The Journal, Thursday, 8/20

The Day
Rolled out at 2:30 this morning. I started this journal entry over a cup of French vanilla cappucino. Yeah, it’s a weakness. Nice to have every now and then.

Okay, now it’s 4 a.m. (after I wrote the Topic of the Night below) so time to release the babies (a hyper nervous chihuahua and two lady cats who relish the savory flavor of rare chihuahua meat, he thinks) so they can run and play. Let the day begin. (grin)

I already know I’m going for a walk this morning, so I’ll piddle around until then. I’ll leave about 5 a.m. When I get back I’ll shower and change clothes, then write. Sure feels good to be back in the saddle alongside Wes.

Got back from a good 4 mile walk in a sandy bottomed arroyo (good workout). After a shower and changing clothes, I realized I had to run (well, drive) to the grocery store. So I got that done, then came back here, put on the first of two loads of laundry I want to get done today.

Then finally I turned to the writing ‘puter. Trudging today, but it’s still great to be back. To steal a line from a bumper sticker about fishing, even the worst day of writing is better than the best day at work. (grin)

Topic of the Night: Productivity as a Writer

I’ve received several comments recently from writers who feel disappointed in themselves when they can’t “keep up” with me in their own writing. I do understand because I’d like very much to write at what Dean Smith calls “Pulp Speed.”

Pulp Speed is at least one million words of publishable fiction in a year. Chances are I’ll never pull that off. But if I don’t, that’s all right.

The point behind me posting my numbers is NOT to challenge you to keep up with me. Believe me, compared to some writers out there (and to ALL the old pulp writers) I’m slow.

But I post my numbers here only to show you that even though I set goals, I sometimes fail to reach them. And That’s All Right.

I want you to understand that failing to reach a goal is not necessarilly a bad thing. I want you to know it’s entirely possible to “fail to success.”

My own long-term goal on January 1 of this year was to reach 1,095,000 words by December 31. I won’t make it. In fact I won’t get anywhere near it.

But if I hit 600,000 or 700,000 words by then, I’ll take it. I will have failed, but I will have failed to success.

Here are the numbers:

My daily writing goal is 3,000 words of publishable fiction per day.

If I hit that goal exactly, and if I do that for 365 days in a row, I will have written 1,095,000 words in a year. Over a million words.

But I don’t. My average (arithmetic mean) before this horrible month of August was around 2500 words per day. And even if I hit 2500 words per day every day for 365 days in a row, I’d still fall short of my million words at 912,500 words.

Amazing the difference 500 words a day (a half hour per day) can make, isn’t it?

But I also realize a lot of you have jobs or careers or other interests, so let’s talk about your own personal reality.

If you want to increase your productivity as a writer, do this:

  • Step One. Figure out how much writing time you have per day. The best way to do that is keep a journal. Break your waking-hours day into quarter-hour or half-hour increments, then write down what you were doing during each increment. (If you were watching a football game for example, that knocks out several increments in a row.)
    • Keep your journal for at least three days. A week is better. Don’t cheat. Nobody’s gonna see it but you. This should show you when you can carve out time to write.
  • Step Two. Figure out how many publishable words you can write in an hour. Hint: Don’t “think” your way through every phrase and sentence. That isn’t how good writing happens. Bradbury himself once said nothing good in literature ever came from conscious thought. Instead, sit down at the keyboard, put your fingers on the keys, and Just Write What Comes. Then write the next sentence. Then write the next sentence. Don’t worry about where it’s all going or how it’s connected in the future. Just Write.

Note: I write about 1000 words per hour. That probably sounds like a lot, but it’s only 17 words per minute. That leaves a lot of time for staring off into space, don’t you think? (grin) Seriously, if you aren’t writing 700+ words per hour, check in with yourself. What are you doing during that hour?

  • Step Three. When you know how often you can write and how many words per hour you can get on the page, don’t let your conscious mind (fear) make excuses for you. Sit down and write. I’ll do a topic on fear another time.
  • Step Four. (I recently re-learned this one the hard way.) Set Goals. And be dogged in your determination to achieve them. I’ll write more about goal setting in another topic soon, but for now, here are a few tips:
    • Be specific. Don’t say you’ll write a novel. That’s like saying you’ll eat an elephant. It’s an overwhelming thought. Instead, say you’ll write 1,000 words (about one hour) per day. Every day. (Or 500 words per day, or 2,000 words per day, or whatever suits you.)
    • Set goals that automatically re-set. If you say you’ll write 1000 words every day, that goal re-sets every morning when you get out of bed. If you miss a day or fall short one day, the next day you still have to write only 1000 words to hit your goal.
    • Tell people about your goals. This will help you hold yourself accountable. Tell your writing group or friends. Don’t tell people who will downplay what you’re doing or who will not support you unless you’re wearing your criticism-proof underwear.
    • Set up a streak. How many days in a row can you write 1000 words per day? The longer you go, the more power the streak has and the less likely you are to break it. Streaks feed goals and goals feed streaks. Try it. You’ll like it. I promise.

If you decide to write two days per week or five days per week, you can still set up a streak. How many weeks can you go without missing your assigned days?

Share your results with me in the comments section if you want. I’ll always be supportive. Yes, even if you write 4000 words per day and shoot past me like I’m stapled to a tree. (grin) I’ll applaud you and work like crazy to catch up. (grin)

Nah, I’ll just keep doing what I do.

Now let’s look at numbers.

If you write 1,000 (one hour) words per day, and you write only five days per week, that’s still 5,000 words per week.

That’s also 20,000 words per month, 60,000 words per quarter, and 260,000 words per year.

Even if you choose to take off two weeks for vacation every year, that’s still 250,000 words per year.

But what if you “can” only write a half-hour per day, five days per week? (I’ll talk about setting priorities, the “can” factor, in another topic sometime too.)

Run the numbers. That’s 500 words per day, 2500 words per week, 10,000 words per month. It’s 30,000 words per quarter, and 130,000 words per year unless you take that two week vacation. Then it’s “only” 125,000 words.

Science fiction grand master Jack Williamson, whom I was fortunate to know for awhile, had trouble writing more than 100,000 words per year. Amazing, eh? Look him up sometime and check out his bibliography. At age 94 he was still writing two novels per year for TOR.

Finally, realize that if you miss your goal, Absolutely Nothing Will Happen. The goal will simply re-set and you can go for it again.

So there you go. If you need help with any of this, please let me know. I’d be more than happy to help. I’m not kidding.

Today’s Writing

It’s perfect that I picked Productivity as the Topic of the Night above. And it’s perfect that I mentioned that failing to meet goals is all right.

Today, like yesterday, my daily goal was to write 3,000 publishable words of fiction. I failed miserably.

Now, I am in that stage of the novel in which I have to nitpick my way through it, making sure I get the names right, making sure I include enough backstory so the novel stands alone, but also adding enough new stuff to keep the story moving for those who have read the entire saga from the beginning. It’s a rough balance to walk.

So that’s my excuse, and it’s a valid one.

Still, I know me. And I know there’s no reason I couldn’t have done that (very slow writing) AND still met my goal.

I just didn’t. (shrug)

But that’s all right. The novel is still farther along today than it was when I got up this morning.

And tomorrow morning around 2 or 3 a.m. I’m gonna roll outta the rack and have a brand spanking new daily goal: 3,000 words. And that’s what keeps me going. (grin)

Fiction Words: 1046

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 13828
Total fiction words for the year……………… 456228

5 thoughts on “The Journal, Thursday, 8/20”

  1. Returned from my second week of vacation this summer (ah the cool pines of Pinetop) have a snag or two in book three. First of all, the son-in-law in one of the co-stories didn’t do the murder. I thought he did but when I wrote it I found out he didn’t and now I have a good murder but not a suspect in sight. And in one of the other crimes I really can’t, yet, find the poison I need. So a few dead ends. Back to working with my graphic design guy on the cover of book two…I can see it but the photo hasn’t happened yet…but I”ve scouted the location and am ready. Book two had some gaps…and I wrote one of those in Pinetop…so things can logically occur and aren’t forced and so the reader can stay with me. Kinda like your dilemma, Harvey, of acquainting the reader with what happened in book one if they haven’t yet read it without boring the tarnation out of the readers who have. so onward and upward. Numbers are lost in the confusion now…tomorrow is Saturday and tuns of post trip laundry, bill paying etc but come Sunday afternoon its back to book three. I gotta admit Harvey I am a wee bit jealous of your years of teaching writing. Your conscious mind holds all those grammar rules and sentence structure abilities and that allows your subconscious mind to tell the tale WELL the first time you right (see there’s an example “write” not right) it. That’s an advantage I don’t have so I have to let my critical mind back in after the story is down on paper and do a little fixing…of awkward sentences and eliminating unnecessary re-statements of known facts…I don’t know if that makes sense to you but I struggle some with those aspects of the writing process. I found out that it is not fun to see your mistakes in print the wrong names etc or dates. So I’m more careful this time to get it right before it goes to print. I know what I’m talking about now is not quite writing in the dark stuff. Any insights?

    • 1. Dean Wesley Smith is constantly talking about having a murder but the murderer not showing up until later in the book. Just trust the process. Keep writing the next sentence and eventually the situations and characters will lead you to the murderer. It probably will surprise you. But that’s good, because if it surprises you it will also surprise the reader.
      2. Finding the poison you need is just a matter of research. Pick the symptoms and work back or pick the opportunity and work forward. Or something.
      3. The key to filling in gaps and even to tweaking awkward sentences, eliminating unnecessary re-statements, etc. is to DO SO IN CREATIVE MIND. Let your subconscious run as you’re going back over it, allowing yourself to touch it. But that’s the key. Let the subconscious do it. Don’t let your English teacher in.
      Note: Even as I’m tweaking the current novel, bringing new readers up to speed while not boring old readers, I’m doing it all in creative mind, allowing my subconscious to do what it wants. As a result, I’m discovering brand new things about my characters. These are things that would not have revealed themselves if I were “rewriting” with my conscious mind. Radically cool.
      “Any insights?”
      Yep. ENJOY. You’re supposed to be having fun. If you’re having fun with your writing, you have no issues. (grin)

  2. Also, since this is confessionville I have to admit that often in the past I have done a lot of tell and not show in my writing…I know that is self-critical. I used to say that is my “style” but when dialogue is used instead of narrative it’s a lot more effective writing and moves the story better…so I confess to going back and taking “tell” sections (narrative) and re-writing them into dialogue. It’s just better. Ooops..but that is really not writing into the dark, except the story grew all by itself in the dark and now I’m trying not to take the shine off of it and yet do it better. Well I never claimed to be a “star’ student…ah but now confession is over and with a clear conscience I can write on. bye…

    • Bonnie, although dialogue engages the reader directly (as opposed to going through the middle-man narrator), it has nothing to do with “show, don’t tell.” DON’T take the shine off. Write, proof, publish and move on. Try to improve one or two aspects of your writing with each subsequent work. That’s how you practice and improve. Just write the best possible work you can write the first time through with the skills you have at that moment. Then move on to the next one. For a more in-depth look at Show, Don’t Tell, visit Read it. Enjoy. (grin) On to your earlier comment.

  3. Thanks Harvey… I’m now looking forward to when the murderer appears (and for all the rest of what you wrote too.) You are sometimes in the role of a “healer” whether you know it or not. Once again you’ve added back in the “feel good” to writing.
    My characters salute you! Me too!

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