For several years, I’ve posted writing advice here either once a week or once every ten days. In all that time, I’ve seldom missed a day. I’ll continue to post here occasionally, but the time has come that I am going to cut it way back.
More and more often, I’m finding myself repeating in this blog something I recently posted to my Daily Journal. And actually, most of my nonfiction efforts go into that blog.
But it’s a well-kept secret thus far, with only around 30 subscribers. By comparison, this blog has around 500 subscribers. And most of them are missing the meaty, real-world writing advice I pass out over there almost every day.
If you enjoy the tips you find here, I recommend you Sign Up for my Daily Journal. It’s a double opt-in process, so after you click the link, you’ll receive an automated email. You have to click the link in it to sign up for the Journal.
As an alternative, I can add you to the list for the journal myself. Of course I won’t add you unless you ask me to. So if you’d rather do that, just email me and let me know. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help you decide, here are a couple of recent articles from the Daily Journal.
Again it’s been brought to my attention that some people find word count somehow a less than honorable way to think about writing. So I’ll clarify briefly.
FOR ME (emphasis intentional) keeping track of the number of new words I put on the page is both a catalyst and a measurement of productivity. To explain, I’ll use a simple example.
Say two writers both meet their goal to write one new short story per week. So at the end of a year, both have written 52 short stories.
The problem is, “short story” isn’t a measure of quantity, though certainly “52 short stories” is.
But say one writer writes stories that consist of 2000 words or less. The other writes stories that fall between 3000 and 6000 words each.
Both can claim to have written 52 short stories in a year (an accomplishment) and both can claim a streak that’s lasted at least 52 weeks in a row (another accomplishment, and a huge one).
But the first writer has written 104,000 new words of fiction or less, whereas the other has written between 156,000 words at the minimim and 312,000 words at the most. So who is the more prolific writer?
Depends on whether you want to call “story” a measure of quantity. Either way, both have achieved something incredible. On the other hand, the second writer has gotten a LOT more practice.
And if you want to improve in your storytelling ability, you must practice.
Not to mention, if you’re a writer, you must write. Right? If you’re a mechanic, you fix stuff. If you’re a carpenter, you build stuff. If you’re a writer, you write.
I should also point out here that “story” and “writing” are different concepts.
Story is what you have in your mind, or what the characters bring to you. It’s what you run through with your characters if you’re fortunate enough to have learned to trust your subconscious.
Writing is the mechanical act of putting little black marks on a page in such a way that sometime later another person (the reader) will decipher them. When he does so, the same “story” that you enjoyed will be in his mind as well.
So whatever you choose to do, however you choose to touch benchmarks on your writing, I will continue to use cold, hard numbers. If for no other reason than because it’s more practical (FOR ME) to count mechanical words as a benchmark of how far I’ve come.
It’s also practical (again, FOR ME) to use numbers to set future benchmarks (goals) for where I want to be with putting little black marks on a page a month from now, two months from now, and a year from now.
And while I’m on that topic, here’s a related one.
Short Fiction and Streaks
Some of you will remember that at one time I had a streak going of writing at least one short story per week. I finally intentionally broke the streak (yes, intentionally… I’m just that stupid) at 70 weeks. I’ve been taking half-hearted shots at starting and maintaining a new streak ever since.
Partly as a result of that streak, at one time I had short stories lined up for the Short Story of the Week out as far as three months in advance.
I just realized this morning, it’s been awhile since I wrote one. But the ones I had queued up kept right on posting every week. And in fact, the last short story I wrote posted last Monday (May 23).
Yet my readers expect a free short story every week. So I’m thinkin’, maybe I’d better get hot.
So I’m starting a new personal challenge to write at least one short story every week. And of course, that’s in addition to this blog, novels, etc.
Just to challenge myself a little more, I waited until after the last story posted to write a new one. Just to make it a true week. But from here on, for at least awhile, I’ll HAVE to write at least one new short story every week just so I’ll have something to post.
Plus a lot of Donors have gone awhile, patiently, without anything new from me. Thank you all. I’ll be getting some new stuff to you soon.
‘Til next time, happy writing!
2 thoughts on “Call to Action”
Harvey, excellent post as usually. I feel compelled to agree with my own comment… though it maybe longer that a ‘comment’ should be:
The goal never matters? Or Does it?
If you are in the “it’s the journey that counts, not the destination” crowd you should be equally enamored with the idea that the goal doesn’t matter it’s the process that gets you there.
To write a story or a novel is a finite goal; easily understood as accomplished when it ends. The question most often raised is how did you get there… to the end?
Obviously the process is varied. Mine and Harvey’s are not the same, though we both believe whole-heartedly in “writing in the dark;” “stream of consciousness;” and “trusting your subconscious” we also both believe in the value of numbers; i.e. the number of words written, though perhaps calculated for slightly different reasons.
As I am primary writing novels, and thus apply word-number keeping as part of that process I do so for the practical and practiced reason that the brain ‘magically’ accomplishes that which it is directed toward (thank you Maxwell Maltz, PsychoCybernetics).
Though I use the accumulation of words, summed on a daily, weekly, and or monthly basis, those sums are mental guide posts to accomplishing the end: completing a novel. My process is simple (to me). I aim to write novels around 100,000 words. That size ‘canvas’ is what I am comfortable with to contain my story. Depending on the font size and space between lines, using 250 words per page (wpp) gives me a novel of approximately 400 pages. So if I keep track of either (I do both) the wpp or the pages themselves, I always know where I am in terms of completing my book.
Now for the magical part. Since my brain knows I’ve corralled it’s story-telling-universe into approximately 100,000 words or 400 pages it somehow, miracle number one, gets my characters to act and say what needs to be done and said to conclude the story within the parameters of the requisite number of pages or words. I do not hold myself (usually) to a set number or words or pages to write in a specific time (although I have). Miracle number two is that even if I am not (seemingly) keeping track of my daily output as a goal, my brain is and it constantly nudges me forward by supplying me with more story to write. My brain obviously knows exactly how many words or pages I have to go. Miracle number three is that I trust my brain when to stop. In my last novel, “The Sun Never Sets,” when my brain said, “write ‘period The End’” I stopped. Guess what? I had written 96, 810 words that filled over 400 pages.
To paraphrase how Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard described the conundrum of how a play gets written or finished in “Shakespeare In Love,” they opined: I don’t know how happens, it just does.
Yes, the goal matters (TO ME), but only as a target to aim at, something to keep me going. I set all sorts of goals, for example
And thus far, I’m succeeding (most of the time) at none of them, but failing to success at all of them.
Our techniques are very similar when it comes to writing into the dark, which really means letting the characters tell the story as they’re living it. Where we differ is the length thing. I’ve separated Writing from Story. I have no predetermined length or literary genre (short story, novella, novel) in mind when I sit down to write a story. I just want to write the story.
Of course, I do have some idea going in that a world is big enough for one or more stories or novels. But I just let the story be what it’s gonna be, then move on to the next one.
A project I started this morning is an excellent example, I think. I sat down to write a short story. And I did. It came in at about 2800 words. But it’s also the first chapter of what will be the tenth novel in the Wes Crowley series. And I gotta tell you, it sure was good to visit with Wes again, albeit under some seriously ugly circumstances.
But like you, I also write until the characters lead me to the end. Then I stop. If there’s a difference, it’s that my characters tell me where they’re going, how they’re going to get there, when to start and stop, etc. I don’t tell them anything. It’s like they’re writing through my fingers. And they’re much better storytellers than I am.
I CAN tell where I am in a novel (once a story shows me it’s going to be a novel) because the story tends to bog down at about the 1/3 point and sometimes again at about the 2/3 point. Both times, I take a deep breath and Just Write the Next Sentence. Lather, rinse, repeat. Next thing I know, the characters are off and running again.
So for me, yes, the goal matters. A lot.
And for me, the destination matters, but the journey is the fun. It’s why I never celebrate “finishing” something. I was a lot more excited this morning when I realized I had a new short story and novel to write than I was that I had finished a novel yesterday.
Hope this answers some of your comment. You always could out talk me. (grin)
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