again, although I am not a fan of cliches, I do think there is some truth to this statement. However, I also believe that a slightly related statement, made (to my knowledge) by me, has just as much truth or more, and more relevance to me as a writer. That statement is this:

A picture can prompt a thousand words or more.

For me, images have always been a stepping off point for me in the creative process. Exactly what the creative purpose of those images is depends on what type of images they are.

For example, I’m a big fan of maps and diagrams. I have to confess that I always had an interest in geography, for example, and was interested in any schoolwork that had to do with the subject. There is a tradition, going at least as far back as J.R.R. Tolkien, of writers including maps of their worlds. It always helped me visualize the worlds that I was reading about, especially worlds that were wholly part of the author’s imagination.

I remember staring at the map of Arrakis in the novel Dune and not being able to make heads or tails of what I was seeing until my tenth of twelfth read, but I was still appreciative of the effort of Herbert to include it. I also remember getting a copy of The High King by Lloyd Alexander and being a bit disappointed that it didn’t have a map of Prydain like an earlier edition I had read back in… middle school, I think? Maybe late elementary school? I’m not sure.

I also remember, much later when I was a young man, scouring the Sunday edition of the local newspaper. Every week, in the Home and Garden section of the paper, they would have a featured home of the week and would show a nice little photo of the front of the house. I could care less about that – I preferred reviewing the floor plans of the house. It gave me an idea of what the space would look like, would feel like. I would be able to sketch a scene from that information, and I would be able to take it from there and be able to have a great setting for the story I wanted to tell.

Photographs, though… that is a slightly different thing.

(I told you I’d work in those photos my dad sent.)

What I talked about before involved the creation of new memories. That often applied to new photos, those that I hadn’t seen before. But photos of my own life, however – that’s a bit different.

Recently, I wanted the Pixar movie Inside Out as part of a class I was teaching. It’s an interesting, kind-hearted, and moving little film about what makes up a person and growing up. I found it true to life when it comes to how emotions can influence people and how growing up changes you.

There was one part of the story that was particularly intriguing to me. The emotions of the young girl main character are in charge of her memories. Core memories are kept near the girl’s “control room” and other older and less traveled memories are kept in storage, eventually winking out or no longer accessible if they haven’t been recalled after a time.

When I got all of the photo files from my dad, there were a lot of pictures of me and my family from decades in the past. There were easily hundreds of them that my father scanned in after he’d gone into retirement and had more time for such activities. As I started clicking on some of the thumbnails of those photos, some of the dimmed memory globes of my past memories started to flicker a bit.

A tiny few of those photos I’ll include here as an illustration of how sometimes those memories can reawake with a couple of images. All photos courtesy of William Liegois.

Both of these were me in March 1976. I had thought that this playground that I was at had been in Muscatine, Iowa, but it was actually near Seabrook, Texas, where I spent my pre-school years. I also deduced from some other photos that it was apparently called Busch Bird Park, after the Anheuser-Busch company, apparently. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Dad, I realized the photo I was talking about was actually from a trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa. I’ll credit the opaqueness of memory for that slip-up.]

Again me in March 1976, trying to look cool riding my bike. I think the training wheels finally came off a year or so later

Me on the Gulf of Mexico, July 1976. I loved the ocean but was always a bit wary of it after one encounter I had with a jellyfish there.
Me (center, yellow shirt) October 1980.

This is Muscatine, and I believe I am playing one of my first organized games of soccer. I remember those games as two groups of 10 kids each chasing a ball around the field while the keepers just stood around at either end.

This was just a small open spot of ground tucked into a residential neighborhood called Iowa Field (original, right?) I remembered it for all of the woods surrounding it and how you could walk through the trails totally hidden from anyone on the field.

My first trip to Washington DC in October 1981.

I was so excited that I was vibrating this entire trip. Dad was taking Mom and me along for a business trip. Being a budding nerd, the Air and Space Museum and the other Smithsonian institutions were my favorite stops.

Me showing off the height of early 1980’s fashion in the front yard of my home in Muscatine, October 1984. Pretty soon after this I decided to give up trying to be a fashion icon.

There were so many other photos that triggered old memories for me, images of people I hadn’t seen in decades and pictures of my parents as young people like I once was. I do know that I’ve got a lot more photos to look through and a lot more memories to start reconnecting with. Remembering where you came from is a good way to let yourself know what you’ve gone through and what you’ve learned, all of which inform your knowledge of the human experience. It also has the advantage of getting more of your cerebral synapses firing than would normally be the case, and that’s a good thing to do for yourself the older you get. That’s good for everyone, but especially a writer who needs to keep those synapses firing and be connected to all those experiences.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Writing Journal 11 January 2023: Modest but pretty solid start to the year

I was hoping not to start off with a slow start to my writing year. For the past couple of years, I wound up starting off pretty slow in the month of January which forced me to play catch-up, successfully or otherwise, in the months to come. However, I think I have a better handle on the type of productivity I need to be successful with my goals for this year.

Anyway, here’s the numbers for the first week of the year:

Writing statistics for the week ending 7 January 2023:
+3,779 words written.
Days writing: 6 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 6 of 7 days.

The total word productivity is slightly under what I would prefer (I want to try to get at least 4,000 words a week), but I do like the consistency I started with last week. I’ll take that as a win and hope to expand on that in the weeks to come.

I know this is short, but I feel like I’ve been talking numbers a bit much recently so I’m going to cut this short. The obligatory Substack plug is below. Hope to see you there, too.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

2022 – A Year in Review And a Look Ahead to 2023

I went into this year with some high expectations for myself. Ever since I began this blog more than five years ago, I’ve been wanting to transition from just talking about writing and how I wanted to be a writer to being a writer once again.

One of the cliches about writing is that it is a long process, especially when you are factoring publishing companies into the mix. It’s true, though. If you are going to do it right, developing your writing skills and knowledge is a time-consuming process, especially if you are trying to craft what you have to say rather than just splattering it across the page or the laptop screen.

For the first time in 2022, I decided to set a yearly writing goal for myself. I’d had a downturn in my productivity, and I wanted to have a better year. So, I figured that setting that yearly goal was Based on the records that I had been keeping consistently since 2018, I decided that 200,000 words in a year was a nice, clear, reachable goal for myself. Also, based off that past data, I decided that making my daily writing quota (which is 500 words per day or 30 minutes worth of revisions and/or planning) at least 70 percent of the time was also reachable.

After a year’s worth of work, I have to say that at least from a productivity standpoint, this year was certainly the case.

First, just to get a little perspective, here are my writing statistics for the second half of 2022, compared with the first half. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: All word and revision/planning averages are monthly averages.]

Writing statistics, 1st half of 2022:
Words (total): 110,342
Words (avg.): 18,390
Revise/Plan (total): 1,350 minutes.
Revise/Plan (avg.): 225 minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (avg.): 74%

Writing statistics, 2nd half of 2022:
Words (total): 104,043
Words (avg.) 17,341
Revise/Plan (total): 1,950 minutes.
Revise/Plan (avg.): 325 minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (avg.): 72%

As you’ll note, there was a slight 6,000-word drop between the first half of the year and the second half. I was only a couple percentage points off my first-half pace when it came to meeting my daily quotas, but I added another 600 more minutes working on revisions and planning. Overall, there was a slight decrease in productivity, but not a disastrous one.

Although I have been keeping records of my writing since at least 2013, I have only been keeping full records of my writing production since 2018. For example, I only totaled up the full year’s numbers for 2013 (I recorded a word count of 125,453).

Now, looking at the yearly totals, I’m glad to see a pattern of clear growth.

Yearly writing statistics, 2018-2022:
2018:
Words (total): 53,878
Words (avg.): 4,490
Revise/Plan (total): 8,955 minutes
Revise/Plan (avg.): 746 minutes
Daily Writing Goals Met: 52%

2019:
Words (total): 193,881
Words (avg.) 16,157
Revise/Plan (total):  8,865 minutes
Revise/Plan (avg.): 739 minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met: 78%

2020:
Words (total): 208.919
Words (avg.): 17,410
Revise/Plan (total): 4,290 minutes
Revise/Plan (avg.): 358 minutes
Daily Writing Goals Met: 62%

2021:
Words (total): 176,146
Words (avg.) 14,679
Revise/Plan (total): 2,115 minutes.
Revise/Plan (avg.): 176 minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met: 58%

2022:
Words (total): 214,385
Words (avg.): 17,865
Revise/Plan (total): 3,300
Revise/Plan (avg.): 275
Daily Writing Goals Met: 73%

So, I set a new personal record of 214,385 words, 5,000-plus words more than my previous ones. My revising and planning time weren’t personal bests, but they were better than the previous year’s. And, I beat my goal of meeting my quota 70 percent of the time by three percentage points, which is the second best year for me regarding that statistic.

Most people might be leaning back and celebrating what they had accomplished if they were in my position. Now, I did do a little of that, maybe for a couple of days. But probably one of the biggest changes in my mentality during the past couple of years is that my thoughts immediately turned to 2023. What goals would I need to set for that year? What would I do for the next act? The one thing I realized, however, is that I couldn’t do exactly the same thing.

Exactly is the operative word here. I think it would be pretty much expected that I would consistently crack 200,000 words per year, given my past record. That’s what I am going to shoot for in 2023.

I also would like to write with a more consistent output and not take as many mental breaks this year. I think it is possible that I could meet my daily quota at least 75 percent of the time. Looking over my stats from last year, I could have gotten really close to meeting that goal this year if I had just applied myself a little more.

More importantly, from reviewing last year’s numbers, I now have a very clear idea of how often I would have to meet my daily writing quota to match that percentage. Basically, if I was writing in a four-week month and meeting my quota five out of seven days three weeks and six out of seven days that fourth week, I would get to 75 percent without much difficulty.

The other goals, are a little less straightforward right now. However, I’m going to try and outline them here.

One of these is slightly out of my control – I would like to get this second book, The Yank Striker, published. Right now it is in my publisher’s hands and much about the release and production of that book is up to them. When it finally comes out this year, however, I would like to have a proper launch and promo push for that book. Much of that will be in my hands. However, I think I have a slightly better chance of doing well with that push if I am closer to the main media market in Iowa (Des Moines). We will see how that will go.

In addition, The Yank Striker will be part of a series of books coming out about this American soccer star, so I am now in the process of writing the sequel to that book. It is my expectation that I should have a rough draft ready by this fall and able to deliver it to my publisher (Biblio) by around that time.

I also want to continue to grow my Substack page (I’ve got a plug for that below). My plan is to continue to post on a regular basis. I have managed to post more or less every weekend on my blogs. I want to try to keep to that weekly schedule, and try and get more consistent with what days I publish. (As of right now, I end up usually publishing on Sundays because… well, deadlines making a whooshing sound as they fly by my head and all that.

Those are my clear, line in the sand writing goals for 2023. The next few ones are a little more nebulous in nature, and might be a little more difficult to determine whether I reach them.

I would like to try and see if I would be able to use a paid subscription option for the Substack, and maybe even for this blog here. Now, it’s going to take a while for me to determine how that’s going to work, and what portion of those sites will remain free and what portion will be a subscription. I do believe, however, that I might be able to start generating some pay for some of the stuff I do online, even if it’s minuscule compared to my day job. I also want to make sure I am generating some exclusive content for those paid subscribers on a regular basis, as well – maybe bi-weekly or something like that. If I want people to give me money, they need to see the value in it.

I also want to begin some serious planning and work on a fantasy fiction project. My fandom for Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, George R.R. Martin, and others has made me want to try my hand at a fantasy series of my own. I’ve had the kernel of an idea for such a series for a while, but nothing yet that could resemble a plot or cast of characters yet. It’s more like a concept, with a larger theme of the progress of man and society as opposed to old myths and beliefs.

Like I said, it’s a vague idea as of yet, with maybe just a couple of characters in mind so far. I’m hoping by the end of this year, I will have a better outline for the series in place and a good world-build.

I think I am going to stick to those goals for now. Past experience has taught me that trying to accomplish too many goals at once is a surefire way of not meeting the majority of them.

Take care, everyone.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Writing Journal 4 January 2023: Limping to the end of the year

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thanks to constant reader Pat for recognizing the typos here – my equivalent of signing checks using last year’s date. Oh, well.]

I’ll keep this short, since I will be posting an end-of year review of the numbers… in two days, maybe? We’ll have to see. (Nervous chuckling ensues.)

December was officially the worst month I had writing for this year, although I had enough already written to make this a record-breaking year, once I finish adding up all the totals.

At least this week’s numbers were better than last week’s, so I have that working for me, at least. They’re nowhere near where I should be at (over 4,000 a week), but they were at least better numbers, if more inconsistent numbers, than the past two weeks.

Writing statistics for the week ending 31 December 2022:
2,958 words written.
Days writing: 4 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 2 of 7 days.

Writing statistics for December 2022:
Words: 9,630
Revise/Plan: 270 minutes
Daily Writing Goals Met: 57%

As you can see, my consistency of meeting my writing quota was garbage this month, but at least it wasn’t bad enough to screw with my goal of meeting my daily goals at least 70 percent of the time. I’ll have those totals as well later.

For now, I’m going to think hard about the type of goals I need to have this year to keep my forward progress going. I have the feeling that it might involve more than just simple stats.

I’ll go ahead and post that on the Substack page as well and let them get in on the fun. Speaking of getting in on the fun, I’ve got my plug for the Substack page below. Please sign up if you haven’t done so. I’m going to get some contests started up in this new year, and those with subscriptions are going to be the ones eligible for winning prizes.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Artificial Intelligence and Writing: An encounter with the Open AI ChatGPT and some general thoughts

I was born during a time when writers were wary of what they preferred to call “word processors” but were basically computers that allowed you to write. I distinctly remember wishing I had one of those typewriters that I always saw journalists or novelists banging on in the television series of my youth. I’m convinced that it is the main reason why I, well over thirty years after the fact, continue to bang on laptop keyboards with my fingers just as hard as if I were trying to move mechanical levers and metal type. However, I never really had a good working one, or even one of those electric typewriters that I had heard of as well, which was the motorcycle to the old ten-speed of the mechanical typewriter. You couldn’t ever have everything as a kid.

During those early years of my life, print was still king and the Internet was a rumor. If I wanted to do what I am doing now, I had to petition the gatekeepers at a New York or even, possibly, a European publisher to allow me to write a book and distribute it to people. If I wanted to give my opinion about the current political situation, I needed to get friendly with the editor of my local paper so that I could submit a letter to the editor, or, if I was feeling ambitious, a guest column. The process was, by no means, easy.

I will end my time in an era where if I want to write something, the only thing I need to publish something is a familiarity with certain blogging or publishing platforms and the time to click a few buttons. And, I live in a time where versions of artificial intelligence (AI) will write for you rather than just provide a keyboard to type.

I often wondered what it was like to live the life of my grandparents, who came of age at the still-early stages of the Industrial Age and the Age of Aviation and passed away attempting to understand the Internet and music videos. Now, I’m beginning to get a feeling for what it might have been like – to an extent.

It’s that part about artificial intelligence, that I haven’t grappled with until now. To be honest, it’s not been something that I’ve considered to affect me. To be honest, that’s not necessarily the case.

Before I begin this conversation, I need to let you know that I do not have any expertise in artificial intelligence, programming,

Although I knew that companies such as Google have been experimenting with AI, I recently learned about a new program called GPT-3, sponsored by an AI firm in San Francisco called Open AI. Basically, programmers have fed this system with trillions of words and multitudes of writing to be able to generate its own original writings. You feed in some parameters,

This program has now been released as an open chat bot program that anyone can access online and try it out for themselves. And now, it appears that some writers are starting to make use of ChatGPT. This interview of Kindle novelist Jennifer Lepp, who writes under the pseudonym of Leanne Leeds, on The Verge news site, was quite informative. She is now a paid contributor to the blog of a company called Sudowrite which uses a GPT-3-based system.

She details some of the ethical issues facing writers that are utilizing this technology. Is it considered plagiarism if you ask the program to write like a certain famous author? (In my own opinion, it’s too close to the dictionary definition of the word for comfort). Is it al right to use it to write blurbs for a book, or to create plots or ideas for descriptions? (Maybe?) Lepp concludes:

I’m really just stuck in the middle, wondering which way it’s going to go. I definitely don’t want to encourage people who aren’t comfortable using it to use it. I do think it’s going to leak into their lives. It’s already leaking into all our other software, so I think it’s going to be very hard to get away from. But I definitely don’t know where it’s all going. ChatGPT shocked the hell out of me. I had thought, well, it’ll take three or four years, and it’ll get better. Then came ChatGPT, and oh my god, that’s so much better! It’s been six months! The progress is so incredibly fast, and so few questions have really been answered.

Lepp

After reading multiple articles and online discussions about ChatGPT, I was intrigued as to whether there was anything to this. Inevitably, I decided to download ChatGPT and give it a test drive myself.

My experimentation with ChatGPT has been limited. I queried the bot as to why the United Kingdom no longer had an absolute monarchy and got a good explanation of the issues that culminated with The Glorious Revolution of 1688. I asked the chat bot to write a good scene involving a team winning a soccer game (shades of my new project), and it managed to put together a good few paragraphs of description in under a minute. The writing was simple, but quite good – detailed, lacking any grammatical errors, and efficient.

When I think of AI and writing, I don’t necessarily think about “being replaced” by an AI. As I have considered over this past year, I would likely keep writing no matter what the size of the audience that eventually reads my work. I am compelled to express myself that way in a way machines (at least currently) are not.

Would I actually use such a product to help produce a book faster, like if I asked it to write a few filler scenes for me or something more? I could still see myself as being a creative person if I did this, but it would be a different type of creativity than having me “do all the work” myself. If you write a book with a co-writer or even a ghost writer, you can be creative, but it is a different type of creativity than doing all the legwork yourself. Frankly, it’s a lot less work for you to do.

And this would be no different than using an AI co-writer, co-secretary, whatever you want to call it. It’s just not the same type of writing than doing it yourself. Anyone who would argue that makes as much sense as arguing that a flyweight fighter is the same type of fighter as a heavyweight or that a boxer is the same type of athlete as an MMA practitioner. If I ever included AI-assisted materials in my work product, for example, the very least I would do would be to post any word count I would get doing that with a massive asterisk and accompanying footnotes. It would not be the same type of writing that I have been trying to work on and improve for the past five years.

I was somewhat surprised, however, to find that the implications of this AI technology would have on my own writing was not the first thing on my mind. My thoughts first went to my students, the middle schoolers and high schoolers that I have been instructing about writing for the past couple of years.

The first thought that rattled and banged around the edges of my skull as I saw the ChatGPT writing that soccer scene was this:

This chat bot writes better than maybe half of my students. And it produces that material in a fraction of the time that it takes my human teen students to do it.

When I say better, by the way, I mean better in the sense of being grammatically correct, organizationally on point, and having clear transitions between ideas. I do not necessarily hold that the chat bot’s creativity is the equal or better of those kids. Teenagers can be quite creative, especially if they are trying to impress themselves or their peers.

Regardless, that was something to consider. And the questions that thought raised have continued to roll and tumble through my mind since.

The thought what if students use this to plagiarize and put together their assignments was immediately followed by wouldn’t they realize that they were replacing themselves? Is AI something that could become a writing tool for students with additional academic needs like voice to text speech technology or spelling and grammar check, or is that a bridge too far? Would ChatGPT or its inevitably more advanced successors help free my students who would prefer never to write to express themselves from writing drudgery? Or will the new technology just leave them behind just like the 20th century has now been left behind?

The other evening, as I talked with my father over a dinner out, I talked with him about this topic and joked that I half expect the Earth to undergo a Butlerian Jihad at any moment. For those not familiar with the Dune series of science fiction books by Frank Herbert (I’m a bit of a fan), it was a war well into the future of humanity when it battled with artificial intelligences in a massive, devastating war. At the end of it, humanity forbids the building of AI altogether.

We’re not at the edge of some sci-fi war here. But I think this technology is going to raise a lot more hard questions about how things are going to be in our world than all but a few people are beginning to understand. I don’t think most people are ready to ponder these questions. I consider myself a forward-thinking person, and I don’t think I’m really ready to consider or understand the answers to those and other related questions. However, I know that I will have to continue to consider them for the rest of my days as a writer and as a person.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Writing Journal 28 December 2022: Off a cliff

[PHOTO NOTE: What I got when I did a Pexel photo search for “Off a cliff.”]

As I alluded to in my discussion about holiday writing, my numbers fell off a cliff this week. Thank goodness that I’m already past my personal best word count for the year.

I did have a good Christmas Even and Christmas, visiting with my kids and meeting with my in-laws on Christmas. Boxing Day was, as my new tradition, glued to the television all morning and early afternoon watching the English Premier League matches.

I’m planning on traveling later this week to visit my own parents, so I need to make sure that I bring my laptop with me on that trip. I’ve had slightly better luck with writing on the road than on vacation, so let’s see if that works out again this week (lol). There’s so much to write that I have including fan fiction, the new novel project, and blog posts here and on Substack, that I shouldn’t feel like I have nothing to write.

My guess is that I am somewhere above 210,000 words as of right now. If I can manage it, it might be fun to get that to 212,000 to honor my old middle school. The room at Central Middle School in Muscatine where students were sent to serve suspensions was Room 212.

Anyway, here’s the stats for last week, sad as they are.

Writing statistics for the week ending 24 December 2022:
+1,816 words written.
Days writing: 3 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 3 of 7 days.

And here is my perpetual plea to sign up for my Substack page and email list. Take a minute to do so – when I’m doing something or have something new cooking, you’ll be the first to know and the first in line.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.