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Entries in Dean Wesley Smith (9)


Q&A, Part II: Online resources essential to the working writer

Nick Fox asks:

Q&A time: Are there any other websites/online resources you consider essential to being a working writer?

Depends how easily distracted a working writer is! For instance, I went just now to my Google Reader replacement, The Old Reader, to see which of the writerly blogs I follow I wanted to mention here, and I saw that Rock, Paper, Shotgun posted a review of a PC version of Space Hulk, which is a board game that seems to have a rabid following and one I suspect I might like...

Damn it. You see? For the easily distracted working writer, the best online resources are probably those that prevent said writer from accessing websites at all: something like Freedom (a Mac app) that prevents you from accessing the internet during a time you specify (there's almost certainly a Windows equivalent). Personally, to train myself to focus more I've been using the Pomodoro Technique I learned about from Ryan Casey's blogfree if you use a timer that's already on your iPod, cell phone, computer, kitchen stove, sundial, etc.

If this working writer is still undeterred, determined to gain inspiration and swears it's not procrastination, I'd say that the Wall Street Journal of the publishing industry today is The Passive Voice. It is biased somewhat toward the self-publishing movement, but once you read a few entries you'll have a hard time finding fault with his logic. It's through The Passive Voice that I discovered many of my other favorite blogs: TERRIBLEMINDSDean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch... It's a compulsively readable rabbit hole, my friend. I've learned a lot, but I can't tell you with a straight face that any of that time wouldn't have been better spent just writing. I think the authors of all those blogs would agree.

As for online resources, I will recommend this without reservation: Workflowy. It's a web-based to-do list that you can format any way you like and access from any computer with internet access. I use this to get track of everythingstory ideas, web project ideas, rough onlines, idea dumps, freewriting, websites/books I want to check out, even chores (the most-neglected category). It's replaced the tired old notebooks I used to carry with me everywhere. God help me if the site ever goes down...

A writing/organization program I frequently use but wouldn't yet swear by is Scrivener. If you're already someone who will spend too much time planning when you ought to be just diving in, Scrivener will not sing to your better angels. It is made for planning. But it has a lot of great featuresthe ability to rearrange your ideas and chapters on the fly and output the final product in any format you can imagine (docx, pdf, epub, etc.), a character name generator, an easy place to throw all your random research and notes, etc. etc. The website has a trial version so it's worth checking out if your interest is piqued! 

I'm sure I'm forgetting things. Any other websites/online resources I should have listed, intrepid readers?


15 minutes/day = writing career

Happy Friday!

I love it when Dean Wesley Smith talks math. I dislike math in general, but he always paints such a beautiful, achievable picture with his numbers. A fantasy in which I (and you!) can have a writing career by spending at least 15 minutes a day hardcore writing. A fantasy that, actually, could easily be reality:

If you type 250 words in 15 minutes, and considered your writing important enough to type for 15 minutes every day, you will finish 91,250 words in one year. Or about one longish novel. (Sorry, but it’s true. 250 words x 365 days = 91,250 words. By the way, I passed 250 words in this article somewhere in the middle of the paragraph about Kris above.)

Note that if you type for 15 minutes every day and produce 250 words and work only on short fiction, by the end of a year you would have completed about 18 short stories of average length of 5,000 words.

If you work for one really, really tough hour of writing (snicker) five days per week, and take two weeks off from the really rough pace (more snickers), you will produce (1,000 words x 5 days x 50 weeks =) 250,000 words in one year. Or about three novels.

Or about 50 short stories (at average length of 5,000 words).

That’s right. 250,000 words in a year. Working one hour per day and taking the weekends off and two weeks vacation.

So to make a living writing short fiction, you need a work ethic that will drag you to the computer at least one hour per day, five days per week. I know that’s tough. But if everyone could do it, there would be a lot of writers making a living with their fiction.

Read the whole thing here!

So put into this context, Sunday's 300 words should take you something like 20 minutes. That's not even a whole lunch break!

You could do it right now and then you would be done for the whole week. Utterly free to enjoy your weekend. Mmm.


One more from Twyla, and also I am not dead

First, from Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, a great trick to keep the writerly momentum churning:

Some people, if only for sanity and the maintenance of a humane routine, give themselves a creative quota. Painters stop when they fill up a measurable section of canvas, playwrights when they draft out a complete scene, writers when they hit one thousand words or the clock chimes 5:00pm. They stop no matter where they are on the canvas or page. I know one writer who gives himself both options: He stops at a set time or when he hits his word quota, whichever comes first. He is religious about this routine. But he connects to the next day with a fixed nighttime routine as well: Just before he falls asleep, he reads the last few sentences he wrote. Without fail, he wakes up the next morning brimming with ideas, setences, whole paragraphs for the next portion of his story. He claims he flies out of bed sometimes so he can get all the words down before they disappear. Apparently, filling up with words and ideas before sleep gives his tired brain some useful work to do as it regroups and refreshes itself overnight. What his conscious brain can't handle, his subconscious can.

I am definitely going to try this. My dreams are a total waste anyway—time to put them to work!

Second, I am not dead. The blog is not dead. I have not abandoned the blog. "Neglect" is probably more accurate. I have, lately, neglected the blog.

The problem is that I have many things I want to work on, and time spent on the blog is time not spent on these other things. I really admire Hugh Howey, Chuck Wendig, Dean Wesley Smith, John Scalzi, et al. for their seeming ability to juggle ten projects without dropping one of them. Their blogs never want for attention. Mine is more feast or famine, and I know the infrequency is preventing it from luring eyeballs beyond those of you dedicated few.

I believe in the Unwritten Word and want to see it through. I will definitely see it through—some of these pieces (and even moreso your responses to them) have really surprised me and inspired me to keep going. But I also need to find a way to balance it with other projects that are also starved for attention.

So I will ponder. I will make some adjustments, set a schedule, and then, by God, I will bring the writerly.

Thanks for sticking with me.


"15 minutes per day equals one novel per year"

While we're in the business of busting some myths today, here's another pearl from Dean Wesley Smith:

The Math of Writing Fast

This chapter when finished is going to be around 2,000 words. That is about 8 manuscript pages with each page averaging 250 words per page.

So say I wrote only 250 words, one manuscript page per day on a new novel.

It takes me about 15 minutes, give-or-take (depending on the book and the day and how I’m feeling) to write 250 words of fiction. (Each writer is different. Time yourself.)

So if I spent that 15 minutes per day writing on a novel, every day for one year, I would finish a 90,000 word plus novel, about a normal paperback book, in 365 days.

I would be a one-book-per-year writer, pretty standard in science fiction and a few other genres.

15 minutes per day equals one novel per year.

Oh, my, if I worked really, really hard and managed to get 30 minutes of writing in per day, I could finish two novels in a year.

And at that speed I would be considered fast. Not that I typed or wrote fast, just that I spent more time writing.

God forbid I actually write four pages a day, spend an entire hour per day sitting in a chair!!!!  I would finish four novels a year. At that point I would be praised in the romance genre and called a hack in other genres.

See why I laugh to myself when some writer tells me they have been working really, really hard on a book and it took them a year to write? What did they do for 23 hours and 45 minutes every day????

The problem is they are lost in the myth. Deep into the myth that writing must be work, that it must be hard, that you must “suffer for your art” and write slowly.

Bull-puckey. Writing is fun, easy, and enjoyable. If you want hard work, go dig a ditch for a water pipe on a golf course in a steady rain on a cold day. That’s work. Sitting at a computer and making stuff up just isn’t work. It’s a dream job.

Read the rest here!


Reflections on Week Ten

[Read the completed story here!]

This one was shockingly not at all difficult for me. Is it that Microfiction Week detonated all my blocks and barriers, or did Dean Wesley Smith's advice inspire me to better discipline, or both? Whatever the case, I seem to have a much easier time with nonfiction than I do with fiction. Writing Week Five's story (once I knew what to write) was also a great experience. 

I drafted this a bit differently than the others: probably for the first time ever, I put no pressure on myself for this thing to make sense. In my half-hour each morning I would just try to capture a few moments or feelings I remember having during my year as an adjunct college professor. These little scenes were in no order whatsoever, and I didn't have any idea how each of them (or any) would fit into a larger narrative. (In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises trying to describe only what you could see in a one-inch by one-inch picture frame. Without realizing this at the time, it's pretty much what I was doing here.)

Once I had over 2,000 words, I printed it off and cut each vignette into a separate strip of paper. Then I launched a hostile takeover of the kitchen table, as can be seen below:

[Yesthose scissors are pink.]

I know I've read a few times that this is a great way to revise a story, but of course I've always been too much of a procrastinating perfectionist control freak to actually give it a try. I'm glad I didI was pretty easily able to group the slips by chronological sequence and emotional throughline. Several of them didn't fit anywhere, and that too was quickly apparent. And some others were created in revision to bridge gaps. 

I'm pretty happy with the end result, but kind of sad that I had to stop. I didn't touch at all on all the plagiarism (unintentionial and the other kind) I encountered, or the challenge of teaching non-native English speakers something I barely understood myself. At some point down the road, once I have some distance, I'll probably revisit this piece and expand it, maybe even submit it somewhere. 

Anyway, give it a read and tell me what you think!


How to be a professional writer

Awesome post from Chuck Wendig about how to make a living being a writer:

And so, I figure, it’s time for some general tips on not just being a writer but, rather, being a professional writer. Further, being a professional writer who can do more than just buy an annual steak dinner with your earnings.

Here we go.

Speed: Learn to write with some zip in your fingers. A thousand words per hour is a good base level and not at all difficult to achieve.


Time: Learning to write well and with some speed means this takes time. Do not expect to be one of those “overnight successes,” a creature as rare as a Bigfoot riding a unicorn on a saddle made of leprechaun leather. A writer’s so-called “overnight success” is just the tip of the iceberg exposed, while the rest of the writer’s time and effort and narrative R&D exist in a massive glacial mountain beneath the darkened waters. Just because the writer appeared on the world’s radar doesn’t mean that poor fucker hasn’t been working his fingers bloody for quite some time.

No, Really, I Mean It: This can be a slow process. It was about a ten year journey to go from “freshly-minted, ruddy-cheeked penmonkey” to “battle-hardened full-timer with stories wound into his bloody beard-tangle.” Be ready to invest the time and effort.

Read the rest here!

Much of this advice is reassuringly similar to Dean Wesley Smith's, right down to the writing speed of 1,000 words per hour. (Though the advice later in the post about self-publishing is wildly different.)

No one in any of my dozens of writing workshops has ever suggested that I try writing quickly, but man oh man has it solved a lot of my problems re: being a procrastinating perfectionist. 


Reflections on Week Eight

[Read the completed story here!]

This one nearly broke me, folks. These past almost four months between final story and when I first posted the prompt have been a crucible of self-doubt, resolution, procrastination (i.e., poor impulse control), tentative starts, running around in circles, revelation, and finally just plain unrelenting hard work.

I've said it before, but this is the longest work of fiction I've written since grad school. And, I think, the first since maybe high school where the point of the story wasn't profound meaning and verbal pyrotechnics but just to tell a story.

So, y'know, breakthroughs a-plenty this week. Or "week."

I want to talk a little more about this revelation, though, because there was one thing in particular about Dean Wesley Smith's blog post that made the difference, and that would be Dean Wesley Smith himself.

Because I am trying to be a more active citizen of the blogoverse, I had posted the following in response to another comment where the person was worried about their writing speed:

Same here! My eyes bulged when I read that Dean averages 1,000 words per hour. I’m lucky to average 200–300, and all of those words are hard won.

What steps are you taking, Christopher? And I’d be very curious to hear if and how others have managed to boost their word count without sacrificing quality.

I was hoping for a discussion, some pointers, maybe. But pretty quickly I had a reply from Dean himself:

Hey, Brandon, what is “quality?” If you mean without sacrificing writing from the English teacher part of your brain, then you never will get faster than a few hundred words per hour. But if it means just letting fly and writing from the creative side of your brain, that all comes down to just typing speed for many of us.

To which I gleefully responded:

Hi Dean, thanks so much for taking the time to respond personally! I certainly struggle with censoring the inner editor—learning how to just let fly would definitely improve the output. Maybe it’s a matter of experience, but I find myself getting bogged down in the minutia of this fantasy world I’m writing in but haven’t fleshed out yet. (The idea was to let the rough draft direct the shape of the setting, but then there’s Is there an official town guard? What about plumbing? Clothing? Currency?)

What I’d love to know is how much planning/outlining there is before you feel free to rely solely on the creative side. When writing 1,000 words an hour, how extensive is the revision process?

Thanks again!

To which he... did not respond, because he's an incredibly busy person and, really, he already told me what I needed to know. The big revelation here was the words "typing speed." That I could actually give myself permission to write fiction at the same speed I chat or write emails blew my mind.

Between making a commitment to spend at least five hours a week putting new words to paper and this new "typing speed" approach to the first draft, the last several thousand words of Kyra's tale came pretty easily. All those questions about the world I had previously found so paralyzing were easily answered once I had built up momentum. I trusted that no mistake was so great that I couldn't fix it later. And to respond to my own comment, the revision process was not any more extensive than it was before. I was shocked to find that I liked most of what I had written, and that my many starts and stops did in fact cohere with the sprint at the end.

So that's that. In summary: it was hard work, but I am elated to have done it.

Next up, Week Nine!


New year, new approach

Let me wish you all a (slightly belated) new year! 

My resolution is to write at least 5 hours a week (half an hour Monday through Friday, and two and a half hours on Sunday... Saturday's for doing nothing), and during that time, to push for 1,000 words an hour. It sounds kind of impossible, but it actually feeds into something else I've been avoiding: allowing myself to write shitty first drafts.

Per Dean Wesley Smith, whose blog I am stealing this approach from:

How to set production goals

FIRST STEP… even if you are writing pretty well already, take an inventory of all the time you spend every day for three or four sample days. Doing everything.

Every minute in fifteen minute chunks. Do a log. And be honest. And also record your mental state during the time frame. For example, up at 6:30 but too tired to think until 8:30 and two cups of coffee.

After you have the log, figure out how much writing time you have.

Add in reading time, research time, and so on.

CAUTION!!!  Writing time is only writing time, creating new words only. Rewriting, researching, reading, taking a workshop is not writing time. Be clear on that because if you start to blur those lines, you will discover your new word production has decreased.


SECOND STEP… Keep time over a number of writing sessions how many NEW words you get done in an hour. Round that to a general number per hour. For example, I write slower at the starts of stories and faster at the ends. So the general number I use for myself is around 1,000 words per hour. I tend to be comfortable with that and many professional writers I know are in that range.

Find your own range and be clear on it and don’t tell us. This is for you to figure out for yourself.

THIRD STEP… Look at all your writing time from step one and your word count per hour from step two and figure out how much you could write in A PERFECT WEEK.

Divide that in half and that is your writing goal of new words per week.

Example: So say with your day job and kids, you can carve out ten hours per week of actual writing time. Divide that in half and if you write about 1,000 words per hour of new words, you will be producing 5,000 new words per week. (5 hours x 1,000 words = 5,000 words per week.)

Take two weeks off and you get 50 weeks x 5,000 words or 250,000 new words per year.

That’s just five hours per week.  That’s how you write a lot of words.

If you can manage to actually write ten hours per week of original fiction, just over one hour per day, you would produce a half million words of fiction in one year. (And you would be called one of the fastest writers in publishing if you worked that one-plus-hour per day for a few years. Not kidding.)

Read the rest here! (And be sure to read the other three parts in this series. Go aheadsome great Friday inspiration for the writerly soul. Dean knows his stuff.)

So I'm not setting my goal exactly as outlined (I haven't, for instance, sat down to figure out where every spare block of time is hiding in my day), but what's been working for me for the past week or so is to get up just a half-hour early every day and use that time to see if I can plop down 500 words.

That's it. Half an hour. 500 words.

The big revelation, you have probably already guessed, is that when I do this I'm finally, finally doing what you're supposed to do with a first draft: Get it down and fix it later. I've known since I first read Bird by Bird (probably 10 years ago now) that you can't let yourself worry about perfection when the creative brain is engaged, and yet I've continued to do precisely thatI'm forever tweaking what I write as I write it. 

BUT! With this approach, this speed challenge if you will, I really have no choice but to push past imperfection. The critical half of my thinky thing just doesn't have time to engage. Naturally, I'm still worried that what I'm writing is irredeemable crap, but this fear is steadily abating, to be replaced by wonder at the sheer number of words this seemingly endless story has now amassed: as I write this, 5566 words. And I'm guessing another 1000 before the first draft is actually done.

Is it good? Not the point. Maybe it will be great. Maybe it'll be... um... a learning experience. The point is that I actually have no idea whatsoever if this story is any good.

Not a clue. 

And that's pretty liberating.


Welcome to the Unwritten Word!

Each week, I'll be digging through shoeboxes of old college notebooks, papers, and daily planners for all the unbearably brilliant ideas I never turned into stories. 

Of course, part of the fun here will be taking ideas that are, I suspect, heavy-handed, overwrought, and/or melodramatic and earnestly trying to turn them into something interesting. 

Some of these probably won't be very good, but I'll let you decide that. My only responsibility is to put pen to paper and to be truthful about the process.

The inspiration for this blog is part Letters of Note ("found" documents that have gained significance over time), part Austin Kleon (an artist who is generous about sharing his process and inspiration), and part Dean Wesley Smith (an indie author who recently challenged himself to write 100 stories in one year), mixed with several parts of my own need to strong-arm myself into writing regularly again. 

My home page outlines a bit more the challenge I have set for myself. If you're interested, here's some context about the guy who had all of these "interesting" ideas. Finally, if you'd like to contact me, you can do so here!