On September my goal was to work on my blog every weekday for a half hour, which would result in 20 days throughout the month. I’m pleased to report that for the first time I hit my goal exactly!
My other goal was to finish all of the outlines that I was refactoring, so that moving forward I could focus solely on the first draft of my story. I’m pleased to report that I hit that goal as well! It took 18 of the 20 days to do, but for October I am all clear to just draft. The other two days were spent rereading that draft so that I could back into the feel of it.
I do realize that taking a month just to finish an outline might sound like quite a lot. Though what I call an “outline” is probably a great deal more exhaustive than what most people think of. This outline weighs in at just over 36,000 words, and provides a very clear direction for every scene of the story!
It feels really good to have reached this point. Refactoring is important, but it feels a lot like running-in-place. A lot of energy goes in, but the word-count of your draft doesn’t go up at all. It feels a lot better when day-by-day you see the numbers moving closer to a full-fledged novel.
If I had one piece of advice from all of this it would be to avoid changing gears when writing as much as possible. I went from outlining, to drafting, back to outlining, and then back to drafting again. And at each switch there was an amount of dead time where I had to ask myself “now what was I doing here again?” Especially with something like a novel where maintaining a consistent tone is so important, leaving and coming back again needs to be kept to an absolute minimal!
I’ve always loved the month of October. The Autumn season has such a ponderous magic in the air, it seems to exhale deep story. I’m very excited to work away during this season, and look forward to giving you my next update on November 1st. My goal is to write for at least 22 days during the month. That’s every weekday except one, which I will be on vacation for. I’m not going to make any goal for how many words to write, but I will keep track of how many I do. See you then!
For August I said I wanted to work on the blog each day, but at the very least wanted to reach 20 days. When all was said and done, I finished the month with 19. It really hurt to get so close but not quite make it. More positively, though, for the last two-and-a-half weeks I faithfully did my writing on every single weekday.
As I’ve thought things over, trying to work on my story during the weekend just doesn’t work for me. Perhaps it does for some people, but for me it doesn’t. Moving forward I accept that I will only be working on this Monday-Friday and not on holidays. That means for the month of September a “perfect” work-month would be 20 days, and that is going to be my commitment.
Before describing what I accomplished during August, I need to explain a little bit of how I craft a story. I personally like to use three levels of detail for my outlines. The first is just an extremely brief set of bullet points, one for each major arc of the story. It reads a lot like an elevator pitch.
When I have that first layer feeling just right, then I move on to the second. For that I expand each of those arcs and now detail all of their subcomponents. So in the first layer I might say the explorers make a camp out in the wild and test different crops to see which one the island can produce best. In the second layer I add that during this period Clara grows more bold, at least until she breaks her mother’s brooch and becomes weighed down with guilt…etc.
In the third layer I am detailing out all of the individual scenes that will happen. I explain who will be present, what their motivations in that moment are, and what the resolutions will be. After the third layer is complete all that remains is to start writing the actual drafts of the story.
I like this approach, but one issue with having three separate layers is keeping them in sync. Last month I shared how I had remolded the middle of my story after discovering significant structure changes that it needed. That remolding was done on the third, most detailed level, which changed it so drastically that then I could not find how to attach it back to the final act as described by layers 1 and 2.
After struggling for a little bit, I realized that for August’s work I just needed to take this structural overhaul down to layer 1, and rework the ending at that simplest level of detail. Then I percolated those changes up to layer 2, and brought it to completion as well. In August I got both of those done, and also started updating the final act of the third layer. My hope for September is to finish that update, and finally get back to the first draft of my story. I’ll let you know how it turned out one month from now!
Wow these months sure go by fast! For July I shifted my commitment to be time-based, specifically I wanted to be working on my novel for a half hour each day. This time around I diligently tracked by progress, and in the end I met my goal 15 out of 31 days. There’s definitely room for improvement, but at least by having the metrics I’ll know whether my consistency is trending up or down now. For August I’m going to maintain a goal of 30 minutes every day, and at the very least I hope to hit 20 days.
So what did I accomplish with July? Well, I wrote at the end of June about a problem I had found in my plot. In the middle of the story I suddenly introduce a dozen new characters whom I never develop in the least. They were meant to only be background characters to the main cast, but I felt their arrival would create an expectation in the reader that they were important. So I decided to remove those characters, but that meant certain other developments had to be changed as well. Those new characters had been going to help the main characters build a large mill and divert a river, monumental tasks that no longer seemed feasible with their absence.
So I took those parts out of the story, and everything else related to them…which turned out to be a lot! I won’t go into all the details, but just one example was that the entire layout of the island where the story takes place had to be reshaped. One change rippled into another, and several scenes and side-plots were chopped off entirely. This, of course, left the story considerably lopsided, and so then I had to go over my entire outline and balance it all out again.
That’s what I spent all of July on. I’ve got about two-thirds of the new outline complete, and I’ll do the rest in August. And honestly? I’m liking this re-crafted story a whole lot better! Turns out that the novel needed far more pruning than I realized, and the whole thing seems a lot tighter and better focused now. I can hardly wait to give you my update in another month!
With my last check-in a month ago I had a highly-detailed report of writing my novel for the month of May. I have no such report for June. Suffice it to say that June was the month where I burned out and didn’t write even a single word for more than half the days.
I might say that there are reasons for that: Summer vacation distractions, the natural ebb and flow of motivation, etc., but I wouldn’t be satisfied with such excuses. Because the idea is that I want to be writing my story regularly no matter what happens. Part of planning to do any great undertaking is planning how to do it even when things are hard. If I can only write during convenient periods, I’ll never get the darn thing finished.
Thankfully, I actually did make some plans for just such doldrums. It was these monthly reports. So long as I maintain these regular updates I’m unable to go too long before I take a long and hard look at my writing habits.
To that end I am recommitting to daily work on my blog, with the exception of three vacation days where I will most likely not have time for any personal projects. However I have decided not to commit to 500 words-per-day anymore. I noticed a trend where meeting that number was becoming more important than writing at a high-quality level. Maybe word-goals work for some people, but I think I will do better with a time commitment instead. That commitment will be 30 minutes-per day.
Thank you all for helping to keep me honest. I’m still hopeful for this project and look forward to letting you know how things are going one month from now.
A month ago I committed to each day outlining two scenes and writing 500 words of my novel With the Beast. All told, for the month of May I succeeded for 19 days or 61% of the days. However, because writing 500 words was my minimum, most of the days where I did write I penned considerably more. My total word output for the month was 13,088 words, or 84% of what I would have had if I only wrote 500 words each day.
Those 13,088 words get added to 1,632 that I previously wrote for an earlier blog post to bring my draft total up to 14,720 words.
All in all, I’m pretty happy with it. That level of success is actually pretty good for when I start a new endeavor. When I first started this blog I only managed to write about half of the days, and then I would cram double-writing into the others. Over time I found how to pace things out more smoothly with the blog, and expect that I will with the novel as well.
Actually I don’t ever expect to ever get up to writing for 100% of the days in a month. Maybe if it was my full-time job, but it’s not, and frankly I’d say 80% or more would be pretty ideal. I’ve also determined that when I do miss a day to just let it go, unlike when I started this blog. Trying to make up for missed sessions by writing double the next day is a sure way to make me hate the whole process.
One last realization has to do with that word total: 14,720. My very rough estimate is the portion that I have written is about 1/20 of the total story. That would have the finished novel clock in at 300,000 words, which is more than double what I want it to be. I suppose this is a good thing, better to have too much and pare it down then to have to little and try to inflate it. But it does mean a long process just to get this first draft. That’s okay, just it’s definitely given me a healthy dose of reality!
Yesterday I announced that I was going to be bringing back the Story of the Storyteller series, though it is being repurposed to chronicle the progress on my novel. I have mentioned this novel in previous posts, I have even shared the intro from it. But in case you weren’t aware, it is entitled With the Beast, and is set on an island which a small family has just inherited. That family comes to the island with the ambition of founding their legacy, building something that will be remarkable and enduring.
I guess if I were to compare it to any other stories I would say it’s something like Swiss Family Robinson combined with Little House in the Big Woods. However there is also a strong sense of menace to it, as the narrator of the story suggests that these are events which already transpired, ones which will conclude with his coming and destroying everyone and everything.
This story is one I have had in mind since about 2014. I have worked at it on and off throughout the years, trying to get the outline just right. That outline has changed a great deal with each iteration, most notably shifting from pure horror to something more hopeful. It wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that I made up my mind for how I want the story to end.
But as iteration after iteration goes by I have realized that I am in a never-ending cycle of plotting and outlining and refactoring, such that I will never actually get the thing written if I don’t start penning my first draft now! I have a general outline for the entire story, and a very detailed one written out for the first third.
I would like to extend that detailed outline to the end of the story, but feel I can also start writing “draft one” as I do so. To that end I have committed to outlining two scenes each day, and also writing 500 words. Yesterday I accomplished that, and today I will accomplish that. In a month I’ll give you an update on my progress, and then share about whatever lessons or insights I gained in the process.
It’s going to be a long journey, but I’m very excited for it!
Well, today marks the first anniversary since my first post on this blog. I really can’t believe just how quickly time has flown by. And yet at the same time I look at the things I wrote at the start and it feels like words from a lifetime ago.
When I reflect on what it was like to start this blog, the memories that stand out most are how difficult it was adjusting to such a rigorous writing regime! My main motivation for starting this blog was to develop a habit of regular writing. This was something I needed to do, but this was a long-forgotten muscle of mine and exercising it came with all the many growing pains you would expect
For the first few months I wasn’t sure that I was going to make it. In the hardest moments I kept repeating to myself that I just had to stick it out for a year.
“Make it twelve months and then re-evaluate,” I said. “Then, if you quit, there will still be some dignity to it all.”
So how about we do some re-evaluating?
We’ll start off with the numbers. In the last year I have made 107 posts, which were divided between 27 original short stories and 55 essays. All combined the total wordcount for these has just surpassed 220,000.
Over the year I have acquired 87 followers, and my posts has been read in 47 different countries spread across the world.
From what I understand, that sort of public reception would be considered very modest in the blogging world, but for me it is utterly amazing. I am constantly amazed at the support I feel from this community, and I truly appreciate everyone who has made time for my writing in the middle of their busy day.
There are many things I could do to try and push my numbers higher. My walls of text are probably the biggest barrier to entry for most readers, and I barely even try to promote this blog. Frankly I’m okay with that, though. I’d rather write the content that I want to write, and if that results in a smaller, closer group of followers, then all the better!
As far as the numbers for my output I am also amazed. I told myself at the beginning that I was going to be consistent, that I was going to write a lot, that I wasn’t going to miss a single post. And now I’m as surprised as anybody that I actually pulled it off!
As a result I have posted a LOT of content, and I’m proud of that. Of course, they way “quality over quantity,” and there are certainly some posts of mine that have been more lacking than others. That being said, there are many posts that I am very proud of. Quality that I have obtained through the quantity. The fact is you learn a lot when you write 220,000 words, no matter what!
Well, I could have told you about halfway through this year that I wouldn’t be quitting after reaching my first anniversary mark. The experience has simply been too positive to let go of it now. All those awkward growing pains I mentioned at the start of this journey are all but gone. Writing every day just feels natural and fitting to me. Blanks canvases are not nearly so terrifying.
My whole life I have loved writing stories, but that hasn’t meant that I am actually any good at it! Now, for the first time I feel like I am taking charge and putting in the practice so that I can become good. It feels like coming into my own.
Even so, I have felt for a while like I needed to enact some changes. A few times I’ve made mention of a novel I’m working on, but I really haven’t given it the attention it deserves. I’ve wondered about starting other blogs, ones that could speak directly to other passions of mine. In short I have other hobbies and interests in life, and I’ve wanted to rebalance my commitment to them.
The first change is I am going to take the writing regime I’ve used for this blog and apply it to my novel. 500 words each day for regular, consistent progress. I won’t be posting that work here, but I will provide monthly updates on how I am doing with it. I will be doing so by resurrecting the Story of the Storyteller track that I retired early on in this blog. I think reporting on my progress will help a great deal with accountability, as well as provide an extra dimension that this blog has been missing. You can expect these updates to start appearing on the first of each month.
The second change is that starting today I am launching a second blog. This one is going to be a spiritual journal where I share passages of scripture that I am studying, followed by my insights on them. My religious beliefs have strongly influenced the stories that I write, but for a while I have wanted a more explicit forum for discussing them. If you’re interested, you can find that second blog and its inaugural post over here.
And Thank You)
Once again, I want to thank you all for your support. Perhaps just coming and reading doesn’t seem like much, but really it is. These aren’t just stories to me, they are the way I process and express my own self. Everyone wants to be heard, and you have listened to me.