September update: Success?

Well, the good news is that I achieved my writing goal of adding 20,000 words to book three of my Sisters of Chaos trilogy in August, for the first time in six months.

However, I’m not entirely convinced this was a good thing. For one thing, after fighting to the last day of the month to get that word count in, I had only a few hours to enjoy my success before the clock simply reset and I had only to look forward to doing it all over again. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring victory.

Aside from that, I ended up with a fair bit of writing I’m not entirely pleased with. I know the point was to just get the words out and worry about cleaning it up later, but it’s discouraging to achieve that word count with content I’m immediately dissatisfied with as soon as it’s on the page.

As a result of these issues, I haven’t written a word in the story since. Part of it is simply that I don’t feel ready to write the climax of the story yet, which is pretty much where I am now without going back and adding/editing other scenes. But I think I need to go about my word count goals differently.

Obviously I need to just sit down and continue writing. I’ve a ways to go yet to reach my initial goal of having a first draft of the manuscript complete before the end of the year, and this seventeen-day slump is one of my longer ones of this year. Yet perhaps I won’t worry so much about forcing more words out for the sake of a word count goal if I feel something’s not working.

August update

Had I stuck to the writing goal I set in March of this year, I would have a complete 120,000-word draft of book three of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy by now. That has not happened. I also admittedly didn’t do a great job of trying to recover from that in July.

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Instead, I ended the month with only 71,506 words. However, I’m well on track for my initial goal of having the draft done by the end of the year, especially since I’m starting August off on the right foot for a change (knock on wood).

I’m also feeling better about the story now. About halfway through July, I spent some time doing plot development and nailed down some things to make the book more interesting. It will involve a fair bit of rewriting, but the story is looking much better for it. I should have done more writing after that point last month, but what’s done is done. Or not done, as it were. I surpassed my progress in July by this Sunday and have managed to keep that second graph above the blue line overall, so I’m both hopeful and motivated to continue writing.

Here goes.

July update and NEW BOOK!

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Okay, so only about 1/10th of the content of this book is actually my writing, but I’m still very proud of this new book. It’s an anthology of stories from authors I’ve been privileged to publish over the years, and every story in it is fantastic. It even includes one from me about Liam from the Sisters of Chaos trilogy, and a story from J. R. Dwornik about Lyle from the same series. So please check it out!

Now, on to my terribly delayed monthly update for June.

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So, clearly I still fell well short of my monthly goal of 20,000 words, but I did far better than in May, and at least achieved half of my goal. The problem, obviously, is that I simply didn’t write for many days. I rarely allow myself to fall short of my daily word count goal when I actually sit down to write, I just too often don’t end up trying. To be perfectly honest, usually it’s simply because I don’t feel like it/don’t want to write.

Most of that comes from the fact that I’m feeling dissatisfied with the story. I know it can, and will, get better, but I suppose it’s been so long since I really did any heavy writing that I’m getting discouraged a lot easier when what I write doesn’t immediately come out worthy. Mainly I continue to write new scenes that end up as large blocks of exposition. I will improve on them, I just need to get past my own perfectionism and blank page syndrome to simply advance the story.

I should have a 120,000-word manuscript written by the end of this month, but at present I’m only clocking in a hair under 70k. But hey, 70,000 words is a pretty decent book on its own, and it’s still 70,000 words more than I had at the beginning of the year. I need to focus on that more than how much I still have left to do, and just write.

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Beyond writing, I haven’t done much of note recently. Stress/overall emotional state has largely reduced my extracurricular activities to reading and another play-through of Trials of Mana. I have only a few books left in my TBR pile, though I’ve had occasional diversions with books from daughter’s collection or library acquisitions, and have added a couple as well. I’m looking forward to having an excuse to dive into the many ebooks I’ve collected over the years.

Of course, being halfway through the month, my course has already been pretty much set, and so far my writing hasn’t progressed much better in July than it went in June.

But there’s still time to improve that.

June update

A little delayed with my monthly update, but I suppose it’s fitting. It’s not even worth sharing the graphs of my writing progress last month. I wrote for a grand total of one day in May for all of 829 words of my 20,000 word goal.

I’m not dwelling on it and I’m not trying to catch up this month, either. I’ve decided to start June on a clean slate and just resume my attempts to get 20,000 words in a month. I’ve missed three days and yesterday I only managed about 60% of my daily word count goal, but every other day I’ve surpassed it by at least 37 words. It still leaves me behind, but not insurmountably.

I struggled with the story a bit recently. A couple of scenes, or attempted scenes, from one character didn’t work out, and another scene took a long time to be able to get down on screen at all. I’ve also been concerned about the pacing of the story. Just today I passed 60,000 words, halfway to my ultimate goal of 120,000, and I feel like there is not enough story left to fill those 60,000 words.

However, in the course of plantsing this story, I’ve ended up writing a lot of exposition that could be better presented. So for now, I think, I’m going to continue writing as I have been, letting the words flow as they will, ending the story short of my word count goal if need be, and going back to expand upon all that narration later. I’ve already decided that my opening scene is going to be different from how I wrote it, and the failed scenes of more recently will need to be reworked before I can consider a first draft done. If I’m going to make my soft goal of having the book ready within three and a half years of publishing book two (out next week!! preorders open now!!), I’m going to need to go back through those scenes and flesh them out properly within my stated (if now expanded) goal for having the first draft done this year. I can do this, and I’m rebuilding momentum on it already.

Aside from writing, I did a little bit of art, as shared here. Guitar and Japanese lessons continue, if somewhat less consistently. One other thing I did was finally return to my TBR list. I had a few shorter books on it which I managed to knock out in one day each, and have now read eight books within about three weeks. Why do I forget how much I enjoy reading? Oh right, because video games.

And so, here’s to a good start—er, continuation—of June. Hard to believe the year’s almost half over now. Haven’t we been having 30-week months since lockdown began?

May check-in: Falling off the wagon

The story of my writing in April can be pretty well summarized by the graphs of my progress:april-prog-1april-prog-2

Truth be told, I struggled a bit emotionally in April. As a result, I focused on self-care, which meant allowing myself to not write if I wasn’t feeling it or couldn’t get into the scene. I just didn’t have the mental spoons to beat myself up over my own goals.

So, I ended up with a large lull mid-month. And while I started off well enough increasing my daily goal to try to recover from it, I lost motivation at the end of the month and only ended up with 15,385 words of my goal of 20,000.

But I’m not worrying about it. I’ve adjusted my daily goals for May to try to make up for those last few thousand words I didn’t hit in April. It’s not a huge difference, so hopefully I’ll be able to manage it.

I didn’t do much else creative last month, either, particularly in the second half of it. Mainly, I’ll admit, because I’ve been playing video games. I received my preorders of Final Fantasy VII Remake and Trials of Mana, and the latter has been a great stress reliever in the past week.

I have also been continuing to play guitar. Not as consistently as I’d like, but I’ve played enough to now surpass where I got before I gave up last time, in both rhythm and lead guitar. In fact, I’m into it enough that I’m lamenting the brief instruction time on Yousician free and starting to consider a subscription to the app. (Of course, part of that may be that my tablet’s battery is too weak anymore to use for playing tabs I download.)

I’ve also maintained another good habit.

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(Six weeks ago I missed one day due to bringing home the kitten.)

I’ve been doing very little activity aside from 20-25 minutes on the elliptical every weekday, and unfortunately my body seems to be growing used to that. However, I’m glad to be keeping up this routine, and to anyone else struggling right now, I can’t stress this enough: get some exercise if physically able.

For May, I’m playing it by ear. The month is starting with gorgeous weather in southern Ontario and I’m actually trying to grow some vegetables. (This is a big deal; I finally gave up on trying to fight my lifelong brown thumb a few years ago.) But I may need to resort to more Trials of Mana and not just because I like the game. I’ve adjusted my writing goals, but I’m going in with no expectations. Lockdown is hitting me hard, despite that my life has received less disruption than many and I’m enjoying staying at home and having my family around me. Above all, I intend to continue being kind to myself. I hope those of you having a hard time out there feel the same way.

April check-in

people-1492052_1920There, it’s happened: March 2020 is finally over.

Not that April shows much more promise yet, but it’s a welcome reminder that all things are temporary. Hang in there, everyone. We will get through this.

So, was March better or worse for my writing? Neither, really. As the owner of a home-based business, the biggest changes to my day-to-day life have been having the family at home all the time and the cancellation of extracurricular activities. The latter has had a bigger impact than I was prepared for (though shouldn’t have been), as spending an hour or two alone waiting for lessons to complete four nights a week provided an excellent opportunity to get writing done, and indeed became my routine for half the week. I’ve had to fit in more time for writing at home, obviously, which comes with its own challenges.

Fortunately, I haven’t had to combat heightened stress or anxiety, so struggles with writing usually pertained to the normal issues: blank page syndrome, figuring out where a scene is going, just not feeling it some nights. Overall, I’ve kept up progress pretty much in line with my goals, and ended up just falling short on the last day of the month, due largely to a general devil-may-care attitude this week, and yesterday in particular.

I’m not disappointed with my progress though.

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Note that these figures only begin from the day I started the spreadsheet to track my writing progress, on the 8th.

The story itself is progressing well. I don’t feel like it’s moving too quickly or too slowly, though how the remaining 2/3 of the story unfolds remains to be seen. I should note at this point that 120,000 words is an easy goal for the length of the manuscript, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it falls short of that.

Aside from writing this book, I’ve dipped into some other creative pursuits in the past few weeks, which I’ll share in coming posts. I continue to work on playing Tales of Vesperia, the first game for PS4 that I started playing in earnest, which I’ve almost finished now, some fifty hours in.

I even picked up the guitar again after at least a year of letting it collect dust. I need to build up the calluses on my fingers before I can start properly playing chords again, but I’ve done enough work on lead guitar over the past week or so to be back to the point I was at when I stopped playing before. I’m not going to make any promises about continuing–it’s easy to say I’ll keep doing it when I don’t have to make those four trips out per work week, making sure dinner is ready precisely on time every night–but I’d certainly like to keep it up. And, given that the app I’m using to learn it only allows me about ten minutes per day of instruction, I could do that in the afternoons instead of, say, that stupid mobile game I keep playing, if at a limited rate.

Also, I got a kitten.

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So, here we go, April.

March check-in: Crunching numbers

quill-pen-2431674_1280Time for another update on writing the final book of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy.

I started February needing to do some catch up, having only reached 2,500 words of my 10,000-word goal in January. Combined with nearly a week of downtime as I struggled with a particular scene, overall I ended up needing to double my planned monthly goal to reach 20,000 words by the end of February. Yes, I could have altered my overall word count goals rather than pushing so hard to try to get back on track within one month, but I didn’t want to set a precedent for letting myself fall behind and choosing to take care of it later. After all, the whole point of these writing goals is to keep me on track.

And in the end, I succeeded at reaching 20,000 words by the end of February. In fact, I succeeded so well that I decided I would double my writing goals. Instead of writing a 120,000-word draft within a year, I will continue writing 20,000 words per month to hopefully finish the draft in six months. That’s still only around 660 words per day to write; hardly a heavy writing session.

The month started off well, with me reaching that daily goal without much trouble for much of last week. However, I skipped writing on Friday. I wanted to write yesterday for both days, but ended up only writing one day’s worth of words. Between trying to figure out precisely how many words I need to write to stay on track and the complexity of a cumulative writing goal that doesn’t start at 0, determining my updated daily word count goal has become far too difficult a task for a quick calculation. So, just now, I decided to create a spreadsheet to track my goals and my actual progress.

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Incidentally, I now know a few tricks in OpenOffice Calc that I didn’t before.

This will make it a lot easier for me to both track my actual and planned progress and update my writing goals to ensure I reach my ultimate goal on time. I really had wanted to just catch up on Friday’s writing to bring my daily goal back to what it should be for the month, but the calculation was a bit too complicated for me to want to deal with, so I integrated it into my daily word count goals for the rest of the month. It’s only a difference of 10 words per day, after all.

One thing skipping Friday’s work has taught me is that this new goal of 20,000 words per month means that missing a day is a much bigger issue than when I’m only trying to reach 10,000. That provides additional motivation not to miss a day. However, given that I don’t write the exact number of words needed per day—it’s not the flag at the end of a level in Super Mario Bros., it’s the barely passing grade—

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Keep running, you lazy sot.

I should gradually pull ahead as the month goes on. That should give me a little breathing room for when I don’t meet my goal, and is a lot easier to swallow than just trying to increase my next day’s work to meet that 660 words for each day.

I don’t normally put this much work into organizing my efforts, but the fact is, as my family has learned, once I get the bug in me to organize something, there is no stopping me until the task is thoroughly completed. I don’t do things halfway. And in truth, breaking the overall goal down into the small, daily objectives makes it both seem a lot more doable and motivates me more to continue.

The writing itself is going both faster and slower than I thought. Slower because at around 660 words per writing session, it takes several days of work to finish a single scene. Yet the cumulative result, given that I now have over 24,000 words in the story, is that the story is advancing quicker than I’d anticipated. Of course, it’s been entirely too long since I’ve been writing—not editing or tweaking or revising—a novel.

So it’s been nice to get back into it. As a story I’m plantsing more than it feels like I did with the previous two books, it’s taken some minor turns I hadn’t considered and made me think about some other aspects to the novel. One in particular is that, given that this is the end of the series, anything left that I want to say I need to do so in this book. That in mind, I’ve been allowing myself to expand on things like character development for secondary characters and how they are reacting to the changes in their lives, which I had initially dismissed as not immediately relevant to the story.

Now, the fact that this is a first draft means that it might all end up being cut anyway. At this stage, I’m taking the NaNoWriMo approach of just getting the words down and leaving editing for later. I did write the first couple lines of a new opening scene intended to replace the one I already wrote. In the nature of a first draft, though, I haven’t bothered to go back to it yet.

(As a bonus, the spreadsheet will also allow me to track those words I place elsewhere through the manuscript, not just what I append to the end and manually word count.)

In short, writing is progressing well and now I’m looking forward to having a first draft finished around the end of July. If I manage it, then reaching my soft goal of halving the time between the release of books 2 and 3 means I would have three years (minus time for publication) to edit the draft.

I think I can do it.

February check-in

A little late, but at least not as late as my last post. If I keep this up, I might eventually write a blog post on time!

So, here we are a month into the new year. (Wait, already? No wait, only? What year is it?!) I thought I would check in with my progress on my goals for 2020.

I fell a bit short of my goal for writing book 3 of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy last month, only ending up with 2,500 words of my intended 10,000. However, the important part is I’ve beaten blank page syndrome and have indeed started writing the novel, and I’m starting to develop the habit of writing again. Not much of what I’ve written so far I feel is very good, but at this point I’m just pounding words out on the page. I’m certainly more of a plantser (plotter + pantser) than either/or, and I need to just write to find out what works and what doesn’t.

I was also very glad to start a new scene today from a different character’s POV and find that the interaction between this character and another continues to be incredibly fun. Simply letting the two play off each other ended up with some unexpectedly entertaining dialogue.

Taking my goal of 10,000 words/month very literally, I need only write about 660 words per day to get back on track with 20,000 by the end of February. Considering that I’ve been writing around that much or more most days that I’ve actually sat down to write in the past few weeks, I’m feeling pretty positive about my progress so far, even if that daily goal is about twice what I would normally need to hit 10k in a month.

Reading has also been going well, as I managed to knock off four books on my TBR in January, and have completed two others since then, which brings me down to less than twenty remaining. I also read my first 5-star book in almost two years, Artemis by Andy Weir. Incredibly entertaining and highly recommended.

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Ready to game.

 

Of course, last week a PlayStation 4 happened.

So, now I need to be a little more stringent in handling my free time. I’m working on it. Today was a success story; work days might be a little trickier.

In unrelated artistic news, I’ve tried out some new baking techniques recently. A mirror glaze (didn’t quite work out as intended) and, just today, I attempted decorating cookies with royal icing by piping wet-on-wet. While I made some mistakes and learned some things, and could certainly use a smaller piping tip, they came out pretty well.

Nothing else of note in the last month, but then, I am trying to limit my attention to just a few endeavors right now, much as I might derive inspiration for other media. Must… focus…

At the moment, I’m feeling good about how I’m doing. Keeping the big picture in mind while focusing on achieving the small daily goals.

Let’s see if I can keep it up.

Happy new… well, not yet stale year

sparkler-839831_1920So, here we are again (a little delayed, on my part). My year started off a little less spectacularly than a hotel-room view of the fireworks over Quebec City, but I drank peach sparkling wine with friends in my pajamas, so I have no complaints.

A year ago, I made a post talking about resolutions and goals, though while the spirit of the new year inspired productivity from me, I didn’t really set many concrete goals. The one exception was my reading goal. After a rather pitiful year of reading in 2018, I wanted to do better. So I set a Goodreads reading goal of 27 books, one more than my previous best year of books since I’ve been recording my progress on Goodreads.

I ended up reaching 38 by the end of the year. Granted, 21 of them were graphic novels, but I wasn’t that specific when I set my goal.

a-jewel-on-sapphire-coverAs for writing last year, alas, I didn’t get book two of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy published. But, er, I did release a new book last year! A Jewel on Sapphire is a chapter book about a girl who lives on a space station and finds an alien she wants to keep as a pet, so if you or the 6-9-year-old in your life is into that sort of thing, go check it out.

In other goals, I must admit that playing guitar fell by the wayside. However, I managed to keep up an unbroken streak learning Japanese on Duolingo, and hit a pretty good milestone recently.

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Granted, I had a few cheat days, but overall, it was less than a week, so it’s pretty safe to say I have indeed put in a full year’s worth of work by now.

So what do I have in store for 2020? Let’s start with a reading goal.

20191120_090414This year, I just want to get through my TBRs. In fact, I took them out of their carefully filed places on our primary bookshelf and stacked them – in chronological order of date acquired – in the living room, so that they stare me down and entice/guilt me into reading them, rather than remaining easily forgotten behind the elliptical in the bedroom, and behind another row of books in some cases.

I actually felt fairly good about that stack when I saw it. It’s fewer books than I read last year, and only about 20% of those books are older than last June. At least I am making my way through my TBR books. So, at present, my reading goal for the year is rather shorter than last, but I’m focused more on specific books, and I’m counting on reading others after (and probably a few during; I haven’t fully caught up on W.I.T.C.H. yet).

And while I may not have released the next Sisters of Chaos book last year, I can now say that it is coming in June! So please stick around, I promise I’ll try to be better about hyping it up prior to its release.

I do feel bad about spending seven years to get the second book of the trilogy out. However, that’s only half as long as it took to get the first book out, so it’s an improvement. And it offers up another convenient goal: try to halve that time again for book three. Hence, my writing goal for this year: get a first draft of the final installment of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy written. Sounds a little daunting for someone who just took seven years to write a sequel to a novel with the rest of the trilogy already roughly sketched out, but when I break it down, that’s only about 10,000 words to write per month. The fact that I’ve yet to write a word for it is moot; I have time enough left in January without resorting to NaNoWriMo pace. Besides, I still had some planning to do. It’s a motivating goal, at least, like my reading goal that I smashed last year. I can do this. I will do this.

As far as other goals, I just want to continue the good habits I’ve formed over the last year or two. Exercising regularly, listening to my body, eating healthier, avoiding time-wasting mobile games or spending evenings rewatching the same movies and TV shows over again. I also apparently need to do a better job of mitigating my general stress level. That lengthy Duolingo streak is also inspiring me to continue it, though I’ll admit that after a year, I’m spending more days doing my minimum goal than I used to.

I’m ready for this year. Er, never mind that we’re already a few weeks into it. Let’s do this.

P.S.: I also finally finished making my way through this beastly backlist (which was actually closer to 45 hours by the time I committed to it):

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Now I can finally move on to the dozen other albums and several dozen other free songs I’ve been waiting to check out until I finished vetting these. … oh.