Journal

MONTHLY GOALS REVIEW – April 2021

Chipping away at everything, under Coffee Owl’s diligent gaze.

Although it’s not quite the end of the month yet (and a day late! Oops!), I thought it was a good time to check in with my annual/monthly writing goals. It’s kind of nice to have a week to try to remedy anything behind schedule. Helps organize priorities in the short-term!

So to begin: April has been a solid month. Chunked away at the novel word count. Having the entire thing sketched out in a massive scene list definitely seems to help motivation, in that I can pick and choose what kind of scene I feel like any given day.

One downside of the skipping around is that I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to do a massive read-through edit to take out redundancies, smooth transitions, and modify tension/tone to grow appropriately. And it’s made me realize how much I’d like to have the time to write whole, complete scenes in a single go (or at least have time at the end of the day to review and smooth things out). It’s nice to feel the structure of the scene as complete.

I also wrote a new short story that’s currently tucked in and resting for future review. I was hoping I could use April as a kind of modified Chekhov month (writing a new story each week), but reviewing things for possible submission stole a few of those weeks, and derailed the (loose) plan. I may try again in May, for fun, as I really like regularly working on short fiction to keep my skills up and to build a stable of stories to choose from, but I also need to balance that with finding time to edit and submit things.

No new submissions yet, but I think I can get “The Showerlier” out by the end of the month, which will derail new short stories for the rest of April, but I reeeeeally need to get this out.

No new summary draft, but that hasn’t been the focus so far this year. Hopefully as I wrap up the current novel (and/or find a touch more uninterrupted time come next school year?) I’ll be able to chip away at this.

Total Word Count is moving right along at 76,253 / 100,000 completed. And we’re not even to June yet! So feeling pretty fine about that.

So far, have only read two books this month (BREASTS AND EGGS and CETAGANDA), but I think I can finish BANKER by the 30th, and I’m hoping to bridge the gap with a novella to hit four books.

I have successfully re-established the habit of reading 1 short story a day, which feels fantastic, so I’m hoping to maintain that moving into May. Habits-wise, I’d love to establish a habit of generating 3-5 story ideas every day for practice, but we’ll see when that happens.

In other stats, I’ve made five submission attempts (better than I expected, actually, though still have a long way to go before I feel confident about that), no personal rejections yet, and I’ve still got one story sold (just waiting on the contract to announce it), though–of course–I’d love to get more out and see that number climb.

Main priorities for the end of the month are getting “The Showerlier” submitted, and finish two more books.

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How has your month been going? Have you been making progress on the things that matter most to you? If progress is feeling hard to come by these days, and boy! is it reasonable to be struggling right now, what little change or small habit can you focus on that will help get you gently back on the right track? And as always, I’d love to hear what’s inspiring you these days! Hang in there. Another month is on the way, and it’s a great time to start fresh!

Journal

Friday the Update: 4/12-4/16

Phew, and another week wraps up–today on a somewhat frustrating note. With the April Surprise snowstorm, we couldn’t get out for our usual walk, so Goldbug–as of this moment, at least–has not napped and is running on fumes. (We’re in full-infinite loop mode, so I’m holding out hope that he’ll drop off sometime this early afternoon, but who knows!)

So in lieu of writing time, I’m throwing this update together and we’ll see if I can sneak some writing time in later.

Accomplished This Week…

Got the 3k on the book done M-T, and then moved on to seeing if I could trim “A Splendid Journey” down to within pruning distance of an anthology call. While I do think the story works without the first third, I think it’ll still need a lot of work until I could be happy with it. With the tight deadline on the anthology, I’m now 90% sure this one isn’t going to happen in time. Ah well.

Sometimes you just have one of those weeks.

Inspiring Me This Week…

This week has mostly been an inspiration dry spell, probably as the post-awesomeness of finishing Breasts and Eggs last weekend.

Oh! But I did go looking for mystery walkabout games on the Switch, in the vein of Obra Dinn, but with maybe more Riven-iness. Ended up playing through Gone Home, which was the best balance of spooky, mysterious, with a lovely narrative unfolding as you peel back the layers of the house. Really cool, great atmosphere, and despite being short, incredibly satisfying without jump-scares or monsters or even puzzles (though I love a good puzzle game now and then). Highly recommended if you like narrative-centric games and voyeuristic digging through the detritus of other people’s lives. Reminds me of Amber: Journeys Beyond, though Gone Home is not nearly so scary.

For Next Week…

Next week, same time, same place. 3k/novel, followed by probably getting ASJ into some kind of cohesive form, and if there’s time, finishing “Catching College” which needs three or so scenes to be “complete”-ish.

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How about you? Was this week a good one or a rough one? Did you take three steps forward or two steps back? Either way, next week is a new week and a fresh start. Be kind to yourself!

Journal

The Perfectionist’s Guide to Goal-Setting

I can’t tell you the number of productivity articles I’ve read. I love planning and thinking about goals. New Year’s is one of my favorite times of year, because it means I can think about everything I want to try to do.

Goal-setting is a slippery slope, though. It’s so much fun to think about how proud you’ll be when you cross off that huge, aspirational goal (like, write 25 short story drafts! Draft two novels! Submit 10 new stories!), that sometimes you can lose sight of reality. Set your sights high! That’s the motto, right? If you aim low, you’ll achieve low, so go harder, faster, bolder! 

The problem with this is, of course, the end result. There have been more years than I can count in which my overzealous goals fell flat. And when they did? I felt bad. I felt like I wasn’t working hard enough, like I was lazy, like if I’d just tried harder, I could have reached those goals and even surpassed them! The guilt was a self-perpetuating problem. Failing most of one year’s goals drove me to set more ambitious goals for the next year, to make up for the failings, to claw myself towards where I felt like I should have been at the end of the failed year. 

Which meant, more failed goals the next year. More guilt. Bigger goals. More failure. And not only that, I started to feel like a failure. I started to internalize that I was just lazy, that I lacked discipline, that maybe I just didn’t have what it takes to be successful.

It also meant I switched gears a lot, trying to recoup perceived losses: Didn’t make the progress I wanted on that novel? Ok! Try writing twelve short story drafts instead! Failing at that, ok—try submitting ten stories. I couldn’t prioritize well, and I wasted a lot of time. Knowing that I was wasting time, getting side-tracked, falling behind, also fed into the guilt and self-loathing. Seriously, I was a bundle of crank! 

And my internal monologue was not very kind. It became harder not to compare myself to other people in my field, to see their progress as somehow directly in conflict with my own lack of progress. The frustration mounted, I made bigger, more intense goals. I failed at them. I felt like I was working harder, and failing harder, but not in a good way. Not in a way that was teaching me anything, or moving me even slightly forward.

Any of this sound familiar to you?

There’s a better way, but it took me a long time to realize it. I had to teach myself, all over again, as an overly optimistic goal setter, as a perfectionist, how to set goals in ways that would actually help me progress, without tanking my self-worth. What did I learn? 

1) Be honest about your time.

I started thinking about this loosely in college after reading The Clockwork Muse by Eviatar Zarubavel, but it didn’t really kick in until I read Work Clean by Dan Charnas. In Work Clean, Charnas discusses how top-level chefs need to know precisely how long a task will take in order to best optimize their highly time-sensitive days. They can’t be precious about it. They can’t be optimistic about it. They have to be accurate

The Clockwork Muse addressed this in the academic writing arena by emphasizing the importance of going through your calendar and making a note of every day when you won’t be able to function at your typical performance level: holidays, vacations, work travel, big day job crunches—those kinds of things. Marking those days and accounting for a smaller achievable workload or cutting those days out entirely from your project timeline means setting realistic deadlines for yourself.  

For example, I know that December is a hard month for me to get much done. With the holidays, small kids, school vacations, and (at least pre-pandemic) lots of work and friend holiday get-togethers, that period of time ends up being extremely challenging to make productive. I almost never meet my goals that month.

So lately, I haven’t been setting any goals for that month. If I get writing work done, it’s a great bonus, but it’s not expected. That takes the pressure off, and allows me to refuel and relax, without the guilt of not achieving more. 

2) Forget about the End Goal. 

This may seem counter-intuitive, because if you want to make progress, you ought to know where you want to go, right? But there’s a catch: just having a goal, doesn’t mean it’s attainable. I came across this idea when reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, and it blew my mind, because–ultimately–it’s true: 

“Goal setting suffers from a serious case of survivorship bias. We concentrate on the people who end up winning—the survivors—and mistakenly assume that ambitious goals led to their success while overlooking all of the people who had the same objective but didn’t succeed.

Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.”

–James Clear, Atomic Habits, p.25

You can set any goal you like, but that doesn’t guarantee success. So what does? Here’s where I do a slight bait-and-switch: setting attainable goals is more about establishing trustworthy, dependable habits. I just tend to call my daily habits my daily “goals.”

Creating healthy, productive habits lays the groundwork for achieving your aspirational goals. Focusing on small habits that can be improved upon as they become easier is a great way to make sustainable progress. 

3) Set stupidly small goals. 

One of the ideas behind habit formation in Atomic Habits is “make it easy”: 

“Every action requires a certain amount of energy. The more energy required, the less likely it is to occur. If your goal is to do a hundred pushups per day, that’s a lot of energy! In the beginning, when you’re motivated and excited, you can muster the strength to get started. But after a few days, such a massive effort feels exhausting. Meanwhile, sticking to the habit of doing one push-up per day requires almost no energy to get started. And the less energy a habit requires, the more likely it is to occur.”  

–James Clear, Atomic Habits, p. 152

Achieving smaller goals on a regular basis will be better for your mental health and more motivating than only occasionally achieving one incredibly difficult goal amidst a pile of failures. 

As a personal example: take the week right after school starts, which I routinely see as this huge opportunity to double down and get all the writing done that I didn’t get a chance to work on over the summer vacation. (HAHAHAHA—yeah, no.) Setting smaller goals for those periods makes it more likely that I’ll actually get something done because I won’t be so overwhelmed that I avoid the work altogether, and there’s always a chance I’ll get more done than my goal, which will just feel fantastic.

I did this after Goldbug was born, during those sleep-deprived days of early new babyhood, and it was a lifesaver. I was often too tired to write more than 100 words, but even then, 100 words was doable. So I never felt like time was slipping past, and I never felt like I was falling behind, and I maintained a vital habit of writing regularly. 

If you set a goal for writing 1000 words every day, but you can only hit 200-300 regularly, you’re going to feel like crap. If you set a goal of 100 words a day, to get back up to speed, then hitting 200-300 words will feel much nicer. And that will give you a hit of confidence, rather than a stab of guilt. 

4) Focus your goals on things you control. 

I don’t remember where I encountered this advice, but it was an SF author talking about her yearly goals. Her main point was this: there are a lot of things you can’t control. You can’t control whether you sell a story or not. You can’t control whether you get an agent or not. You can’t control if you get a book contract by the time you’re 35. It’s silly to set those as goals, because achieving those goals lies completely in other peoples’ hands. A magazine editor decides if you sell that story; the agent decides if they want to represent you; a publisher decides if they want to publish your book. 

Other than creating the best damn work you can, you have no say over those decisions. Setting goals based solely on other people’s decisions is a recipe for frustration. Focus on what you can control. What habits will move you towards producing more and better work? What habits will increase your knowledge-base of the field in which you work? What habits will keep you healthy, so you have fewer sick days? 

This puts the focus not on on the end result, but on the process of getting there. Processes can always be improved, daily/weekly/monthly/yearly goals can be gradually and sustainably increased in scope, but the end results are often out of our hands. 

5) Know your foundational habits. 

Even with small, attainable habits/daily goals, there will be times you let things drop. That’s okay! People get sick. Tragedy strikes. Exhaustion happens. The key is to pick yourself back up again as soon as possible. Determine what your baseline habits/daily goals are, the ones you must do in order to feel like the day wasn’t wasted. 

Pick those habits back up first, when you can. For me, that’s 500 words a day, exercising, and using my day planner. When I start missing those, I know I’m not in a good place and need to recalibrate.

As my mother is fond of saying, “Having life-balance isn’t about being perfectly stable on the tightrope; it’s about knowing how to shift your weight and recenter, adjusting to gravity at all times.” 

My core habits/daily goals—just those three—are what I return to whenever life falls apart. Because life is complicated, and it happens. 

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As perfectionists, we want—obviously—to do more than just “enough.” We want to do the best. The most correct. The most perfect. But perfect can be a trap, too, that stops us from achieving our goals. 

Setting huge goals we can’t achieve doesn’t help us, it hurts us. It makes us live in a cloud of guilt, always feeling like we should be doing more. But there’s only so much time in a day, and over scheduling a day with too many goals can quickly lead to burnout and regret. 

You can always increase the scope of your small goals if they become so easy you never miss them. But there will probably come a time in your life when you’ll have to scale back, too, get back to the basics, make the goals smaller and more achievable. That’s ok. Forward motion is what matters, not the speed. And small, sustainable improvement is worth a lot more than burning out trying to make huge leaps. 

Take it slow. Make small, sustainable goals you know you can reach. When those become so second-nature you never worry about hitting them, increase your goal just a little bit. See if you can sustain that. You may surprise yourself by how much you can get done when you’re being kind to yourself. 

Further reading: This article about Nora Roberts talking about juggling kids and work is brilliant.

Journal

Friday Update:

Friday finally swings around again, wrapping up a tolerably productive week. The weather’s been lovely, and we even slept with the windows open last night for the first time in I don’t know how long. There’s no bliss like reading by book light, listening to the spring peepers.

Accomplished This Week…

Hit my 3k words on the book comfortably by end of day Tuesday, which meant I had time to come up with the first short story of April’s Chekhov month!

I wanted to avoid the brain-blankness of last week, so on Tuesday afternoon, I went through my massive idea list and plucked out any that sparked interest in me at that moment. Sometimes you have a great idea, but you’re just not feeling it. I’ve found it rarely works to force an idea when my heart’s not in it.

I know I’m onto something when the narrative starts coming to me unbidden in clips and chunks. In order to give myself the best chance at hitting on something that excites me in a defined period of time, it definitely helps to pull up some options before I need them and let my subconscious figure out its approach.

That seemed to work this time, because I spat out a semi-decent humorous Snow White retelling. It definitely will need some work, but I’m a firm believer that in creative work, at least, quantity begets quality eventually. I’m kind of hoping this weekly split between long form and short form work will let me produce a lot more short story drafts.

Finishing this last draft also means, I’ve hit my goal of five new story drafts! Way earlier than I expected, but I’m delighted by having some new stories on hand. Now to see what rises to the top as cream.

Inspiring Me This Week…

This week has been utterly dominated by Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami. Jeez Louise, the chapter near the end, “Take it or Leave it?” The scene with Yuriko? *sobs* That messed me up for a day or two. I’m hoping there’s some semblance of a happy ending, or at least general acceptance, because DANG.

Also, charging back to the fore: How to Write Funny (vol 1) by Scott Dikkers. I’m going back through it as a reference for continuing on to How To Write Funnier, which seems to tackle longer form humor, compared to the basics of humor writing in Vol 1. But I’m enjoying it all over again, and it’s really lighting my fire for funny fiction.

I’m also about halfway through The Admissions Scandal, about the Varsity Blues fraud case, on Netflix and it’s surprising how many very strange feels it delivers, particularly as a parent, watching these incredibly complicated parent-child relationships. It will give you thinks, that’s for sure. (Also, the Social Dilemma is pretty interesting, too, as pop-sci/pop-culture documentaries go!)

For Next Week…

Carry on carrying on. Another 3k to do, another short story to write. I’m hoping to carve out some time this weekend to edit and review another short story to possibly submit somewhere, so we’ll see what that does to the time for a new story. A story submitted is worth two in the head, you know what I mean?

Pretty soon, I’m going to need to whip my book synopsis into shape, too. It’s not due for a little bit yet, but I’d rather have it off my plate.

But how was your week? Things getting any easier? Or is the full pressure of spring hitting you hard? What have you been reading/watching lately?

Journal

Poly-Reader Notes: APRIL 2021

It may be hard to tell from my currently-reading list, but I’ve actually had a huge amount more time to read, since Goldbug has decided that 8:45 is a good bedtime…for both of us. XD But it does set aside a good couple hours in the evening to just lose myself in the silence of a good read, so I can’t complain.

So I’ve been making steady progress, even in some big books, and I picked up a few extra, just for fun, because why not?

Notes:

The Power Broker – So I haven’t made much progress on this, though I do have the audiobook now, so it’s really just a matter of making time for it. I’ve been primarily listening to Cetaganda, so I haven’t been picking this one up.

Gideon the Ninth – This one is…good. I like it. There’s just something about it that I can’t quite pin down, maybe an authorial intensity that is just a touch exhausting? I think in part it’s the fact that the world is so intricately developed–like brocade fabric–absolutely nothing is left to the reader to fill in. The author has an iron grasp on what you see and why you see it, which in one way is marvelous in that the world can be incredibly detailed and incredibly unique, but can also feel a touch exhausting for me as a reader, trying to keep every tiny detail in mind all the time. Your mileage may vary. I’m still interested in it, but sometimes I’m just too tired to wedge myself back into its folds.

Designology – Buh, I know I should pick this one up, but lately I just…haven’t been interested. I think I may just need to skim this one part on patterns and noise-level and just get to the place type discussion, which sounds more interesting.

Cetaganda – Just a couple hours left on this one! Man, I love a good Vorkosigan saga book when I just need a fun, comfortable, charming read. I love the characters, the dialogue, the pacing, and most of the world-building. Sometimes, this girl just wants to have fun, you know?

The City of Lead and Gold – We’ve started back up on this one, but we’ve been competing with Dogman comics lately, which are hard to beat, so we’ll see where we go with this one in the coming weeks.

Breasts and Eggs – This is absolutely my new favorite book. I’ve been skipping just about everything else, other than Cetaganda, and just devouring this one. It’s exactly what my soul needs right now. I suspect I’ll be finishing this one up in a week or two at this rate.

The White Spider – Just picked this one up last week, to dig into the historical account of all the attempts (successful and unsuccessful) of climbing the Eiger. I’ve actually seen the mountain in person, though not from up close. Makes me want to go back to Grindelwald with binoculars.

Banker – Just picked this one up last night. Wanted a quick, easy, exciting read in that mystery vein. Only half a chapter in so far, but it starts with a bang, so I’m looking forward to where he takes it from here!

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What about you? What are you reading right now? What have you finished reading recently? My Goodreads To-Read list is growing bigger and bigger, but I’m always open to recommendations!

Journal

Friday Update: Onto April

So many goals, so little time…

Well, I’ve given myself permission not to write a short story today. I was waiting to see if a contest prompt kind of kicked me into gear for a flash story, but the prompt hit me like a bellyflop in cold water, so we’re just gonna let that float there, I think…

But there’s four full weeks of April, so I’m going to try to write a short story each full week, starting next week. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve realized I probably need to think about the story earlier in the week, maybe no later than Tuesday, to have it somewhat thought-out before I have to write it Thursday/Friday.

Otherwise, it was a good week. I’ve changed up my exercise routine to include jogging again, which is–I’ll say it again and again–the absolute BEST pre-writing thing I’ve ever done. Something about getting a solid run in (even a half-solid run, like me, doing the Couch to 5K training app via the NHS) get the body just the right kind of tired.

Other exercise is better than nothing, but jogging specifically kicks the mental gears into a whirl and just lets the words dump out. It seemed to me that other workouts–even pretty intense ones–just left me drained, but not pumped. Jogging leaves me pumped, and that definitely impacts the writing afterwards. I need to make sure I’m jogging on the days I need to produce the most words!

Accomplished This Week…

I got my 3k done on the novel, and finally–FINALLY–pinned down a solid version of the last half and the end via summary draft. I love summary drafting. There’s something so refreshing about just dumping a story out on paper in the dumbest language (totally unreadable to anyone, and I’m not saying this just to be self-depreciating, I mean it includes text like, “So, the main character, she’s like–what?–seventeen? Yeah, that’s about right. So she’s going to get on that train, with the villains guys behind her, and she’s gonna hide. Where? Where would she hide? Under the seats? Nah, too easy. Maybe in the space between train cars? Could be, but won’t they check there, too? Luggage cabin? Maybe…”). It really helps me to see the big picture story, without worrying about POV/voice/style/setting–literally anything but plot. It’s fantastic.

Anyway. I got that written down, so next Monday, I’ll probably take a look at it and see about splitting it into usable scenes, combining scenes to keep the pace right, all that jazz. At least then I’ll be able to jump around when I’m writing and hit the scenes I’m most excited about first, and eventually fill in the parts I’m less motivated by later. That seems–at least for this book–to be a very functional process for me that keep the words flowing.

I didn’t write a short story, like I mentioned above, but I did re-read “The Showerlier” draft I wrote a couple weeks ago, and DAMN. I love that story. It needs a solid cut-and-polish pass, and there are some logic issues I need to finalize, but they’re minor, so I don’t think it’ll be too horrible. Maybe (maybe?!) I’ll actually get it up and out this month, which would be AH-MAZ-ING.

Inspiring Me This Week…

Okay, first, do yourself a favor and go read Joy Kennedy-O’Neill’s flash story “Build-A-Grudge” at Daily Science Fiction. It’s cool. I’ll wait. Come on, it can’t be more than six hundred, seven hundred words, tops, and it’s funny and heartwarming and just…it’s fantastic. Reminds me of what a pleasure a fun, well-crafted short story is.

Also inspiring me this week, Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami. I’ll probably chat about it more during my Poly-Reader Notes post next week, but I was so, so, so worried that this book was all hype. I’ve been seeing it everywhere, but given that I love Haruki Murakami novels despite almost exclusively being from the male POV, I was really hoping to get something similar in tone, but from a woman’s perspective. (I’m very much looking forward to reading Who We’re Reading When We’re Reading Murakami by David Karashima about how Murakami novels have been translated and promoted in the USA.)

And my word, Kawakami has not disappointed. I think I may be in love. And she’s clearly got a love of mugicha that rivals my own! (Seriously, the best summer drink ever is chilled mugicha with ice: no caffeine, super refreshing, and not plain water. I had a Japanese tutor back in high school who introduced me to mugicha with a side of biscotti, and that’s literally my food and beverage happy place.)

I haven’t been taking in a lot of TV or movies lately (Goldbug is at that age where he wants to go to bed earlier, but won’t sleep well if he wakes up and I’m not there–seriously, this kid is a major cling-on, unlike my first, who was totally cool with me laying him down, settling him, and then letting me sneak out. *sigh* We’ll get there.).

But I did start watching the latest season of Drive to Survive: Inside Formula 1 Racing–it’s part of my extreme sports hangup. I enjoyed the last two seasons, but this new one is…surreal. It starts right at the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s just the most bizarre thing to see people keeping distance and washing their hands a lot but not wearing masks and sitting in closed spaces, talking about the virus. Geez. Kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies in that “I know what’s coming” way, but it’s also, you know, about rivalry and intense competition and peak performance and really cool cars, so I’m all there.

Goals for Next Week…

Next week, we continue the pattern of 3k/novel and then trying to pen a new short story draft. We’ll see if that’s really feasible if I make sure I take time to think about what story I’d want to write. One of my favorite prompt tools is to keep a list of theme anthologies I thought looked really cool but didn’t have time/an idea for them at the time (I may do a post on why I hesitate to write to anthology calls someday) and use those as jumping off points for later stories. But it’s fun, because I can take what I want from the prompt, but nothing I don’t want, which is kind of nice.

Other than that, just keeping up with reading a short story a day. It’s a great habit! You should try it if you write short fiction! And you can start by reading Joy Kennedy-O’Neill’s piece right here! XD

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Okay, but seriously. How was you guys’ week? Is impending Spring giving you a skip in your step? Or are you feeling listless and empty? Spring is such a strange creative time, when so much is bursting with potential, and yet the mud and rain kind of hold you back, you know?

Any goals for next week? Any exciting plans or books or stories or TV or movies that are blowing your mind right now? I’m always down for recommendations!

Journal

Stats and Tracking: How Do You Quantify Editing and Thinking?

Nothing prettier than a brand new tracking spread!

As a writer, I have a vested interest in learning both how my process works and where my process can improve. In order to gauge progress, I track a lot of different metrics. Word count, of course, is a big one. It lets me see how much I’m producing in raw, rough words. But I always run into a wall when I try to quantify the time required for thinking and editing. When I focus only on word count, it looks like the days I do more thinking than writing are missed opportunities, or at least breaks in the habit chain. 

But thinking is such an important part of the process, and with limited writing time, it’s inevitable that I’ll have to spend some of what time I have planning.

Editing runs into the same tracking problem. How do you quantify progress when editing? I’ve seen some talk about words removed (smart, in that in the final edit throes, it encourages the right mentality of “Trim it Back!”); some do pages or word count edited (but what if you’re reworking or adding scenes that push you end-point marker farther away? It’s not like you weren’t *working*.). 

Some people say there isn’t good way to track editing time, and that it’s a waste of time to try. (This technical writing post argues even tracking new word count is pointless, because it doesn’t measure quality, but any fiction writer worth their byline knows a lot of quality in fiction is generated through quantity, so we’ll just leave that there for the folks who have to produce specific writing for specific clients.) But I have to disagree.

Finding out how much thinking time developing a story (on average) takes, determining how much time you’ll need to budget (on average) to edit a rough draft into something tolerably readable, knowing how to set reasonable and reachable deadlines—all of that is useful information to have on hand. 

(“Average” is the key word here—no two stories are the same, and the time they take to write or develop will differ substantially, but having a ballpark for how long the process takes from start-to-finish seems like a useful metric to be aware of, if only for myself!)

I learned in my search that there’s a way to check total document editing time in Word, which is FABULOUS, but only at the very end of the process. Incredibly useful data, I think, but not so helpful in achieving my main priority: maintaining the habit chain. 

I track daily word count, but some days I need to think or edit. In order to not have gaps in my day-to-day tracking (which is startlingly demoralizing from a habit-maintaining perspective), I’ve decided to track minutes worked on those days. 

It’s the closest way I can approximate the effort of the work (30m = ~600 words, for example, which is pretty close to my usual words/hour), without relying solely on undependable word count metrics. 

Because thinking *is* work, and I don’t want to undervalue that time compared to new words. New words are great, but they’ll always need a solid application of time and brainpower to make them shine. 

^ ^ ^

Fellow writers! How do you quantify editing and thinking time in order to escape the endless pursuit of new words?

Journal

Friday Update: It’s Friday?

Whew. It’s actually Friday, right? Like, really Friday?

I feel like the end of the week really crept up on me. Some of that is probably because I didn’t manage to finish the short story I started this week. It was one of those times when something just feels…off about the story. I dunno. Like lugging a gear.

Accomplished this week…

I got my 3k done on the novel by end of Tuesday, so that felt good. The short story is…meh. Not sure what’s off on it, but I suspect it has to do with the main character.

I spent some time thinking her through, but she’s coming off very flat. I probably need to sharpen some discord at the beginning and really show her change by the end. One of the pitfalls of writing the climax first may be making sure the character at the beginning has enough room to change.

I also just wasn’t feeling it. That doesn’t necessarily mean the writing itself is bad, but it could be a sign that I’m not totally invested in it yet. I love the concept, but I’m not sure I love or fully understand the characters. Hmmm…

Inspiring Me This Week…

Just finished You Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas (follow her blog here!) and wow. Without giving anything away, it’s a master class in excellent, painful endings. It’s both wholly satisfying and yet really drives home some frustrating life lessons.

Also just started Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami, and it’s already dragging me in wholesale. I was a bit worried it might be all hype–I’ve been hearing and reading about it everywhere, it seems–but at least so far, it’s incredibly grabbing. I look forward to reading it every night.

Also I’m getting the card game bug again. Must be something about this time of year. But I’m taking what I learned from the last time and trying to keep things simple. We’ll see what happens.

Goals for Next Week:

I’m tempted to try to finish the story I couldn’t finish this week, but I’m somewhat worried it’s not ready yet. So maybe I’ll try something new next week. Only sure bet is that I’ll be tackling 3k on the novel.

…and maybe pinning down some more late-Act 2 plot points…

What about you? How was your week? Did you hit your goals or miss them a bit? What do you think got in your way? Anything fun inspiring you lately?

Journal

MONTHLY GOALS REVIEW – March 2021

Time for my monthly check-in, and boy, this month has been amazing for short fiction.

  • I submitted a new story for the first time in 2021 (“Local” to the Furious Fiction – March contest).
  • I wrote three brand new rough drafts of short stories: “Local,” “The Showerlier”, and “Blood and Cigarettes”.
  • I feel like I’ve maybe turned a corner on understanding how short fiction works. Yeah, I know, I’ve been doing this for ten years, but you never stop learning, do you?

I’m really tempted (perhaps foolishly, for those of you who know my penchant for wildly optimistic goals!) to try doing a Chekhov month in April. For those not in the know, years and years and years ago, I wrote a short story a week for a year (or just shy of a year, taking time for the holidays). I wrote 48 rough drafts, and despite being relatively new to short fiction, I got several drafts out of that year that have gone on to be polished and sold. (Many of them were hot garbage, lol. But we’re going for quantity here, not quality!)

But I still remember that year so fondly. It taught me so much about short-form writing, and about overcoming writer’s block, and about perseverance and dedication. It also taught me that I really only need about two days to write a short story, if I’ve planned it out a little, because most weeks I procrastinated until Thursday/Friday anyway.

I’m committed to writing 3k/week on the novel, but I can usually hit that in 2-3 days (sometimes 4 if we have a particularly bad nap-week). That leaves Thursday/Friday for short fiction if I want to. And I do! Becoming a novelist is my long-term goal, but writing short fiction is a NOW joy, and I don’t want to lose those skills. They’re too useful!

My word count for the year is already 54,084 / 100,000, so I’m well ahead of schedule on that. With the novel likely to clock in around 100k in and of itself, the short stories may well put me significantly over that. And if I can punch out a bunch of new stories and clean out the inspiration pipes, I might also manage to restock my stable of submittable stories. We’ll see.

Reading-wise, I’ve finished four books this month: Saga – Book 3 (*sobs*), Into the Planet, The Usual Suspects, and You Beneath Your Skin. It leaves me in the weird position of only having five books I’m currently reading, which feels oddly thin. XD Oh, the problems of a poly-reader.

I’ve already picked up one new one, and am eyeing several others as possibilities, too. I’ve got a light read, a sci-fi read, two very different non-fiction reads, a biography, and a kid’s book I’m reading with B-Bug (slowly–our nighttime routine has had to change for Goldbug’s earlier bedtime, and we haven’t quite adjusted to that yet…). I’ve got room for a writing book (I’ve been wanting to pick up How to Write Funnier), and maybe a regular fiction/classic, since I’ve actually got quite a bit of sci-fi/fantasy on my list currently.

And I got my new writing bullet journal! I decided to split my day-to-day stuff from my writing notebook, because my writing notes and trackers and scribbles were eating dozens of pages, and my unrelated stuff was getting lost. So we’ll try this! Maybe I’ll do a tour of it once I’ve got my needed pages set up.

TL;DR

1 / 4 New Submissions

4 / 5 New Rough Drafts

0 / 1 New Summary Drafts

54,084 / 100,000 Total Word Count

13 / 52 Books Read

Other Stats:

4 Submission Attempts

0 Personal Rejections

1 Story Sold (waiting on contract to announce)

Journal

Friday Updates: Like A Train

So that happened… in one sitting… in about two hours… And it wasn’t the solo incident I expected, because another short story punched its way out of me this afternoon, clocking in at a more reasonable 3k in two hours.

Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind week. I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. I’d been planning to force-finish the retype/edit pass of a story that just hasn’t been working all that well, and otherwise wasn’t sure what to focus on. And then Tuesday happened, and I typed so fast my fingers were almost numb by the end of that madcap session. Story just poured out of me like it was already written and just waiting for me to get it on paper. That does not happen often, and I felt deliciously drained afterwards. Figured that was it for zone-work.

Yesterday, I didn’t even write because Goldbug’s been toothing again, and he didn’t wind up taking a nap until right before dinner…on top of me. I could have probably chipped away at something on my phone, but meh. I was still wiped out from Tuesday’s inspiration-fueled madness and finishing the painful retyping Wednesday.

And today, my only goal was to start the opening of a new story. 2,600 words later, it was finished. THAT’S THREE NEW ROUGH DRAFTS IN A MONTH! 😱😱😱

So I’m spent, hence the short update. Glad it’s Friday!

How was your week? What’s been inspiring you? What’s been whispering in your ear?