Early January Update

The holidays are over. Blergh.

I don’t generally do well when my routine gets broken up by outside forces, which is why this blog has fallen by the wayside for the last week or so. I’m also not very good at creating structure in my life where none exists, so during times like the holidays I don’t tend to do very well. This is definitely a skill that I need to work on.

In any case, the holidays are over, which means it’s time to get back to work. Thank goodness!

I am about 10,000 words from finishing my current WIP, An Empire in Disarray. With the work on my friends’ basement finished and my roommate starting school in Salt Lake today, there shouldn’t be any more interruptions between now and the end of next week. This bodes well.

When that’s done, I’ll jump right into work on Victors in Liberty. I’ve got to admit, there are other projects I’d really like to work on right now, but finishing Sons of the Starfarers takes priority.

The series was supposed to be finished way back in 2015. But I underestimated the volume of work I’d taken on—and that was before I got a girlfriend. I fell behind on my writing as the relationship got really serious, and then we broke up, which didn’t help with productivity either.

Long story short, I did a lot of things wrong back in 2014. But I learned from my mistakes, and I think my books are better because of it. So instead of finishing up Sons of the Starfarers in 2015, I’m finishing it now in 2018. And then I’m moving on to other projects.

Edenfall is at the top of that list. It’s been years since I started the Genesis Earth trilogy, which is another ball that I’ve dropped. Genesis Earth does stand alone, but I’ve been promising to finish the trilogy since I published it in 2011, and judging from the reviews (as well as the slow but remarkably steady trickle of sales), this is a WIP that deserves to get priority.

One thing I’m really trying to do this year is to get better at structuring things: my writing, my publishing and marketing efforts, my daily routine, etc. Towards that end, I’ve put together a publishing schedule for 2018. Here it is as it stands at the beginning of the new year:

  • JANUARY — Patriots in Retreat (Sons of the Starfarers, Book 6)
  • FEBRUARY — The Janus Anomaly: A Short Story
  • MARCH — A Queen in Hiding (Sons of the Starfarers, Book 7)
  • APRIL — Time and Space in Amish Country: A Short Story
  • MAY — An Empire in Disarray (Sons of the Starfarers, Book 8)
  • JUNE — Lizzie-99XT: A Short Story
  • JULY — Victors in Liberty (Sons of the Starfarers, Book 9)
  • AUGUST — Edenfall (Genesis Earth Trilogy, Book 2)
  • SEPTEMBER — Sholpan
  • OCTOBER — The Sword Bearer (The Twelfth Sword Trilogy, Book 2)
  • NOVEMBER — In the Beginning: A Short Story
  • DECEMBER — Gunslinger to the Galaxy (Gunslingers Trilogy, Book 2)

Lots of book 2s and finishing series. I suppose you could say this is the year where I start to finish what I’ve started.

And while the schedule may seem a bit daunting, the first four books are already ready to go, with Patriots in Retreat and A Queen in Hiding already up for preorder. Of the ones that are left, half are already written. So even though it seems ambitious, it’s actually quite doable, even if something crazy happens and I end up eloping to Mongolia before the end of the summer.

So that’s what I’m up to. I’ll get back to blogging as I can, but my first priority is writing, followed closely by publishing. Lots of behind the scenes stuff happening which I don’t have time to get into right now.

Take care, and thanks for reading!

Joe

Writing log results

For the last month or so, I’ve been keeping track of my daily writing habits to look for patterns that might give me some insight on how to improve my creative process. I’ve amassed somewhere around 65 data points, and I think the results are clear enough to notice some trends.

For the last month or so, I’ve been keeping track of my daily writing habits to look for patterns that might give me some insight on how to improve my creative process.  I’ve amassed somewhere around 65 data points, and I think the results are clear enough to notice some trends.

Just some preliminary background information: for most of this time, I’ve either been on vacation or at my parents’ house, waiting to start an English teaching job in another country.  I haven’t had school or a full-time job, so my schedule has been pretty open and flexible.  Also, the numbers track progress on the first drafts for Star Wanderers and Stars of Blood and Glory, and do not count revisions of any kind.

Here are the results:

The first graph plots word count by duration spent writing.  As you can see, there’s a definite trend: the longer I write, the more I tend to write.  No surprises there.  Most writing sessions are somewhere between 45 and 90 minutes, or 500 and 1,500 words.

The second graph plots the average writing rate (in words per hour) per session by hours spent writing, and it’s a little bit murkier.  In writing sessions of less than 45 minutes, I tend to average a little over 1000 words/hour, but things get murkier between 45 and 90 minutes, and after 90 minutes, I tend to be around 600 and 800 words/hour.

The overall trend appears to be down–that is, the longer I write, the slower I tend to write–but there appears to be a counter-trend, too, where if I start off slow I can increase the pace by writing for a longer amount of time.  Is that true, or is that simply a sharper downward trend line?

I think it’s a genuine counter-trend, and here’s why:

This graph shows writing rate plotted against word count, and it pretty clearly shows two trend lines: one starting at 1,000 to 1,200 words/hour and going slightly down, the other starting at 400 to 600 words and going up.  At about 1,500 total words, they converge at around 800 words/hour and appear to remain flat, though there isn’t really enough data to be able to say.

What I think this shows is that I have two different writing styles.  The first is to start off slow and gradually write my way into the story, picking up the pace but never really going over 800 words/hour.  The other is to start off at a sprint of 1,200 words/hour or so, but to slowly drop off to 800 words/hour at around 90 minutes or 1,500 words.

The next graph plots the total word count of each writing session by the time of day in which I started the session.  Interestingly, there is no trend; the points are all over the map.  This tells me that there is no “best time” for me to write.  Other time-related factors might influence how much I can write, but time of day itself does not.

A quick glance at the next graph confirms this.  It plots writing rate by time of day, and the results are much the same as the graph for word count.  I tend to write at a more consistent pace in the afternoon–around 1,000 words/hour–but really, there is no consistent trend.

This tells me that my first session of the day tends to be slow and gradual, but that once I’ve written myself into the story, the writing comes a lot faster.  In other words, if I wake up early and hit the ground running, I tend to write more and write faster throughout the day.  If I get lazy and sleep in, the whole day tends to be shot.

The last two graphs plot word count and writing rate by date.  Before January 3rd or so, I was either spending time with family or on the road / traveling cross-country by train.  Even so, there wasn’t a whole lot of variation, though my writing rate converged around 800-1,000 words/hour for a while before fluctuating again.

What this tells me is that stability and momentum tend to lead to more consistency in my writing habits.  If I’m constantly on the road, it becomes more challenging to keep up the pace.  Even so, as long as I can find make at least 45 to 90 minutes to write, I can pound out about the same number of words per session.

So in conclusion, it seems that the best way to improve my writing habits and streamline my creative process would be to:

  1. Get up early and start the day writing.
  2. Write in short, condensed sessions of 45 to 90 minutes each, with periodic breaks in between.
  3. Don’t worry about time of day when planning time to write; just do it whenever time can be made available.

However, unless I can get to the point where I’m regularly averaging +1,000 words after two hours, it’s going to be really hard to put in 10k words or more per day.  At 800 words/hour, it takes 12.5 hours to hit 10k, and after about four or five sessions at 1,000 words/hour, the well starts to dry up.

A much more practical goal, for now at least, would be to shoot for a consistent 5k words per day.  The week before last, I hit about 5.5k on Monday, a little less than 4k on Tuesday and Wednesday, and back around 2.5k for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  My running 7-day total for the entire week was above 20k, which is pretty good, but if I could get to stay between 25k and 30k for some time, that would be an accomplishment.

I haven’t totally given up on hitting a 10k/day average, but at this point, it seems that I need to set some stepping stones first.  5k/day seems like a much better goal for now–especially since I don’t know how things are going to change once I’m traveling again.  But at least I have a better idea of how my own process works.  I expect I’ll be writing a lot more in the weeks and months to come!

Am I swamped, or am I lazy?

This post might get a little emo, so I apologize in advance.

I feel like I have so much on my plate right now, and yet when I look back at what I’ve accomplished each day, I wonder if I couldn’t have been more productive.  I’m moving out of my apartment on the 21st, so that’s the deadline for pretty much everything, and here’s what I’ve got to do before then:

  • Run through the copy edits for Desert Stars and rewrite the epilogue.
  • Get the cover art and publish Desert Stars.
  • Write the epilogue for Journey to Jordan and publish it.
  • Finish Star Wanderers and submit to Writers of the Future.
  • Do a guest post for Slava Heretz.
  • Finish the application for the TLG program.
  • Get rid of all my remaining books.
  • Figure out electronic W2 and other forms for taxes (before leaving in January).
  • Write up the “About My Books” page on blog.
  • Do a couple of recap posts on the travel blog.
  • Pack and ship my desktop computer.
  • Pack all my remaining stuff.
  • Get post office to forward all mail to home address.
  • Clean apartment for move-out inspection.
  • Find suitable traveler’s insurance.
  • Go clothes shopping.
  • Half a dozen other things that I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

In other words, this is not the time to be playing minecraft.

And yet, taken individually, most of these tasks are not all that difficult.  A lot of them are just mindless chores associated with moving, and the other ones, while requiring hard work, are pretty straightforward.  So am I really swamped, or am I just disorganized and lazy?

This is something I’ve struggled with since graduating last year.  When I was in school, I was constantly busy, but I was also constantly producing.  Even though my writing suffered a bit when I was swamped, I still found time to write three novels (Ashes of the Starry Sea, Genesis Earth, and Bringing Stella Home) and hold down a student job.  For the last year, I haven’t had any school and most of the time I haven’t had a job, and yet my productivity doesn’t seem to have improved.

Part of it has to do with structuring time and organizing myself.  In the past year, I’ve learned that a routine isn’t something you should hang onto doggedly, but something you need to constantly reinvent.  And yet, when I’m staying up until 2am-3am and not getting up until 8am-9am, I can’t help but feel that something’s off.  The whole moving limbo thing certainly doesn’t help, but hey, the work’s still got to be done.

Maybe it’s just deer in the headlights syndrome.  I’ll try making a checklist of everything I want to accomplish in the next two weeks and go for it.  In the meantime, I’m going to get out of this apartment and take a walk, because if I don’t, I’m going to go insane.

Also, as a token of gratitude for putting up with my babbling, here’s something cool I made the other day:

See you around!

Craving another retreat

Last night, I got together with an old friend from last year and went camping down in Sanpete county, in the Manti-Lasal National Forest.  Even though I didn’t get a whole lot of writing done, it was a much needed change of scenery.

Man, southern Utah is so different from the Salt Lake and Utah valleys.  More rural, more laid back, more of a back-country attitude but not in a California kind of way…I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I like it out there.  It feels like the kind of place you’d pass through on a road trip, that mystic old-time Americana that always feels like it’s just out of reach.  Part of me wants to settle down in a place like that someday, while the other part doesn’t want to settle down ever.

Spending time away like that gives you a renewed perspective.  I wouldn’t say that I feel more “centered” now, but getting out in the wilderness certainly made me see the daily grind here in Provo a little differently.  It’s so easy to get caught up in a routine, where the weeks and months go by until suddenly it’s summer again and you don’t know where the last year went.  Unless you take the time to step back, you can never get perspective.

Unfortunately, in order to save up for Worldcon this August, I’m going to need to work 40 hours per week almost right up to the convention weekend itself.  I’m not complaining; I feel blessed to have a steady source of income right now, especially in this economy.  But as a writer, it’s hard when your job takes so much time and energy away from your writing time.

Lately, I’ve only been spending two or three hours a day writing, and a lot of that time is filled with interruptions.  Part of it is just procrastination, but another part is that my day is so split up that the only periods of unbroken free time are from 9 pm to 8 am. That’s tough, because I need a big chunk of writing time to do my best work.

Even though I’ve been making decent progress on Desert Stars, I feel like I could be doing so much more.  If I could take a week off for a retreat where I did nothing but focused on my writing, I could probably finish this draft in a matter of days, with time to start a bunch of new projects.  In fact, I already have about a half dozen stories in embryo, with scenes and characters just begging to be written.  Once this latest project is finished, I don’t quite know what I’ll be starting next.

Since I should be writing right now instead of posting to this blog, I’ll wrap up by saying that I really wish I could take some time off for another retreat, this time to focus solely on my writing.  But since I can’t, I’ll do my best to carve away large periods of unbroken time for writing, and unplugging myself from distractions both online and off in order to make the most of it.

It’s a difficult balance, one that’s a constant struggle to maintain.  Right now, I feel like I’m on the losing side of the battle, which means it’s time for a change of routine.  Thankfully, taking some time off in the wilderness has helped me to better see what I need to do.  I only hope I can maintain that perspective in order to break out of this stifling routine.

<sigh> One of these days, when writing is my primary source of income, this will not be nearly so difficult of a problem.  You have no idea how much I want to make that happen.  In the meantime, back to work.

A word about ebook formatting

So it turns out that ebook formatting is a lot harder than I’d thought. I was hoping to finish chapter 13 in ITND tonight, but I’ve spent the whole #$@! time just trying to get “From the Ice Incarnate” up on Amazon.

Fortunately, I think I have a much better idea of what I’m doing now.

For “Memoirs of a Snowflake” and “Decision LZ1527,” I just uploaded the .doc file and had Amazon reformat it automatically.  The stories were short and simple enough that it worked rather well.

Then I decided I wanted to put the cover in the body of the ebook, and foolishly thought I’d just put it on the first page of the .doc file I was uploading.  Long story short, I discovered that that’s not a good idea–the ereader doesn’t read it as a cover, and it looks like crap.

Also, I discovered that the ideal size for an ebook cover is 600×900 pixels (for a standard 2:3 aspect ratio).  From now on, all the covers I upload will be 600×900.

So then, when I uploaded “From the Ice Incarnate,” I kept noticing these weird indenting problems in the preview.  No matter what I did to change the .doc file, it wouldn’t go away.  Out of frustration, I downloaded the html file that Amazon had formatted it into and noticed these weird <div> tags popping up on short, one line paragraphs where they should have been <p> tags.  Don’t ask me how they got there, but they were a pain to fix.

So then, I tried uploading the modified html file, and found to my great joy that the problem had been fixed.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any way to put in the cover–and the cover for “From the Ice Incarnate” is REALLY awesome.

Frustrated but undaunted, I turned to Mobipocket Creator, an open source ebook creating program.  I’d tried playing with it before, but found it complicated and confusing.  Well, now that I knew what I wanted it to do, it wasn’t hard at all to figure out how to make it work.

First, I created a new project in its own designated folder.  Then, I added the corrected html file to the “publication files” page.  Where it asked for a cover image, I uploaded the 600×900 jpeg (I do all my editting in The Gimp, in a much larger .xcf file).  Then, I filled in the metadata, such as book description, suggested cover price, etc.

When I was finished, I hit “build,” and voila!  A slick looking .prc ebook file that looked EXACTLY how I wanted it to.

I uploaded it to Amazon, and it looked great in the preview.  I’m not sure what it’ll look like in the finished product  yet, since it takes 24 hours to upload, but I fixed “Decision LZ1527” as well.  Once I knew what I was doing, it took maybe five minutes to create the ebook on Mobipocket Creator.

So here’s what I’m going to do from now on.  I’m going to bypass the whole .doc thing altogether (since I use Open Office, not MS Word) and go straight from .odt to .html using a WYSIWYG html editor.  For the cover, I’ll use The Gimp, with the project files as .xcf and the finished images as 600×900 .jpegs.  I’ll combine it all in Mobipocket Creator, and upload the .prc ebook file to Amazon / Pubit / Smashwords / wherever.

Sound daunting? (Charlie, I’m talking to you, hehe)  It’s actually a TON of fun, once you get the hang of it.  And let me tell you, when I saw the finished product, it was awesome.  Totally worth it.

Trouble is, I haven’t had any time to work on my novel, which is frustrating, because I’m working an 8 to 5 job now.  It’s temporary, which is nice for a full time artist/creator like me, but man, I’m going to miss all the free time I used to have.  I want to finish ITND before the end of the month, but I’ve still got a long ways to go.

In the meantime, let me give you a sneak peek on my next ebook.  It’s a short story based on an excerpt from Genesis Earth, which won first place in the 2009 Mayhew short story contest at BYU.  Of the stuff I’ve posted up to Amazon so far, I think this one is far and away the best.

Here’s the cover:

Pretty cool, eh?  I ripped the font from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.  The image is from NASA, taken by the Hubble space telescope.

So anyways, that’s what’s going on with my ebook venture.  I’m kind of glad I haven’t done much to publicize the other stories, because they need a lot of work.  If you bought one already, don’t worry; the stories haven’t changed at all, just the formatting.  I’m not sure if you can re-download those once you’ve bought them, but if you want one of the new ones, let me know and I’ll figure it out.

And if I’m missing something in terms of html or ebook formatting, please let me know.  I’m not quite hopeless, but I’m still horribly ignorant when it comes to this kind of stuff.  Any suggestions (especially for a good WYSIWYG editor) would me much appreciated.