Writing Journal 2.16.2022: Not the best of numbers, but some clarity on my pace… and a bit more consistency… plus some other news

Welcome again.

Although it doesn’t look like it, I have been getting some blog writing done behind the scenes, yet not published yet. However, I’ve been making more progress. There’s at least three posts that I’m working on in drafts, and they are getting closer to getting done. I had wanted to get them done earlier, but I’ve been busy with a little passion project that I finally got finished up. (That’s the subject of one of those draft blogs. Maybe Friday I’ll post it?)

So, this week. I got more than a little writing done, pretty consistently across the week. The weekend wasn’t total garbage, even though I only wrote 55 words one day. At least it wasn’t zero, right?

I’m also looking to make some adjustments to the number of words I need to shoot for every day. I mentioned previously my goal for the year is 200,000 words in a year, roughly 16,667 words a month on average. I was a little below that monthly average last January, but I’m hoping to make up the difference over the next two months, especially since March is going to be a slightly “longer” month than the others.

Usually, my goal is to get to around 500 words per day. However, I have done some recalculations and realized that if I am going to make this 200,000 word goal with some words to spare, I am going to have to get closer to around 600 words per day.

That’s not a problem. One of the good things about setting a writing goal in advance and working toward it is spot checking how much you are getting done as the year progresses. I can check those stats and see if I have to make adjustments to daily or weekly totals if I get ahead or behind. Now that I have that goal ahead of time, I’m finding it to be a little easier to see where I am relative to that goal and how much I have to do to get there.

Visualization and goal-setting… seems to be working? We’ll have a better idea after a couple of months, likely.

How am I going to get those numbers up? Well, I have a blog about writing, maybe I need to… write a little more than just once a month about how much I’m writing? (Man, talk about insider baseball.) I need to get a little further into the self-publishing area, especially with this book project I’ve had sitting on the sidelines. I want to get more into Canva for design and Substack for writing – it might be a way that I can get paid for writing directly than what is going on now. But I’m also staying here on WordPress because I consider it to be a very intuitive site and not something that I need a lot of programming skill or cash to keep going.

As for last week’s numbers… they were both good and bad. For the first time in a long time, I managed to write at least something every day. Yeah, I did wind up just writing 55 words on one of those days, but I managed to make my minimum daily quota of 500 words.

(Now, however, I know I’ll have to lay on a few extra words every day to get to 200K. Again, not a problem now since I know how much I need to still write.)

Also, I managed to meet that minimum quota of either 500 words a day or 30 minutes of revisions or planning for writing a day every day last week, which isn’t a nothing statistic. After just meeting my daily quotas just 58 percent of the time, I’m going to be gunning for meeting daily quota at least 70 percent of the time. So, an entire week when I match my daily quota one way or another is going to be a big win in my book.

So, here are the weekly stats. And, it turns out all this is a bit over 600 words. Another good day of writing for me, at least.

Writers keep writing and everyone keep safe.

Writing statistics for the week ending 2.12.2022:
+3,425 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.

On Revising (Part 3): Regarding word count and the joys of cutting words

I think that I reached a new level of maturity as a writer a couple of years ago when I cut 1,000 words from the manuscript I was working on at the time and I was as excited about that as I was writing 1,000 new words.

For several years, I taught writing either primarily or as part of my other language arts instruction in the general education classroom. Now, I teach special education, but I do advise many of my students regarding their writing, and some of them have writing goals that I work with them on.

Some of them have been eager writers, and some of them I’ve had to figuratively drag onto the page. But one common problem many of them have had was that they considered the process of writing to be:

  1. Get an idea.
  2. Write it down.

As I explained to you at the start of this series, that is not the case. Personally, I have come to believe that the revision is where the true heart of the writing takes place, a lesson I have tried to impart on my students and something I have worked to structure my instruction around. At the junior college level, for example, I always found that more essay peer review and instructor review had more value for the students than any live lecture that I gave.

“Liegois, you must have always been a great revising wiz, then,” you might or might not say. Or, it might be the voices in my head. I don’t know or care. However, I would have to respond to this statement by saying – Reader, there were a few holes in my game. *

Specifically, the one hole that I am thinking of is that I tended to write a lot more than I needed to. A lot more.

You’ve got to remember, I was the guy who turned a relatively simple journalism thriller into a 160,000-word opus. After I wrote it, I began reading all of the writing advice articles that said to avoid anything bigger than 100,000 words unless you were Stephen King or George RR Martin or whatever. Obviously, the idea of cutting more than one-third of an existing novel horrified me.

Until, that is, I actually did it.

Reader, you will never be as hyped as you will be when you cut that 1,000, 2,000 words from your manuscript and realize that nothing of value has been lost. Oh, my goodness, the relief you will feel from having all of those unnecessary words fall away from your work will be nothing like you’ve ever felt. It will be like the old lumbermen of the Mississippi River clearing a log jam from a bend of the river and watching the logs flow into the main channel. (I get to use the river metaphors because I live on the river, got it?)

I may have told this story before**, but I realized something about myself in my former, unfettered form, when I wrote and never had a care for how much I wrote – I wrote a lot. People tended to tell me I had an ear for dialogue when they read my stuff, which was nice – I’m a massive admirer of Elmore Leonard, so I was down with that. The only problem was, I wrote pages and pages of it. I wound up writing three pages of dialogue in a situation where one page of dialogue would have done. I realized that I should have taken in the example of Clint Eastwood when he cut out much of the dialogue from that one movie of his when he realized he didn’t need it.

The point is, when I actually started to look at what my characters were saying, I realized that they only had to say it once (maybe twice, if they were nervous), but no more than that. Once I realized that, my manuscript started to shed words 1K at a time without too much hassle. After several months, I was down to a manuscript that I could live with.

I know I am not alone in having this problem. And when I say this, I am referring specifically to one author I am a big fan of, Laurell K. Hamilton. I’m such a fan that I have, at this minute, something around a dozen paperbacks of her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series on my bookshelves. When she started getting complaints about their being too much sex and not enough crime-solving in her books, and she wrote a book that was all sexual and romantic relations and no crime solving in it, I laughed out loud and bought a copy. Trust me, I am a fan. #

But she goes on and on. There’s sex scenes that could fit into one chapter rather than two, dialogue that could wrap up after a half-page rather than three pages. None of this makes me want to not read her, don’t get me wrong. However, I want to try and avoid the same pitfalls in my own work. (Kids and peoples, that’s what you should be doing whenever you read someone else’s work, whether it’s something you like or not. You should be looking for what you should avoid just as much as what you should copy.)

When I started writing my latest project, The American Nine, I had word count in the front of my mind the minute that I started to write the rough draft. I quickly realized, as I went through my notes on the project and started to judge what could fit into less than 100,000 words, that I had more of a trilogy on my hands than a single work. I remembered the stories about how J. R. R. Tolkien shopped around his manuscript of Lord of The Rings around to his buds on the University of Cambridge campus and that they were horrified at the size of the manuscript. He wanted to put the entire Lord of The Rings story into a single volume, can you believe that? Finally, his buds on campus managed to talk some sense into him and get him to turn it into a trilogy and avoid boring generations of lit students and #SciFiFantasy fans to death. $

The point is, I’m likely not the first one that ever used the phrase make every word count, but I consider that to be an axiom in my own work. Words are important. Use them wisely. Artistic restrictions can be good for you more so than they can be bad. Just as Roger Corman or William “One Shot” Beaudine about that, and they’d tell you the same thing.@

That’s it for now; more later.

*Statement should not imply that no further holes in said game do not exist.

** Famous last words.

# Laurell, email me at liegois.writing@gmail.com. We’ll talk shop; it’ll be cool. We can talk about what it’s like to live in a Mississippi River town and what not.

$ I know I told this story before.

@ This might be the most hyperlinks I’ve ever used with a blog post.

Something’s growing.

It’s been an interesting month. The writing is coming to me easier now. I am finding a consistency that I never had before with writing.

What this is feeling like is different that what I’ve had before. I could let hours while away without ever thinking about trying to move forward on the libraries of books I’d written in my head. Never mind that, I could go for years without it. I don’t know how many video games and movies I occupied myself with in those years, saying that I was a writer and not doing anything about it.

Now, I get antsy when I stay away from my writing. The maximum I have not written has been two straight days ever since I started this blog. Although I am certainly not the same physical specimen I was as a kid or young adult, I think my mind and my writing talent are sharper than they have ever been.

Whether I’m going to be a published writer now or in the future is something I’m not yet clear on. However, I don’t feel like it’s a joke anymore when I call myself a writer.

Later, everyone.

The Road Ahead

“When you don’t have something interesting to write about, write something, even if it is boring.” I might have just as easily heard that quote somewhere as made it up myself, but I’m going ahead with the idea.

Yeah, it’s going to be one of those posts.

So, let’s try for starters…. Random Thoughts! OK:

  1. My Facebook feed is getting clogged up with writer’s group posts (good; it waters down all of the political posts) and many of the writers are making political/religious posts (not so good). Do you know you can opt out of notifications of posts you have made or contributed to? It’s a cool way to get your life back. Also, did you know I’ve got a writing Facebook page? Feel free to visit it, although I do have the feed on the sidebar.
  2. I’m going to make an effort to send out or put together at least one query letter tonight. My goal is one letter per week. I have already put together a general letter; all I need to do is rework it for the intended audience. Doing the grunt work like that can be hard.
  3. I am going to get something written tonight. If all goes well (and even if it doesn’t go the best), I am planning to breach the 60,000-word mark tonight.
  4. As for the title of the post… I’ve been doing the math. All of the genres I would conceivably write in would call for manuscripts of around 80,000 to 100,000 words.

    Now let’s do the math together. I am shooting for a minimum of 500 words per day of writing. That is about 3,500 words per week if I am working every day. Let’s further say that I am not as ambitious as that goal. Let us say, for example, that I wind up in 2018 with a per-day average of 300 words. However, that is still formidable. You want to know why? Because if you divide 100,000 words by 300, you realize that you could complete a 100,000-word novel, even at this glacial pace, in 334 days. If I did manage to keep to my basic minimums, averaging 3,500 words per week, I’d have a 100K first draft novel ready in just 200 days.

    When I saw those numbers, people, it took my breath away. After years of screwing around, not getting on with my writing, I seem to have a road forward. For your information, I have only missed the 300-word rate (about 2,100 words per week) four times during the 18-week stretch that I have been monitoring my word count. The last time that happened was in mid-October, and that was the only time it’s happened since August.

    For the first time in my life, I have a consistently working writing instrument. It’s a good feeling to have.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 2: The NaNoWriMo Experience

It’s starting up again as November 1 draws nearer. Nobody seems to talk about All Saints’ Day anymore (at least that’s what it seems on my social media feeds, but it’s not like that covers a true cross-section of America or the world or anything like that).

Yes, the new secular writing holiday, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us. For those not familiar with the event, it began last Thursday 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area. The goal is for participants to write a full 50,000 word novel in the 30 days November provides. It’s the idea that you can finally get that novel out of your system.

If you do not know already, word count and writing production is something that I’ve become a bit obsessed with. To make it to 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to write around 1,667 words per day. That’s a pretty fast clip. 50,000 words is not a massive novel, by the way – it’s pretty short by today’s standards. It’s not quite novella length, but it’s a short read. The Great Gatsby, Brave New World, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer all clock in around that length.

I think that it’s a great idea. NaNoWriMo is the perfect argument against “Well, there’s no way I could ever finish a book.” Right now, people around the world are gearing up for the fastest writing sprint there is.
As the image with this post indicated, I used to be one of those participants, and a successful one at that. And it resulted in the second completed book I ever wrote.

2005 was a lot different for me, other than the fact that I was 12 years younger. At the time, I hadn’t worked full-time for three years. I had been a freelance journalist during that time, doing some odd jobs, and looking after my two kids, who were preschool-aged then. Halfway through that year, I returned to school, the beginning of a nearly two-year-long process that resulted in the beginning of my teaching career.

The point being, I had a far more flexible schedule than I do now. And so I took one look at NaNoWriMo and said, I can get it done.

The story I had in mind was inspired by the rush of school shootings that had occurred both before and in the wake of Columbine. One question had come to my mind: If some of these kids survive and do their time in prison, what happens to them next? That got me thinking.

What I came up with was pretty good, but I think the original title I used (which I won’t say here) ended up being too gauche, to be honest. If I was going to re-title it, Excitable Boy sounds like a good one.

My Main Character (MC) was a 16-year-old boy with an undiagnosed psychotic disorder. Bullied at school by kids put off by his odd, secretive nature, he snaps one day in the middle of a delusional episode and kills two of his tormentors.

It was a tragedy all around. The MC’s father (his mother died of cancer a year previously) commits suicide when he learns of the incident; he has been in denial of both his and his son’s mental issues. The MC was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental health care facility.

The MC is released after five years at the center. He is reunited with his only remaining family member, his older brother, a law student at the state university. He goes to live with his brother and his brother’s longtime girlfriend, while he tries to figure out what he is going to do with the remainder of his life. But, there are a rash of murders around campus, and people are starting to look at him as a possible suspect. In time, it’s up to him and his brother to find the real killer and find out why somebody might be setting him up…

Looking back on it, the NaNoWriMo experience for me was two steps forward and maybe a step and a half back. I always felt that if I wasn’t producing that amount of writing, I wasn’t going to be a success. That bogged me down a lot when I started teaching and didn’t find (or couldn’t make) time for writing. Also, I think I wound up using too many characters, including a supporting character that wound up being too much of a Mary Sue for my taste. I think I tried to sell it at one point, but that never went anywhere.

I’ve just looked at the book again, maybe for the first time in… eight years, maybe? Unlike my first adult attempt at a book, there just might be a decent story in here. If I get motivated, I might want to take another look at it, trim down some characters, make the story simpler, and see what comes out of it.

But for now, I’ve got the new project to work on. Another time, maybe. It might have potential.


Getting Back On It.

And again, I let a deadline slip in the dead of night. (Hence, the photo.)

I’ve come to the conclusion that I will have to redouble my efforts to increase my writing production. And for once, my obsession with reblogging writing advice and other odds and ends from the Internet ether might pay off.

I have to say, I’ve long been amazed by romance novelists and people like James Patterson, Joyce Carol Oats, The Stevie King, and others to pump out oodles and oodles of packs of words every few months or so. I consider myself at this point to be somewhere in the neighborhood of George R.R. Martin, late J.D. Salinger, or, moving to another medium, Terence Malick in productivity. As much as I’d like to thing that I’m producing quality work, I want to produce more of it. Right now my hope is that I become a Frank McCourt of fiction, maturing at a far later age than most other writers. But, I want to do it sooner.

I came across this article when I was link farming last Saturday. I’m not sure when I’m running it – likely sometime on #WritingAdviceWednesday aka #WAW. But it impressed me, fellow writers. The more I read the article, the more it started to make sense to me.

I don’t want to recap the article (you can follow the link if you want to), but I wanted here to discuss some of the major ideas this author presented and give my take on them. As you might suspect, I found the majority of the advice to be relevant and useful, and some of it different than I had ever heard previously.

Set a daily word count goal
– I debated this idea for some time. So many times I had set goals, only to default on them for one reason or another, although my overall writing production has only increased overall in recent years. The article suggests daily word counts of 1-3,000 words per day. My current average word count per day (not counting blogging or other nonfiction writing) is between 270 and 460 words per day during the past four weeks.

These are people that have produced dozens and dozens of books, so I had to take a step back and consider what they were saying. Even if I have work throughout the week, I have to think that I can get up to 1,000 per day, at least if I am not revising existing writing.

As I say to some of the kids that I teach, having a goal is wonderful, but you need a plan for how you are going to achieve that goal. Some of the other bits of advice seem to lead into this direction…

Time yourself and your breaks

…but maybe not this one. With a schedule that is as changeable and malleable as mine during the school year, I have to take my opportunities to write when I can. I think 30 minutes at a time makes sense, but the timer seems to be a bit much to me.

Don’t get stuck on specific words

This seems frankly brilliant to me. So many times I wanted to do the right turn of phrase, but get stuck on it. I just need to do #($*&%&#* sometimes, count it as a word and move on. (I should probably use real words so they show up on the word count. It reminded me of the story behind the writing of “Hey Jude.” (via Wikipedia):

When introducing the composition to Lennon, McCartney assured him that he would “fix” the line “the movement you need is on your shoulder”, reasoning that “it’s a stupid expression; it sounds like a parrot.” Lennon replied: “You won’t, you know. That’s the best line in the song.”[13] McCartney retained the phrase;[4] he later said of his subsequent live performances of the song: “that’s the line when I think of John, and sometimes I get a little emotionhttps://wordpress.com/post/liegoismedia.wordpress.com/705al during that moment.”[13]

Start on an odd-numbered page

Not sure how well this will work for me. I pay more attention to word count than anything else.

Train your other senses

Good advice. Candles and music work very well with me. Sludge metal and intriguing techno like Deep Forest are things I find stimulating in recent years.

Set boundaries with your family and friends

This would be valid if my wife and kids bothered me when trying to write. They don’t. I do enough distracting on my own.

If you’re stuck, write like crap for a few minutes

Everyone feels like a fraud

Start small, but write every day

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I’m going to be phasing in a new 1,000-word-per-day 500 words per day writing goal. I want to try some of the techniques I mentioned here first to see if they have an effect.

I’ll give you the lowdown when I know how it went down.

Maybe I’m Onto Something…

Last night was the most productive writing session that I’ve had for months. By the time I was done last night, I had more than 1,500 new words to my credit, not counting some words I added and decided to take out again.

At the start of the night, I was about to try and spruce up or revise something I had written previously. I knew that I had to do it, but I wasn’t all that excited about that prospect, even though I knew the scene I was thinking about would be vital to the story. What had stuck in my mind that day were two scenes I knew were vital, that I had to have in there – my main character saying goodbye to his brother, and convincing a friend to visit him over the phone.

For this book, I decided to put into play a saying I had heard a year or so ago from Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. #10 is:

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

For me and my past work, it’s been difficult to determine what is good to skip, especially when you revise after the fact. To make it simpler, I’ve decided on this project to reverse engineer the process. I am writing what I consider to be the absolute critical scenes of the book first, then continue to add on scenes that I find of less importance. It’s almost like if J.R.R. Tolken decided to just write the part of the book where Frodo and Sam are off to take the ring to the volcano and added everything on later.

I’m feeling good about my decision, and not just because I’m feeling less bored. I’m very serious about trying to keep this book under 100,000 words. If I just concentrate on the parts that I want to share about the story, it’s more likely that those 100,000 words will count and not just be filler, like I found a lot of the first draft of The Holy Fool to be. I’m getting more excited by this the further I get into it.