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.

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.

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.

One Sentence

I tend not to talk too much about the job where I make the majority of my living, which is teaching.

Even now, I think that I have just gotten started in the profession but just including the years that I have been teaching full-time but I’m now in my 12th year of full-time teaching. During that time, I have been teaching writing, sometimes more than others.

I currently am teaching seventh through 10th grades. I notice that there a similarity among those who are really starting to learn about writing. When I ask them where they need improvement on their writing, what they usually mention to me is how they need to work on their spelling, how to use punctuation marks correctly, and perhaps writing in complete sentences.

I think all of those things are absolutely important. I certainly feel that I shouldn’t get an essay with numerous grammatical errors, and they certainly shouldn’t be turning in a manuscript to an editor or publisher with them, either. But, that’s not the main focus of my teaching. Nearly any word processing program allows users to fix spelling and grammatical errors as you see them, and they won’t catch everything, but they’ll catch enough that grammar won’t be a massive issue for them.

What I always ask my students is a simple question: What is this essay that you have been writing supposed to be about? Tell me in a single sentence.

For my middle school students, this has been the first time that they’ve had to tackle writing involving critical thinking. Usually, the type of writing they have been doing are answers for writing prompts or simple paragraphs. For them, the art of writing is very much a work in progress.

However, I’ve noticed that it works the same for older learning writers as it is for younger learning writers. If they’re not able to tell me in one sentence what it is that they’re trying to write about, I know for sure that they are lost and confused. I mean, usually I can tell by a quick glance at what they’ve written, but that conversation with the learning writer usually confirms it beyond a doubt.

Usually, such a sentence is called a thesis statement or a main idea sentence. (To paraphrase Bruce Lee, everyone has their own system of kung fu, but everyone has the same number of arms and legs.) The idea behind this sentence is that it represents both what you are discussing (topic), why your are discussing it (purpose), and what message that you wish to convey. Again, it should usually only take a single sentence.

It can be frustrating to have a student actually write a thesis statement and then proceed to write something that might have something to do with the topic but hardly anything to do with the purpose. For example, maybe the purpose of an essay is an analysis of how a writer used descriptive details or figurative language in a book, but what they produce ends up being simply a book report rather than what they started out to do.

To me, that is something that can derail a writer much more than a couple of run-on sentences. If I can get a prospective writer to keep their thesis in mind throughout their writing, it not only helps them get focused on their message, but it also has other knock-on effects. They tend to choose good supporting information because they have a better idea of what type of information they need to find, They tend to have a better grasp of how to organize that information as well. And if they manage to have all three of those elements relatively solid in their rough drafts, they are well on their way to producing some good writing.

I should also say that you need to be able to have this one sentence in your mind when it comes to fiction, even though it might not be written out as it often is done in essay form. However, there has to be an essential idea behind the story and some idea of theme. For example, this new book I have planned for release next year, The Yank Striker, came from a thought experiment I had while watching the US Men’s National (Soccer) Team playing one day – what would the American Lionel Messi look like? I started constructing a main character around that idea, and that idea evolved into a character, without being too spoilery, that was very comfortable in his home environment but faced many new challenges when he was out of that comfort zone. That also evolved into a theme, of a athletic superstar still developing his skills and confidence. One of the beta readers for that project reminded me early in the process that it would get boring for this guy to be a winner all the time. That sort of character is a lot more interesting.

All this is well and good, but I often have to remind myself that the vast majority of my students don’t have the passion for writing as I do. For them, it’s just one more class they have to tick off before they get their high-school diploma, just like geometry and Algebra II were like for me. (How I ever passed Algebra II is still a mystery to me, but I think my father, a chemical engineer by trade, had the biggest hand in that). However, being able to better express themselves through writing helps develop communication skills and critical thinking skills that will come in useful later, so I openly sympathize with those who don’t like to write.

In the end, we wind up getting through it together. Now that sounds like a halfway decent thesis statement for my classroom.

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.

Grant Wahl is Dead.

I’m watching the replay of the Argentina v. Netherlands World Cup quarterfinal as I write this. I just learned that it was the last game this man ever covered.

Grant Wahl

At first it was just a strange Instagram post from his brother and some broken-heart emojis from former United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) player turned broadcaster Taylor Twellman. Then the reports came in from CNN, the Wall Street Journal, TMZ, as well as the tributes from Major League Soccer and the United States Soccer Federation. Grant Wahl, one of the best sportswriters in America, was dead.

Part of me is shocked this has affected me so much, but perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, even though I never met the man personally. However, he was a writer that I truly admired.

Past readers of this site already know about my obsession with soccer. It was a few years after my fandom with the USMNT began in 1994. I was an avid reader of Sports Illustrated in the waning days when magazines and print were still king and the Internet was just an oddity. Most of the pages were filled with pro football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and the college sports. Only very occasionally, in those days, did coverage of soccer exist. On those stories having to do, for example, with the fledgling Major League Soccer or the ups and downs of the USMNT, I began to notice the byline of Grant Wahl.

There was really nobody writing about soccer with as much depth of knowledge as Grant did. He could help you understand the sport both from a technical standpoint as well as the behind-the-scenes business of soccer, the wheeling and dealing of sports owners and the machinations of federation officials.

I didn’t realize at the time that he had begun his career as a student journalist at Princeton University, where he covered a men’s soccer team coached by future MLS Cup-winning coach and USMNT head coach Bob Bradley. That connection gave him the chance to travel to Argentina for a summer and study the legendary Buenos Aires club Boca Juniors. He had some great opportunities presented to him and he took them.

In comparison, my journalism career was much more modest by comparison. But, like the political writers who descended on my state every four years to cover the boondoggle that was the Iowa Caucuses, I never resented someone else’s success. I just appreciated learning more about the game I loved over the years.

Wahl eventually ended up covering eight World Cups, four Olympics, and 12 NCAA basketball tournaments. He wrote the definitive book on English superstar David Beckham’s arrival in the US and his effect on the American league, as well as another good book on 21st Century soccer, too.

The idiots who were publishing Sports Illustrated at the time kicked Wahl off the magazine back in 2020 when he started speaking out about their budget cuts. That was a too-familiar story to me as well, after seeing newsrooms throughout Iowa shrinking because short-sighted bean-counters wanted to keep their high profit margins and squeeze as much profit from their businesses before they collapsed in exhaustion.

But Grant kept going, working for CBS and Fox Sports as an on-air analyst. He’d gotten on Substack a while ago and was continuing to produce great writing. It was cool for me to be on the same platform as him and other great writers, such as some of the great Iowa print journalists I had worked beside years ago and were now finding new life on a new medium.

I had just signed up as a subscriber to his Substack last week. Yesterday, I was pondering whether to become a paid subscriber to his site. And, now he’s gone.

I hadn’t realized that Grant was just a year younger than me, and from all I’d seen and heard of, I’d thought he was in a lot better shape than I was. I’d known of a few writers who ended up dying on the job, but this one hit me hard.

I admired his writing. It was part of my education as a soccer fan and as a writer. If it were not for his writing, I don’t think I would have even attempted to write a fiction project about an American soccer player. But, I did.

If his dying reinforces anything for me, it is to treasure the experiences you have and the time that you have in this life. For the past few years, I have been trying to become a better writer, to hone my craft and become something more than I was. In whatever time I have, I want to make the best use of it. From what I read of his work, Grant Wahl did just that.

I Made it to This Year’s Writing Goal

It’s been a long year, but I’m glad that I’ve found this bit of success this year.

I had long set a goal for me to write 200,000 words this year. As of 2:30 PM Central Time today, I am at 200,063, with more than a month to spare.

Yes.

My current full record for a year that I have been keeping records of is 208,919 back in 2020. This is certainly reachable before the year is out.

I had hoped to meet my daily quota of 500 words a day or 30 minutes of revisions and/or planning at least 70 percent of the time this year. I’m not sure exactly when I will be statistically secure on that goal, but I expect that it will happen soon.

Some of the things that I have experienced this year have given me a lot to think about. I’ll have to consider what my writing goals will look like next year.

Upward and onward, then.

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.

Refreshing/Cleaning My Writing/Pondering Space Because You Need To Do That Every Once In A While

Again, I got tunnel vision on one project and found myself without something in particular to write about.


This is the part of the post where I talk about what’s going on behind the scenes and don’t actually give writing advice. Thanks.

As it turns out, I’m now trying to write material for two blogs – this one and my one on Substack. Usually, what I try to do is cross-post my material on both sites. However, I can’t always do that. For example, while I am posting my writing journals on this site, I’m not sure that I’m going to do that on Substack. The audience for just me talking about writing numbers might be slightly limited (lol).

I’m also trying to continue to write the A Writer’s Biography posts on both sites as well. I’ve really enjoyed writing these (and it might be turning into a memoir), but this project is at different points on the different sites. On WordPress, I have been writing these stories for a while, and am trying to put together some new outings describing my past as a writer and my writing life. On Substack, I’ve just begun to post entries from this series, but I decided to start from the beginning. Since I am interested in expanding the series to book form, I’ve decided to post these expanded and revised entries as a sneak peek on Substack. So, that means I’m trying to write one thing for one site, revise another thing for another site, all the while researching the latest thing I’m hoping lets people know about me (Mailchimp), and trying to write my next novel project. All of this during a limited amount of time in the evenings and weekends of my life.

Basically, I’ve got a lot on my plate. But I am trying to write more. And there is a new book being published soon in early 2023 – The Yank Striker. Watch this space for upcoming details.

[Somewhat random explaining and complaining over.]


I’ve talked before about how having a dedicated writing space and taking care of it is something essential. As you can see from the featured photo at the beginning of this post, my writing space is relatively modest. In the first house I owned in Clinton, Iowa, I commandeered a former back porch converted into a four-season room as my first real dedicated writing room. Despite the fact it also happened to be the main entrance into the house for me and my family, it worked out well for what it was. Then there was the spare bedroom in our home in Muscatine, Iowa, where my wife Laura and I raised our two kids through their school-age years.

The spare bedroom/office in my home in Muscatine.

It wound up being essentially my clubhouse for the next 12 years, and my wife would say that since I didn’t clean it up enough, it started to take on the… essence of a guy’s locker room by the end of that run. It wasn’t a bad little writing space.

When I moved to Chariton, Iowa, I first took charge of a spare room in the front of our new house. Family circumstances, however, required me to vacate that room and for us to convert it into a spare bedroom so both our late-teen kids could share our house. Instead, I found a little landing that sat at the top of the staircase from the main floor to our main bedroom, which was converted from existing attic space. When I get to the top of the stairs, I have the bedroom to my left and the landing on my right.

This is absolutely the smallest writing space I have ever had. I only have half the bookshelf space I had in my first two homes, and at least one of the bookshelves I have is now in the bedroom rather than within reach. The total floor space on the landing is roughly 40 square feet but my effective space is probably more like 30 square feet. Much of that is taken up by two bookcases, a three-stack plastic storage case, and a desk that is only half the size of my desk in Muscatine. (I use the vintage desk that my wife previously used when she had her own consultant firm and worked out of our Muscatine home). I can’t quite stand up straight underneath the sloping ceiling above the desk, and I don’t have a door to close to keep the noise in the house out.

It might be the best writing space I have had yet.

For me, it seems to be just enough space. I’ve got enough light, people down on the main floor can’t see me up here type type typing away (but they probably hear me). Everything I absolutely need (light, notebooks, audio-visual equipment, a laptop, the Internet) is within a stretching arm reach. Despite not having a door to close, I can feel pretty set apart up here, which is a good situation to have for a writing space.

You also need to clean up the place every once in a while. My wife suggested today might be a good day to do it, and I took her up on it. After a while, a home office can accumulate quite a few things, like dust over everything, books, pop cans, and notebooks scattered around, and paper. There is often lots of small slips of paper scattered around the flat surfaces of a home office, and if it’s been too long since a sorting out and cleaning, you often have no idea of why they are there.

Anyway, I have two bits of related writing advice tonight.

  1. Make sure you clean and reorganize your writing space on a regular basis, at least once a month to prove that you’re not some degenerate derelict taking up space in your residence. If you have a clean and organized space, your thought processes tend to be cleaner and more straightforward as well. You’ll also feel like you accomplished something if you do it even without writing any words down that day.
  2. Despite the temptation to have a massive home office, consider the possibility of using a smaller space for your writing. It forces you to keep things simple and uncomplicated, which helps make your thinking simpler and uncomplicated. It also has the side benefit of making it a faster process of cleaning and reorganizing your writing area. For example, it just took me about 40 minutes to fully dust and reorganize my space.

That’s about it for tonight. I’ll try and see if I can post something on the weekend earlier than after 10 p.m. Central time on Sunday (lol). Take care everyone.

What I’m Writing About Recently, or I’m Writing This Just To Write Something

[PHOTO NOTE: My current Facebook profile pic. Just because.]

Sometimes I get into a situation where I know I should be writing but I can’t manage to do the right type of writing.

By most metrics, I think I’ve had a pretty productive writing year so far, and I think it will get better by the end of the year. However, I’m also going through a bit of a transition. For the past couple of years, I was writing fan fiction and spending most of my mental and creative energy in that sphere. It has been a wonderful experience and I have a strong feeling that it helped me recapture my passion for writing once again, but I feel like I should be talking some of the other writing that I have planned seriously. I wanted to get back to writing books again and doing more with this site. I even talked about it for a few weeks recently.

However, it turns out that sometimes people can wind up trying to do a whole bunch at once and find themselves frozen, so to speak. Well, perhaps I might only be speaking for myself, but it is true for me, at least. I think this is partially because I get used to working in certain ways and when I get out of what I’m used to doing, that can mess with me. In years past, that would have just convince me not to write anything. However, since I’ve actually decided to get serious about my writing during the past several years, that’s not really an option that I feel comfortable exercising. Even though everyone has off days and I certainly have days where I don’t write a single word, the fact that I do that too many days in a row makes me uncomfortable in a way it never did before.

I want to be creative and I definitely feel better mentally when I accomplish any sort of writing, whether it’s serious writing, fun writing, or even just a good round of revisions. So, in lieu of writing anything else, I thought I’d discuss some of the observations I’ve had about some of my current work habits and why it might be sometimes challenging to write in some circumstances. For me, it beats not writing, so I hope any writers out there get some benefit from it.

  1. Conventional book-writing and fan fiction writing have two particular differences that I have noticed. The first of these is how you go about putting together the work. In fan fiction, most writers post their fiction as they write it, in individual chapters. As a consequence, you are writing your work in chronological order as you work on it, or else readers would have no idea what was going on.
    This can be a sticky situation when you get to a point in your writing where it’s a slow part of the story and you don’t have as much enthusiasm for that particular scene. However, it can be a valuable way for you to realize that you either need to cut the scene altogether or drastically shorten it, so in that sense it can be valuable.
    In the case of book fiction, however, you don’t publish as you go. You only put out the book when you finish the entire work. Because of this fact, you have the ability to write sections of the book in whatever sequence you like, just like how movie and television directors often shoot scenes out of sequence. I began this practice in recent years for three particular reasons. It encourages me to write the most interesting scenes first, and thus encourages writing productivity. I also find that it indirectly encourages me to eventually leave out those scenes, which I think speeds up the action and pace of the narrative. So, that is an advantage of novel writing.

    The second difference, on the other hand, concerns overall word count. In the world of online fan fiction, there is no real limit to the amount of words you can write. I ended up writing more than a half million words for one series that I’m doing and nobody would blink and eye at it.
    When it comes to conventional publishing, however, keeping a narrative under a certain word count is more expected. Novels are typically between 60,000 to just under 100,000. Fantasy and science fiction authors can go a bit over that mark, but otherwise, publishers want you to keep those books at a certain length.
    I just took a look at the new manuscript I’m working on – essentially a sequel for the new book that’s coming out (watch this space for further announcements on that). I’m informally settling on a word count of about 80,000 to 95,000 for the book. I just started writing it in earnest two weeks ago. I took a look at my word count and I’m already up to 8,000 words. I feel like I just started telling the story. It’s a limitation for sure. However, maybe it’s a good limitation – not all of those unabridged novels and director’s cut films are genius-level works of art.
  2. Sticking to writing deadlines is a bit tough for me. I have usually been sticking to putting out my writing journals on WordPress every Wednesday recapping my word count and work for the previous week. Then again, those are pretty standard to put together because I’m usually just posting numbers and making the odd comments about them
    Making creative content, stuff like writing advice and those A Writer’s Biography posts, is a bit more work. I’ve been trying to write a content-rich post every weekend, but as you might notice from the timestamp on this one, that gets a bit difficult. (I was thinking that I was going to get something posted by Saturday, ha ha.)
    This is a skill that I think will be a work in progress for me. And, I realize that I’m not the only one with this type of problem. I’ve been gratified in recent years to learn that two of my creative idols growing up – the late great novelist Douglas Adams, and the cartoonist Berke Breathed, were notorious for missing deadlines. That helps me keep it in perspective.
  3. It’s tough to try and get a good word count going and be a poet.
    I’ve started to write poetry (and have shown some of them on this site), but they don’t really add to the word count, do they? I mean, I managed to get this post well over a thousand words without too much effort, but verse is a totally different animal than prose. Poets often go through just as much work to put together a group of words that a prose writer would put in to write ten times as many words. My writing group has been pondering this question for a while and wondering what a rightfully equivalent amount of writing would be for poets.
    Since I’ve been working at trying to write 200,000 words this year, obviously this has discouraged me from spending too much time on poetry. Something I might keep in mind when I am considering next year’s writing goals.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Take care of yourselves, everyone.

“Work” Writing Vs. “Fun” Writing: A Reflection (Part 3/3)

Well, I’ve been trying to shovel out a lot of what our current president might call malarkey, so I figure that I might want to try and bring it to a close.

I started my writing life harboring a small little hope that someday, my talent and great stories might end up making me rich and famous.

As I approach a half century of life, I now realize that my writing goes beyond notions of fame and fortune. I realize that I would be writing and creating even if nobody was reading it. I realize that I would be flinging my work into the electronic beyond even if I didn’t know that someone would be reading it and be interested in it.

It is nice, however, to have someone praise your work and tell you that you are a great writer. That’s the truth even if you don’t know exactly who those people are and couldn’t be relied on to pick out those people in front of you even if they were wearing name tags that bore the usernames that they went by in the electronic Wild West. None of that matters.

As a responsible writing instructor at the secondary educational level (and previously at the post-secondary educational level), this is where I would start insisting, quite annoyingly, that the author of whatever nonfiction writing piece that they are trying to create (and this is, by clear definition, a nonfiction writing piece) needs to lay out, in a single sentence, if possible, what the thesis of their writing is. If they are not able to recite this sentence for me, I often insist, then they will be lost regarding what the intent and purpose of their writing is, and more importantly, their readers will have no idea what in the bloody frozen hells of the lower levels of Hades what the purpose is of what they are writing.

So, I’m going to see if I can manage some sort of thesis statement not just for this piece of writing, but also for the previous two ones in this series. In addition, I think that by definition, it is going to end up being a working thesis statement regarding who I am as a writer.

When I was a kid, I self-identified as a writer. This was what I wanted to be when I grew up, this was how I was going to Make My Living. I also had a small little ambition to become a Famous Novelist, but like all sorts of fame and success, I didn’t know how much talent, desire, and luck1 you needed to get to that point. I had at least just enough of the first one and plenty of the second one, but the third I had no more than most typical people and I hadn’t learned yet how critical that can be when it comes to fame and success. You can almost certainly succeed if you have sufficient levels of all three qualities, but if you only have even just two or one of them, you’d have as much as a chance as most people have on the lottery.

When I was a younger man, there were many times where I did describe myself as a writer but I almost felt like a fraud doing it. Yes, I was making money off my writing skills, first as a journalist, and then as a teacher. In the former case, I certainly could say I was a published author, but it wasn’t like I was a novelist or anything. I had set aside my writing for a while, and there were years that went by where I hadn’t written a single word of fiction. Those novelist dreams of mine kept getting further and further away.

Now, I have actually gotten to be a published writer, even though I am far from A Success yet. I have been concentrating on improving my writing skills, both from a productivity and a quality standpoint. I am starting to see results. The fact that I am not supporting myself as a writer, or that I am producing some work that has no economic or marketing potential whatsoever, is totally irrelevant.

I am a writer because I want to write, I am writing, and I want to grow and improve my craft. No other definition is needed.

How’s that for a thesis statement?

So now, I don’t have any existential debates anymore about whether I’m a writer or not. Whether I’m as good or as productive of a writer as I should be, however… that is a different story.

I’ve managed to set some goals for myself this year. Maybe you heard about them. I know I will have to continue to set new goals and challenges for myself in the years to come. I’m in the process of considering what those goals should be, and I think self-publishing is going to be at the top of that list.

Keep going upward and forward, for as long as my health and faculties hold up. There’s still a ways to go, and any lifetime is never enough time to learn everything that there is to know about writing.

Footnotes:

  1. Luck I define as any other outside forces or circumstances that fall in your favor when you are trying to accomplish something.

“Work” Writing Vs. “Fun” Writing: A Reflection (Part 2/?)

It all started with a television show.

The time was spring 2019. I had just become a published author for the first time ever, but I was having difficulty getting things off the ground. 

There were the usual difficulties with being a first-time author, of course, but I had many other things going against me other than the typical stuff. First, in a business where you want to be well-known in the region that you live in, I was less than a year away from moving to a totally different section of the state, far away from my home base of 40 years. In the middle of me doing that, trying to hustle for a side gig was the last thing on my mind. 

Looming in the distance, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, was COVID, which would keep me away from doing anything in-person for a long time to come. That would eventually halt most of the momentum that I had, and the fact that the publisher I worked with on my book was not accepting any new fiction work stopped my progress on that front, as well.

I was in a weird middle place, which I haven’t totally escaped from yet, where I was in-between projects. I have (still do have) some fiction that I had been working on, and the idea of trying to get back into the grind of trying to find a new publisher or agent was something that I was dreading. I was anticipating a years-long process behind that, because that was how it had gone previously for me. And there was no guarantee that I would have what I wanted in the end.

It was then that I got… a bit distracted by a shiny object – that television show.

Back in 2019, Game of Thrones was king. While I am not an HBO subscriber, I had been following the progress of the television show by other means. I am a big fan of fantasy fiction, and this interest had only grown since I was in my pre-teens.

The show was in its final season and I know there were plenty of people online anticipating the ending of the show. Many were anticipating it so much, even, that they were starting to come up with their own endings for the show. Even more, I was beginning to read them and watch them online.

I’d never had a totally favorable opinion of fan fiction by this time of my life. I had heard the old stories about how Star Trek had gotten that and “slash” romance fiction (such as Kirk/Spock). It seemed like people just trying to write their weirdest fantasies and throw it out into the ether of the Internet.

I started, in an ever so gradual manner, to read some of this work. Some of it I found on Reddit; some I discovered lurking around on other sites. I even saw a table read of a Game of Thrones play covering the final season on YouTube. There was a lot of speculation on YouTube regarding how this was going to shake out.

So, as I began to read and watch that material, in waiting for that final season to drop, I came upon something of a revelation for myself. I started to realize, some of these authors are good.

When I say that, I’m not talking about writers who were basically literate. I’m talking guys (and ladies) who were really good storytellers. I was getting as much enjoyment out those stories online as I had ever gotten out of anything I’d bought from a bookstore or Amazon’s Kindle store. They had everything – compelling, real-to-life characters with compelling relationships, great descriptions, plots that drove the story and that made sense based on a clear understanding of human nature and logical thought.

Because there wasn’t a lot of that – especially good plots – on TV screens right around spring 2019. Specifically, on any screens showing Game of Thrones.

If you haven’t heard, there were a whole bunch of people not happy with the ending of Game of Thrones. In fact, it was a debacle that eventually ended up killing a lot of the rewatch potential for the series. Somehow, it has managed to not destroy interest in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe (as the George RR Martin series is called), based on the reaction to the new House of the Dragon series (essentially a prequel to Game of Thrones).

I had been through bad endings of television series before, many many times. Anyone who grew up with any memory of 1970’s television (and reruns of 1950’s-1960’s television) would be able to recall bad series endings. Especially in those early days, there was no sense among television executives that series could come to a clear ending. They’d usually run those series until the wheels came off, when the ratings kept dropping even when cute kids were introduced in a desperate effort to keep eyeballs on cathode ray tubes. 

Eventually, those producers and show-runners got more sophisticated and realized that series needed a decent ending so that you could have satisfying series-long story arcs. Of course, show runners still got things wrong when it came to final seasons and endings. I had already suffered through Rosanne, Dexter, Lost, and, most horrifically, Battlestar Galactica (1-2).

But this ending – the ending to Game of Thrones – that threw me more than nearly any other ending of a show or a movie ever had. And as I was stewing over the many flaws of not only the ending but the entire final season of the show, one thought kept nagging at me: I could do this better than the 2Ds (3).

So, I started writing, pouring all of that frustration and a desire for a great story out onto the computer screen. Within a few weeks, I had a 40,000-word story set after the events of the series. It was a wild little tale that was never going to earn me a single dime. I wound up posting it in full on FanFiction.Net. 

People started posting comments on it and saying it was good. It… was a bit of a rush, to be honest. I mean, I’ve had people compliment my work before (more than a few of them family), but this was some random strangers giving them out. 

Then I decided to post it on a site called Archive Of Our Own (AO3), a virtual warehouse of fanfiction content. I met several cool authors there who put out some really ambitious work. There was one younger writer out there who essentially did an entire rewrite and reimagining of the entire ASOIAF series (4). There was plenty of great writing out there… and the craziest idea popped into my head.

“I should do a rewrite of Season 8.”

Part of me thought it would be too much work to do for a “fun” project, something that had no commercial potential whatsoever. But the other part was drawn to the challenge. I’d seen too much cringe moments in that season that I knew I could have done a better job of it than they could. I’d had that feeling reading plenty of paperbacks over the years, but I hadn’t gotten the idea to actually redo a book. Until now. 

I ended up with about half a million words. 

It’s now a series. 

I’ve had more than 1,000 people give “kudos” (AO3-speak for likes). 

I’m not sure how much more of it I’m going to write. If I wanted to be a “serious” writer, I should just try and come up with an idea about a new OC dark fantasy series. 

But, it turns out it’s one of the most fun things that I’ve ever experienced as a writer. 

And because of it, I think I fell back in love with just writing for writing’s sake. And I’m so thankful for it.

And yes, there will be more to this in a later post. Maybe you’ll see it next weekend? And maybe you’ll see it with some other stuff.

Footnotes:

1. The one that started in 2003, not the one in 1978. You’d never expect a science fiction series to last long in the 1970’s.

2. The four best ever endings in TV history so far are, of course, The Shield, The Wire, Six Feet Under, and The Sopranos.

3. The Showrunners Who Will Not Be Named.

4. He’s since started at least three other series reimagining that universe. He’s a very ambitious and creative young man.