My Fifty: #20 – #11

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I am reviewing all fifty of my short stories, ranking them from worst to best. Today I will bring us to the threshold of my most treasured work.

Something Special)

The following are the stories that I consider to almost be my favorite work. It’s hard for me to quantify what I feel they are missing…quite possibly nothing. I think it’s just down to a matter of personal preference at this point.

20. A Minute at a Time. A young father is trying to care for his chronically ill son, who is in perpetual discomfort.
I have written several sentimental stories that did not land as well as I had hoped, but this actually succeeded. And a lot of that has to do with the end. At its conclusion the father does not fix his son’s problems. He does not make the bad situation go away. But he does embrace his son’s struggle, and even admits to his own feelings of powerlessness. And so at the end there is a form of healing, but it is that of emotional closure. That sort of honest, bittersweet conclusion brought this story in where other efforts fell short.

19. Phisherman. A hacker who enjoys filtering through the lives of others decides to break into a stranger’s home.
If there is a common trend in my stories, it is that I tend to avoid ordinary, everyday life. With this story I broke that pattern. It is modern, it has no supernatural elements, and it is an examination of a person that could be totally real. And taking this radically different approach did not compromise the piece at all! I think the quality I enjoy most of this story is that its protagonist is unquestionably doing bad things, and needs to be held accountable for his behavior, yet I can’t help but feel a deep pity for him also.

18. The Last Duty. A hermit with a secret shame is visited by a wanderer, whose arrival might not be as random as assumed.
I wanted to write a story that begin with false pretenses. In this piece two characters have their own stories to share, the intersection of which is not made known until a surprise revelation at the end. In addition to the exercise, I also wanted to explore a theme of regretful parenthood and I wanted to explore it to the extreme. The two characters are not merely asking themselves “where did I go wrong,” they are wrestling with the responsibility of having sired the world’s greatest evils!

17. The Noble. A group of medieval slaves find an unlikely savior in the newest member of their chain gang.
I admit that this story ends too quickly. At the time I wrote it, I was still concerned with fitting my stories into a specific number of posts, and sometimes that meant cramming too much into the last chapter. I am including it here, though, because in spite of that I am still very proud of its characterizations, themes, and imagery. Most of all, though, I am proud of the unexpected turn of events at the very center, which in the moment seem a soul-crushing defeat, but actually sows the seed of a later redemption.

16. With the Beast. A family lands on an inherited island, excited to build a new future for themselves.
There isn’t much of an arc here, this piece is mostly about just setting a tone. And in that it definitely succeeded. There is a goodness and an excitement that emanates from the explorers, but it is set apart by a contrasting tone of regret from the reader. Which brings up another distinct element that I’m proud of. The reader is given a voice in this story, and the whole thing is written in a second-person present tense. I suspected that would be weird and off-putting…but it actually works quite well!

15. Does What He Must. A young man in the old west recalls the larger-than-life feats of his father.
I’ve sometimes come into trouble by starting a story without a clear idea of where I wanted to end it. But this piece was an example of how sometimes an expedition into the unknown can turn up gold. All I knew when I started was that I wanted to do a series of scenes that showed the development of a western legend. The fact that it did that, and also came together in an emotional and fitting finale was a wonderful, happy accident!

14. Washed Ashore. Two men wash onto a beach, the lone survivors of a shipwreck, burning with an eternal hatred for each other.
Another mood piece and another shoreline. Something I’ve learned about myself and my writing is that I am captivated by the image of a stormy beach. Here I used it as the flat, gray backdrop behind a dramatic escalation. Things begin with a tone that is longing and wistful, but by the end burns with the promise of destruction and never-ending strife.

13. Once Among the Clouds. A patrol of clouds come across a source of infinite growth, and are seduced by the power it represents.
Well this was certainly a different piece, and it was so for two different reasons. The first, of course, was the choice of clouds as the cast of characters. Coming up with mechanics that reflect those most whimsical of forms was a fun challenge. The other unique element was trying to write an epic drama in miniature. Which I realize sounds like an oxymoron, but was necessary to capture the extremely majestic, yet extremely transient nature of clouds.

12. To the Great Infinite. A man uses his homemade technology to try and map his way into another dimension.
Only my second piece on this blog, and still one of my favorites. I love the sheer creativity of it, particularly the idea of a concrete basement being transformed into a dimension-hopping shuttle. A definite challenge in this was to both invent creative problems for my character to encounter, and then come up with reasonable solutions to them. Perhaps my favorite element, though, was having it cap all that sci-fi extravagance off with a simple moment of leaping into the unknown by pure faith.

11. Slow and Easy, Then Sudden. A sleepy, rural town has a new visitor in town, come to carry out an evil deed.
Another thing that I’ve learned from writing these stories is how much I love the slow burn. This piece begins particularly lighthearted, with a cheerful diner and a warm slice of apple pie, then builds to a climax of cold-blooded murder. In between I was particularly focused on the idea of a man having to work up the hate within him, necessary to being able to carry out such an act of violence.

Come back on Thursday where I will conclude this review with my top ten stories!

My Fifty: #36 – #21

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I am reviewing all fifty of my short stories, ranking them from worst to best. Today I am taking a look at the middle of the pack.

It’s Nice. No More, No Less)

There are always things I can find to improve in my stories, even in my best ones. But this next section is the first batch where I feel there are not any flaws on a fundamental level. I think that they are perfectly fine as they are…and that is all. They’re not life-changing, but they are fine.

36. The Wolf in the Room. Doctors and scientists in a secret facility try to solve the mystery of a man slowly transforming into a wolf.
I enjoyed this unique take on the werewolf. Obviously it has been inspired by other works, such as The Fly, and even Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The application of this body-swapping logic to werewolves is, to my knowledge, original, and I think it does a good job of raising the questions that I wanted it to.

35. In Stars and Stones. The world’s leading astronomers and archaeologists are both discovering the same end-of-the-world event through two very different lenses.
This one was written from a very removed perspective. The voice is similar to a narrator in a documentary, or a news reporter. There are no named characters, no moments of dialogue, but rather a series of escalating events described until a picture of inescapable Armageddon is made clear. It was a fun exercise, and one that presented some refreshing new experiences.

34. The Favored Son. An abbey in a fantasy world is suddenly overrun by a mysterious invasion.
My most recent piece, and one that I frankly struggled with quite a great deal. Right in the middle I followed a tangent that I hadn’t considered before, and found myself making up the story as I went. In the end I felt it came together much better than expected, and I found a few nuggets along the way that I’m glad to have discovered.

33. Three Variations on a Theme. Three different allegories, each centered on the same idea of condemnation and loss.
This was a more free-form, experimental piece. The visuals in it still haunt me, and I believe the separate sections each fit together thematically. My main purpose here was to see how many ways I could express the same idea, which made for an excellent writing exercise, but may result in a redundant reading experience.

32. Revenger of Blood. A Jewish man’s father was a victim of manslaughter, and he struggles with the right course of action to take against the killer.
I like the ideas of this story, I like its slow burn, and I like the resolution that it comes to. But I do take issue with the dialogue of its characters. I was trying to capture that old, biblical style of speaking. And while it is near enough you know what I am going far, it is also far enough from the mark that it feels a bit awkward. If I took the time, this piece could be polished into something really special.

Worth a Look)

There are many elements that I personally value in the previous stories, but if a friend asked me where to start reading my blog, I would not point them to any of the above. I would tell them to start looking from here.

31. Network Down. A man is hunted by a band of murderers in a highly digitized future.
This was a great example of having a single, simple idea (what if anything manufactured in our society could be interfaced with and digitally purchased), and then running with it for as long as possible. And even with so many ideas packed into such a small package, the piece still finds time to build a compelling arc for its main character.

30. Imposed Will. A man is incarcerated in a Victorian-era prison, where a mysterious figure invites him into a world of magic.
I had a lot of fun going down this rabbit hole, revealing one surprise after another. As one of my earlier pieces, I’m sure it could do with some polishing, but the core of it is still quite good. I remember that as soon as I finished the story I came up with several ideas for how I might continue the tale into a more complete novel. Perhaps one day I will get to.

29. Phillip the Mouse. A series of children’s stories, each following the adventures of a small, anthropomorphic mouse.
These stories are very dear to me, given that they are drawn directly from the bedtime stories I tell to my son. They are at times very fun, at others very sentimental, and in both halves very sincere. This is one that I might very well expand into a more complete collection of short stories at some point.

28. The Death of Simon Bowie. An old man’s memories come alive, and mix with one another during his final moments of life.
I set myself quite the task with this one, trying to recreate a mind that is fading, firing random neurons in quick succession, losing its grip of reality, and no longer able to tell the difference between fact and imagination. As the author, I can understand it just fine, but I would imagine for most readers it is very easy to get lost in. And in this case, I’m not so sure that that’s a bad thing!

27. The Changed Dog. Two parents try to change out the old family dog, hoping that their son won’t notice the switch.
Perhaps one of the most grim stories I have written. There were a lot of powerful emotions behind this piece, including those of loss and deception. I have no question that a good deal of what inspired this piece was my son was dealing with the loss of two family pets in quick succession, and me fighting down a temptation to distract him from the hard facts of life that he needed to make his peace with.

26. Sculpting Light. A series of surreal images and loosely associated ideas are presented in a stream.
This is probably the most experimental piece that I’ve ever done. It has no characters and no dialogue, but it does have an arc: that of associated ideas building towards a central idea. And I found it a very refreshing thing to write. It’s just plain different, and allowed me to work on writing muscles that I didn’t even know I had. It’s something that I would definitely like to explore again.

25. Tico the Jester. A small girl plays with her toys, who are powerless to help as she approaches a traumatic experience.
So this was a bit of an interesting approach. I wrote a story where the main character and her arc are not explored in the actual text. The toys in this story just don’t understand anything outside of their small, childish world, and I keep the action limited to their naïve perspective. I think it made for a very intriguing take, with plenty of subtext and room for interpretation.

24. The Last Grasshopper. A grasshopper is the last of his generation, observing the onset of winter, and the end of an era.
Where I live there are a great many grasshoppers, and they only survive a single season, leaving their eggs buried in the ground to hatch the next spring. I don’t remember when, but one day I realized that there must be a grasshopper each year that was the last grasshopper of its generation. That idea gripped me very tightly, and I knew I had to write a story to convey all the emotions that came with it. I feel like they all came out here rather well.

23. Cursed. A father lays wounded and dying. In his final moments he tries to convince his morally weak son to not seek vengeance for what has happened.
This is a very charged piece, with several competing emotions surging forward in equal measure. The son is filled with hate for those that have killed his father, and the father with fear for losing his son’s soul. There is no outwitting an opponent in this duel, no making an argument to convince another, and no test of physical strength. It is only a duel between intense love and intense hate, where only one can prevail in the end.

22. The Cruelty of King Bal’Tath. A king discusses with his counselors the best way to execute vengeance on a district that has betrayed him.
All the time in stories we follow the protagonist as discover, in horror, the evil plot of the main villain. The best of these plots are ingenious in their cruelty, a perfectly dark work of art. With this story I wanted to examine the formation of one of these plans from the villain’s perspective. I wanted to show how he would wrestle to come up with a plan that was not only evil, but unforgettably so.

21. Power Suit Racing. A young man in a futuristic society joins a dangerous racing league to escape the pangs of love.
I just had a lot of fun with this one. The world it takes place in was different from any setting I had experimented with before, and it was nice to explore one aspect of it and then another. I thought that this exploration naturally and seamlessly integrated with a compelling arc, too, which intersection is where the most satisfying story experiences are found.

That’s all I have room for today, come on Monday as we’ll make our way towards my most favorite stories!

My Fifty: #50 – #37

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

On Thursday I posted the last section of The Favored Son, which also marked the end of my most recent series.

This isn’t all, though, it also held the distinction of being the fiftieth short story that I’ve completed on this blog. Not too bad for two-and-a-half years. At this rate it will only take me a half century to post a thousand!

Though actually, that might not be quite true. The fact is my stories have been getting longer and longer at a dramatic rate. In the first year-and-a-half of this blog I did forty short stories, and in all of this last year I only did ten!

Which I don’t feel bad about, it’s just an interesting observation. Probably these longer ten-part stories are harder for readers to persevere through than the short one-offs, but the top objective of this blog has always been to just write what I want to write. If anyone else happens to like it, too, then that’s an extra gift and I am very grateful for it, but it really isn’t my driving motivation.

But back to the milestone.

I’m very proud about having made it through fifty stories. And I am proud of the overall quality in them. There have been a couple duds here and there, but as a whole I feel that I’ve been able to express what I wanted to express, and that I’ve been able to write about things that truly matter to me.

So I felt it was time to commemorate this achievement, and the way I’ve chosen to do so is by ranking each of my fifty stories. From worst to best I will list out a short description of each tale, what my personal feelings about it are, and any special challenges that it presented. And these reviews are going to be very influenced by my perspective as the author. My experience while writing the story will be as important as the final quality of it when determining where it ranks.

Fifty stories is going to take a little while to cover, so I will break it out over this week and the next. My regular essays and short stories will be put on a short hiatus until after that.

And now, without further ado, let’s get to it!

It Sounded Better in My Head)

It turns out there are very few of my stories that I consider a complete flop, tales that I would feel very little reason to revisit, even if I had the time. If anything, I would just extract the few parts I do like about these stories and repurpose those into other, more promising stories.

50. Harold and Caroline. A boss and one of his workers are constantly at odds with one another.
For some reason I really struggled while writing this one, redoing multiple scenes multiple times. I think it has a more sentimental ending than it has earned, and I’ve frankly never felt so detached from a happy ending after all of the frustration it took to get there.

49. The Basketball in the Water. A man is meeting with his therapist, discussing his frustrations with his father.
It’s a nice representation of counseling, utilizing actual methods of the profession. But the entire thing was built around a twist ending that feels oddly out of place. My reason for wanting to include that twist was to be true to a dream which inspired the story. Sometimes I need to be able to let go of the initial concept of a story, though, so that it might evolve into something better.

48. Hello, World. A group of programmers inadvertently let loose a virus which strives for world domination.
I’ve included the occasional moment of humor in my stories, but this is the first and only time where I tried to write a comedy. And, given where it is ranking on this list, it might be quite a while before I try it again! I think my main issue here was trying to mix a sense of levity alongside some thick technical-speak. It made the whole piece feel off-balance and lacking a clear voice.

Good Idea, But…)

The next section of my stories are ones that didn’t shine as brightly as I’d hoped when written out, but which I still like the ideas at the core of. There is still potential for them, but they need a different interpretation or a fuller context to really come into their own.

47. The Sweet Bay Tree. A young tree is brought into a multi-purpose room on university campus. Slowly it comes to the realization that it will never leave this place.
I think there was an intriguing idea at the heart of this story, but the main thing I learned from the experience was the importance of finding the right medium to tell a story through. This is something that could work in a soulful song, but as a short-story it just kind of comes and goes without making the intended impact.

46. The Heart of Something Wild. An African Tribe tries to negotiate the shift of power after the old chief dies.
I feel like this story had too many core ideas: the tribe members deciding where their loyalties lied, an examination of a shamed heir, and the relationship being formed with a strange creature. Each of these could have been interesting in their own right, but the blend of them all made for a bit of a distracted concoction.

45. Shade. An altruistic leader sacrifices himself to save a friend that has fallen to the other side.
I have posted many stories that feel like a single chapter from a larger piece. But where most of them feel like they have a complete arc within that larger tale, Shade felt decidedly incomplete. There just wasn’t enough time to care about the characters involved or the events that transpired. What was described could have been an interesting piece, if it had been backed by a novel full of development.

44. I Hated You, Jimmy. A man looks back at his frustrations with a High School bully, and how he finally developed empathy for the boy.
I tried something new with this story: I made the protagonist’s voice change a great deal throughout. Though the entire piece is is couched in the setting of an adult reflecting on his childhood memories, he very much gets caught up in the emotion of the moment, and at different times sounds like a teenager, a young adult, and a mature man. This might work over a longer piece, but in the short story format it resulted in too chaotic and frequent of changes.

43. It’s Tough to Be a God. A man is exiled on a small moon, where he discovers the power to create whatever he wants.
There are a lot of ideas I really like in this. I think a simple man being made into a god and trying to balance out his own ignorant mistakes is fascinating. But the tone of it kept slipping from me. I felt like I kept pushing at the fringes of creature horror, which was not my intention at all. It’s definitely something I’d like to do another take on.

42. Celestials. A solar system is destroyed through a complex chain of events.
I feel that this story fell to the same weakness as The Sweet Bay Tree. It is an interesting idea, and one I think that is worth, it’s just very hard to communicate by a written medium. This tale is full of dense paragraphs that are brimming with chemical and physical terms. I originally envisioned this idea as a short film, and I do believe that that would provide the best experience.

41. Gifts from Daniel Bronn…and Jerry. A sentimental story about an old cynic who is transformed through his work for a rich altruist.
This was my attempt at a feel-good Christmas story like A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life. I still very much like the idea of a man learning compassion by repeatedly being the vehicle for someone else’s kindness, but I can’t help but feel that the ending just didn’t come together in the way I had hoped. It’s not terrible, but I would like to have had the time to experiment with a few alternative versions before hitting submit.

40. Washed Down the River. A detective mystery set in the 70s, where a suburban suicide might actually be foul play.
I had wanted to write a mystery for a long while, and finally decided it was time to try my hand at it. I enjoyed the more measured approach I used, but unfortunately all that slow burn builds up to an end that is disappointingly anticlimactic. It could definitely be reworked, though, and there are many ways it could have a far more exciting conclusion than its current “so I guess no one was really the murderer?”

39. Cael: Darkness and Light. Two isolated scenes of a dark void spilling over the world, and two characters attempting to flee it.
If I were just evaluating the very first scene, I would have placed this much higher. It’s scene of a man dissolved within a void I still find quite gripping. And the second scene has its own interesting ideas as well, but as with Shade it would have had more impact if contained in a greater context. In other pieces I have better learned how to take a vertical slice from a larger tale that still feels complete on its own.

38. The Wedding Scenes. Four vignettes from a single wedding reception.
My very first story on this blog! And while writing those first pieces was pretty grueling at the time, I am actually quite pleased that it turned out as well as it did. In the end it is a bit lopsided, with certain vignettes turning out much better than the others. I could easily drop the weaker sections and just let the others stand on their own.

37. Instructions Not Included. Two boys discover some strange machines that operate on their own set of rules, separate from the laws of nature.
It was nice to write a story about pure discovery, and in that regard I consider it a success. The ending was designed to open the world up to a wealth of future possibilities, but I feel that in this case it was it felt like a hurriedly tacked-on cliffhanger, rather than a natural escalation of all that had come before.

That’s all I have room for today, come on Thursday as we’ll delve into the next sections of my countdown!

Update on My Novel: Month 18

black pen near white printer paper
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

OCTOBER STATS

Days Writing: 20
New Words: 3924
New Chapters: 1.25

Total Word-count: 60,547
Total Chapters: 17

Well this month was my most productive in a long while! It was the most words written since March, and the most days-in-a-month working on the novel since October last year! It would have been nice to break the 4,000-word barrier…but I’ll just have to keep that as a motivation for this next month.

A little less positively, I noticed during this month that I kept falling into a pattern of halfhearted writing. I would open my word processor, type out a minimum number of words as quickly as possible, and the quality just wasn’t up to the standard I have been striving for. I’ve told myself previously that it’s okay to only write out a few words during a busy day, but they still ought to be quality words!

On the other hand…maybe my tepidness is a blessing in disguise. It could be a warning to me that the section I am working on is not very interesting, and will be a slog for the reader to get through as well. A slow middle is one of the most common failings in literature, and I might very well be falling victim to it myself!

But if I am able to recognize this trend as it happens, I will still have time to correct it. I’m currently doing a once-over on my latest chapter, and in addition to picking out grammatical and logical errors, I will repeatedly ask myself “is this even interesting.”

For now, though, here’s a piece that I wrote during this month. One that I feel still has that spark I’ve been striving for. Enjoy!

But William has no more time for ruminations, for Eleanor is now ushering the family to their seats around the fire, and once they are settled she presents the first real feast that they have enjoyed since setting foot on the island!

The main attraction, of course, is the roasted bird.

“Oh, this is divine!” William exclaims. “What kind of fowl is this?”

“Well I’m not sure exactly,” Eleanor answers, “but it looked like some sort of pheasant.”

“Are we going to start putting traps out for them regularly, now?” he smiles hopefully.

“Yes, I think so. Try and catch a few and start breeding them I imagine. Though this came out quite dry and bland, didn’t it?”

Everyone murmurs in disagreement. But of course, this is the first fresh meat they’ve had since they arrived, and even dry, bland fowl seems succulent and rich!

In addition to the pheasant, there are two side dishes made from the recently harvested produce of their garden. The first is yellow yams that have been boiled soft, with green beans and peas mixed throughout. The second is another set of yams that has been sliced and fried, and is served with a dip made of mashed mung beans.

And even this isn’t all. A large bowl is also passed around, full of nuts and sunflower seeds, and also a jar of tamarind jam to enjoy by itself.

“How nice to have a dinner with dessert again,” John approves. “Would you like some, Clara?”

“No,” she wrinkles her nose. “I don’t like tamarinds. And that’s not what we’re having for dessert.”

“There’s more?” John looks in amazement to Eleanor, who reaches behind the stump she is sitting on and produces cashew fruit, cut into halves and topped with some of the leftover cane sugar from their test crop.

They all eat more heartily than they knew they could. There isn’t a single morsel left in any bowl or plate, and there isn’t a single finger that isn’t licked clean. They are quite full when all the food is gone, yet each feels they would happily eat just as much again.

Update on My Novel: Month 17

black pen near white printer paper
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

SEPTEMBER STATS

Days Writing: 18
New Words: 3145
New Chapters: 1

Total Word-count: 56,412
Total Chapters: 15.75

Well 3,000 words-per-month definitely seems to be my pattern of late! Actually, if I’m being honest, I was tracking well below that level until the end of the month, and when I realized it I redoubled my efforts just to be sure I made that mark. I guess 3,000 words unconsciously became a minimum standard for myself.

Also, I wouldn’t have had a chance of hitting that many words if not for a writer’s group that I am a part of. Each meeting we take an hour-and-a-half of uninterrupted writing to get out as many words for our novels as possible. I only attended one of these meetings for the month of September, but from that one session I got 1,200 words. Just by attending more of these (they occur on a weekly basis) I could get a lot more done each month.

For the past while I’ve been realizing that the greatest slow-down to my writing process is that I review each chapter after I finish writing it. I don’t get chapter polished to a perfect state, and there’s still going to be a lot of refactoring and revising to do later, but my work does become markedly improved from this editing-as-I-go approach. I think it is an important process, but it sure does put the brakes on my momentum.

I’m not sure what to do about that yet. I could push myself to edit each chapter for a set number of days only. I could try to be more sparse in smoothing out each rough spot. I could see if it is better to write out three whole chapters, and then edit them as a batch.

Perhaps I’ll implement some of those ideas this month, I’m still not sure. But I will be paying close attention to how things go once I get finished with Chapter 16. Come back on November 1st to hear how it went.

Before I head out, though, here’s a little snippet from my work this month. Enjoy!

An early chill crawls out of the earth that night and the family awakens to several patches of dew that have crystallized into frost.

“Is this a concern?” William asks Eleanor.

“No, not yet. We had a few cooler days last season as well, and none of them were a problem for our test crop.”

The wind picks up, and all of the family pull their blankets more tightly around their shoulders and lean closer to the fire.

“Well that’s a proper sea breeze, isn’t it?!” William exclaims.

“Yes, and a sea sky,” John observes the flat, gray canopy overhead.

“Well I think it’s quite refreshing myself,” Eleanor smiles. The wind picks up once more and she shrinks back into her blanket. “I’ve gotten so used to this hot and humid air that I don’t even notice it anymore. Nice to have a day that you can actually feel once in a while!”

“Well I prefer not feeling the day,” Clara shivers.

“Were you finished with your porridge?”

“Yes.”

“Well then why don’t you and I start on our way. The walk will help thaw you out.”

“But then I won’t be in my blanket anymore.”

“I’d consider letting you keep it around you, but then you’d have to carry it back at the end of day.”

“I’ll carry it!”

“And it will be hot and stuffy this afternoon, and you won’t enjoy having to carry it then.”

“No, I’ll be alright. Thank you, mother.”

“I believe you mean ‘please, mother,'” William cocks an eyebrow.

Clara sighs. “Please, mother?”

“Well, alright.”

“Thank you, mother.”

Update on My Novel: Month 16

black pen near white printer paper
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

AUGUST STATS

Days Writing: 17
New Words: 3001
New Chapters: 0.75

Total Word-count: 53,133
Total Chapters: 14.75

August continued with the greater success that we saw in July. I’m not at the 6,000-words-per-month level that I was at the end of 2019, but I’m more than double the low point of 1,376 words in June.

Interestingly, I did 17 days of writing in August, a significant increase to July’s 10, but wrote nearly the exact same number of words. I don’t mind that my average performance each day was less, though I wouldn’t want that trend to continue down further.

The good news is that my family and I are officially done with the move! We’re still acclimating to our new surroundings and we’re still busy with unpacking boxes, but the main effort is over. Hopefully that means more time for writing, but honestly even if I maintain this baseline I will be content.

I had an interesting experience with writing this month when I wasn’t sure how to start a particular scene. After trying to find the “right answer” for a while and failing to do so, I just plowed ahead with the first idea that came to mind. I finished feeling that what I’d done was garbage, and that tomorrow I should just erase it and try again.

When I looked at it the next day, though, it was actually pretty decent. Really it was only the very last paragraph that I still had an issue with, which was probably what had put the bad taste in my mouth to begin with. So I kept everything else from before, only rewrote the last paragraph, and happily continued. It was a good lesson in not being afraid to let go of problem areas, but also to step away and look with fresh eyes for value that I might have missed in the heat of the moment.

Before I head out, here’s a little snippet from my work this month. Enjoy!

Across the island, John arrives back at the field, bringing with him the last bundle of sugarcane for William.

“Thank you,” William exclaims, hobbling over to take the sack from him. “Sorry again to make you come all the way down here. I think there’s still some porridge in the pot if you wanted to sit down a moment.”

“No, I had better get back to the workstation.”

“Of course. Well sorry again.”

John waves his hand dismissively, but he cannot help but consider that if it had been he who was bringing in the sugarcane yesterday, he surely would have found a way to bring in the full measure, even with a sprained ankle. Although, more likely, he probably wouldn’t have sprained his ankle to begin with.

“I admire your passion, son,” he says as soon as he is out of earshot, “it gives you vision and motivation. But sometimes you let it get you worked up, let it get you jittery, and then you make mistakes. Yes, I want to give you the fulfillment that I never had, but not at the expense of the grounded surety that I have had. I want it to be possible for you to dream and achieve, but also for you to be focused and deliberate. Otherwise you won’t have it better than me, just different. And I want you to have it better.”

Update on My Novel: Month 15

black pen near white printer paper
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

JULY STATS

Days Writing: 10
New Words: 3060
New Chapters: 0.7

Total Word-count: 50,146
Total Chapters: 14

With July I decided to do things a bit differently. I got rid of tracking partial days and full days, I got rid of minimum amount to work each day, and I just made it a simple commitment to do something on my novel every day.

And, for the first half of the month, things went quite well. I wasn’t getting every single day, but I was getting more than half, and I was on track to have my best month since January. Then, in the second half, I once again stopped working altogether.

I feel more okay with my lack of productivity for this month than I did for May or June. Things have been very strained these past few weeks, with us getting our house up on the market, preparing to move, and an intense deadline being thrust on my team at work.

It’s difficult to decide the balance of “just get something done, anything, no matter how chaotic the rest of the day has been” and “have some understanding, it’s okay to get less done during hectic days.”

But rather than dwell on what didn’t get done, I want to relish the first part of the month where I was really working on the story. It felt so good. I feel like my changes in how to approach the work removed all of the stress, and left the pure enjoyment of it instead. I’ve craved that these past couple weeks, and want to get right back to it.

So I’m going to keep that same format for August, and hopefully I’ll be able to find a little more time in the nooks and crannies of each day.

Before I head out, here’s a little snippet from my work this month. Enjoy!

“Oh look, there’s some new flowers over there!” Clara suddenly points excitedly to a small cluster of black morning glories perched on the slope that rises on the other side of their stream. They grace a particularly steep portion of that incline, crowning a sheer, rocky outcropping that presses out of the green growth that otherwise makes up the hillside.

“Oh…” Clara says slowly as she regards the precarious position. “We don’t have to get those ones…if you don’t want to.”

Eleanor’s eyes narrow.

“I hadn’t expected you to be scared off so easily, Clara.”

“What? No, I’m not scared, I just–“

“It’s alright. You just wait here where it’s nice and safe and hold my bag.” Eleanor hands Clara the sack and then begins to ascend the hill. She goes up the gentle-sloping side until she is about level with the flowers, then moves sideways to the rocky face. The flowers’ ledge is a little more than two feet higher than her feet now, so she grips the rock face with her left hand, stretches her left foot up to plant it on the rocky shelf, then firmly swings the rest of herself up and onto the ledge. A few moments later and she has plucked a few of the flowers’ finest representatives.

Getting off the ledge is a somewhat trickier matter, though, as now she must step down onto the slanted surface of the hill. Clara sees her mother’s hesitation and quickly scrambles up the hill to be beside her.

“Here,” Clara says, “take my hand.”

“And send us both rolling down the hill?”

“I’ll be firm.”

Clara plants her feet squarely, and keeps her hand out until Eleanor concedes. The maneuver is made simply enough, and the two quickly ascend to the top of the incline.

“Weren’t you frightened, mother?”

“Terrified!”

“But—but then why did you go up there in the first place?”

“Because you thought I was frightened.”

“But you just said that you were! And I knew you were the whole time, even though you pretended not to be!”

Clara’s tone is frustrated and chiding, and Eleanor cannot help but laugh.

“I’m sorry, Clara, you’re absolutely right. It was silly of me, but…well, I don’t know…I suppose it’s just a hard thing for a parent to let their child know when they need help.”

“Well…as long as you know that it’s silly!”

Update on My Novel: Month 14

black pen near white printer paper
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

JUNE STATS

Full Days Writing: 5
Partial Days Writing: 3
New Words: 1376
New Chapters: 0.3

Total Word-count: 47,133
Total Chapters: 13.3

 

For a while now I have reported declining numbers each month, and each month come up with a plan to resolve that, and each month that plan hasn’t worked. Consider how many words I have written each succeeding month this year:

January: 6360
February: –
March: 5244
April: 3747
May: 2751
June: 1376

A very steady trend down, and fast approaching zero. For June I said I was going to start tracking partial days and full days of writing, in order to encourage me to write something even if only a small amount.

Ultimately, that did not pan out. I’m sure I could make up a number of excuses for why my numbers are continuing to decline, such as starting at a new job and generally having less time due to the new baby in our family, those reasons would sound hollow. The simple truth is that my motivation has been declining. There have been many days in the past months where I could have written…and just didn’t want to.

I am far from giving up on this project, though. I still do care for the story, and frankly have put in too much time and effort to call it quits now. I’m still going to keep working on it, and will hold myself to a higher standard moving forward.

To this end, I am making the following changes: no more partial-days/full-days, no more “my goal is to write this many days for the month,” no more set amounts of time to write for, and no more set amounts of words. We’re just going to go back to basics. My goal is to write every day, full stop.

I will still track how many days I write, and how many words, so that I can measure trends, but there will be no more quotas. This might seem counter-intuitive for increasing productivity, but really I just want to get rid of all the clutter and bring the focus back to pure writing. Perhaps this plan will backfire, in which case I’ll just re-evaluate it at the start of next month.

Wish me luck!

 

Though I wrote very little for the month of June, I did write some, and here is a snippet from that work. Enjoy!

The next day William digs some burlap sacks out of their gear and throws them in a pile on the ground, next to his cutlass and field journal.

“How many sugarcanes are out there?” Clara asks him.

“I think it actually is just ‘sugarcane,’ even when you’re talking about more than one.”

“What?”

“Never mind, it doesn’t matter.”

“Oh, so how many sugarcanes are there.”

“No, see, if there is just one sugarcane you just say ‘one sugarcane.’ And if there are two sugarcane you still just say ‘two sugarcane.’ Just like ‘one sheep,’ and ‘two sheep.'”

“So how many…”

“Sugarcane.”

“…sugarcane are there?”

“Well…I didn’t count their number exactly, but back when I was taking inventory of the island I did estimate what I saw. A few dozen here, about a hundred there, and so on. In any case there’s more than a thousand of them.”

“More than a thousand!”

“Or at least there had better be! I’m counting on it!”

“So that we have enough for filling our field?”

“Exactly. Each cane that I bring back should give us about four or five setts–that’s what you call the chunk you plant in the ground that the new stalk grows from–and it will take more than sixty-six hundred of those to fill our whole field!”

“Well Daddy is going to be busy all day!” Clara laughs to Eleanor, who is now walking up to the two.

“Aren’t we all, and every day?”

“Yes, and with no holidays,” Clara pouts.

“Now that is a problem” William concedes. “But for now, the cane isn’t going to wait.” He picks up all of the supplies that he has prepared, kisses his wife and daughter goodbye, and treks off for the first cluster.

Update on My Novel: Month 13

black pen near white printer paper
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

MAY STATS

Days Writing: 10
New Words: 2751
New Chapters: 1

Total Word-count: 45,743
Total Chapters: 13

Well, May wasn’t a great month for working on the blog, but I don’t really feel too bad about it. To explain why, I think there is something I need to make clear. Writing my novel is not a relaxing exercise for me. It is work. I don’t mind that it is work, it is work that I very much want to do, even work that I need to do, but it is still work. It is the same with these blogs. I enjoy doing them, but they still require real work.

Writing my novel and blogs only happens because I have made peace with the fact that I am going to work my full-time job, and then I am going to work some more. I will work my full-time job for pay, and work my writing projects for passion.

Sometimes, though, the “work” work takes up more of my time than usual, at which point I don’t have much left in the tank for writing. That was the case with May, where on top of my regular hours I have been applying to and interviewing with other companies, looking for a new job. This can be quite an involved process. In my particular profession, each company that takes your application under consideration requires you to undergo a programming assessment, which usually take around 2 hours to complete, in addition to all the standard interviewing steps. Pretty soon looking for a new job becomes its own part-time job.

I could have crammed novel-work on top of the rest, but I think I would have grown to resent it. I frankly needed more of a break at the end of each day. And thus I’m actually pretty pleased with getting 10 days and a whole chapter completed during the month.

There is one thing that I think I could do better in how I approach my novel-work though. I find that if I don’t want to write for my full goal of 30 minutes, then I give up writing at all for that day. I don’t like that. From now on I am going to track two numbers: full writing days, and partial writing days. If I feel I cannot write a full 30 minutes one day, I’ll still try to talk myself into doing 15, and count that for a partial writing day.

So what are my goals for June? Well, the good news is that I did end up getting that new job. As in, just this morning I signed the agreement! So hopefully things will be a bit more back to normal. I’m going to shoot for 21 days, hopefully each as full-writing days, but at the very least as a mixture of partial and full.

Before I go, here’s a snippet from the work I did manage to get done during May. Enjoy!

Thus begins a very slow process of watching and waiting. The puddle fills out the bottom of the main channel quickly enough, and then starts to lift itself from flatness into fuller definition. The family is transfixed by the swelling, slow as it is, and silently stare on as the void is filled.

 

After it reaches a certain height, the water in the main line starts to tease at the mouth of each irrigation trench. It begins to reach down them, like fingers that are curious, but oh-so-cautious. The water does not flow merrily down these channels yet, rather all of its moisture is spent only in permeating the dry earth there, preparing the way for later, bolder incursions. It creates the illusion that a damp mud is spreading through the soil, extending itself down each trench by pure osmosis.

 

Only after the soil has had its considerable thirst quenched in this manner do small, thread-like trickles of water glide over the freshly sealed mud.

 

Later on…


Now that each trench has filled the entirety of its length, all that remains is for them to rise to their fullest height. The family stand and turn their heads side-to-side, watching the progress ebb and flow through each lane. Now this one pulls ahead of its neighbors, then slows down as its trench widens suddenly. Now this one takes the lead as the eddies from the mainline bring an extra wave rippling down its length, then lapses as the same eddy moves on, sucking some of the water back out.

 

It is hypnotizing to see the mass at work, as if with a mind of its own. Sometimes it seems a single unit, other times a chorus of individual voices. No one questions whether observing this process is a worthy use of the family’s time or not. Like the birth of a child, or the death of an elder, it seems an important thing to witness. It is the story of how the veins of their field were brought to life.

 

But then, the exact culmination of the process is impossible to tell in a sequence such as this. For the irrigation system comes near to being filled to the brim…even nearer…nearer still…and then, all at once, the family realizes that each irrigation line has already reached its full depth, and they aren’t sure when exactly the system crossed the line from “very, nearly, almost complete” to “complete,” but it has!

Update on My Novel: Month 12

black pen near white printer paper
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

 

APRIL STATS

Days Writing: 12
New Words: 3747
New Chapters: 1.25

Total Word-count: 42,497
Total Chapters: 12

 

Well, the main takeaway from April is that I did not get as much done as I had hoped. Out of the 22 days that I meant to write, I ended up with only 12. There were reasons for that. I had come to rely on a regular daily routine which got thrown out the window with COVID-19 and all that that entails. I wouldn’t say that I had less time to write because of it, but just that my usual cues of when to write were harder to pick up on.

More than that, though, we had a family project which consumed a lot of time, and after I had missed a few days in a row it became very easy to say “well, April is ruined, let’s just not worry about it anymore.”

Which is not the mentality I want to have with this project. I’ve always wanted the freedom to be able to say “this day is crazy, today I can’t write,” but in that case I want the next day to truly be a new day, not just an extension of the last. So I’m a bit disappointed in myself for giving up on a whole half-month because of one unforeseen disruption.

That being said: today is truly a new day, it doesn’t need to be an extension of the last. I can be both disappointed in how things went last month, and also let it go and not be bogged down by it.

With May I already have a couple things on the calendar that I know are going to limit my capacity to write, so I’m only going to set a goal for 19 days. And if I miss one of those, then I’m going to make a goal to try and get right back into a fresh perspective for the next day.

Before I leave, I wanted to start sharing small snippets of my work with each of these updates. I will try to choose things that are still “hot off the presses,” but that does mean they will still be a bit raw, and not quite in their final form. Here’s a little something that I put together during the last weeks of April.

 

“Your mother and siblings had a garden when you were a child?” Clara asks Eleanor as they work.

“Yes, both to grow our own food, and also to sell at the market.”

“Did your father ever help you?”

Eleanor laughs. “Well there was one time. He had a wealthy customer come in to pick up an order, and the two got to talking, and the man told him all about a new fruit that was coming to our country from the wilds of Africa! Large, red, and juicier than any other fruit on earth!”

“What was it?”

“Watermelon!”

“Watermelon? But I’ve had watermelon.”

“Yes, because it migrated to our country during your father’s childhood and mine. We had never seen it before then.”

“I suppose that makes sense. Father said saffron and vanilla never grew here before we planted them either.”

“Yes, it was just like that. But my father heard about this new fruit and desperately wanted to try it. So he came to the market with us the very next day and found a man that was selling seeds for it. He took them home and planted them that night. Every day, after he closed up shop, he’d come out and tend to them. Never asked the rest of us to look out for them, in fact he wouldn’t hear of it. I think he was proud to have his own special project.”

“And was he pleased when they grew?”

“Well they never did. After the first week without so much as a sprout mother began asking if he wanted any help. Which of course he took as a slight against his honor,” Eleanor smiles in amusement. “So he refused, of course, and then it became a matter of us teasing him each day, asking when he was going to let those who knew how take a look after the crop. He must have tried a hundred different ways to get some life out of those seeds, but there was never so much as a green stem to show for it all.”

Eleanor pauses and looks to the horizon, her face shifting halfway from amusement towards ruefulness as the memories of those bygone days play through her mind. She stays a moment caught between the two emotions, then leans back to her work and continues with the story.

“It was a big joke to us for a while, but then we forgot all about it that winter…for that was the winter he got sick and passed away. The next year watermelon started showing up in earnest, and we finally got to see what all the fuss was about. I still remember the shock when I tried my first piece.”

“Shock?”

“The seeds were not the same as what my father had planted the year prior.”

“What had he planted?”

“To this day I do not know, the man at the market had swindled him.”

“Oh…that’s sad.”

“It is…” Eleanor agrees “and yet my father maintained a good humor through it all, and I honestly believe he would have been very tickled by the final punchline, if he had only been around to see it. So I’m not bitter about the setback he had, I only wish I could have heard his laugh at the end.”