A week ago, I blogged about how writing every day may not be the best advice. I pointed out how following that advice had helped me when I was first starting out, but it had also hurt me later on. I pointed out how sometimes it’s better to work smarter than harder. After all, why throw out 80% of what you write if by taking a little time to properly outline things, you can write a clean first draft?
Well, I’ve been reading a book called The Compound Effect, and it’s made me rethink some of those ideas. The main point the book makes is that it isn’t the big things that make the most difference, but the small, regular things compounded over time.
Is it still a good idea to work smarter? Yes, definitely. If by taking the time to prewrite a book, you can avoid throwing out 80% of your work, then by all means that’s more important than hitting your 2k / 3k / 10k words for the day, or whatever. But here’s the thing: there’s a smarter way to write every day too, and it has to do with momentum.
If you’ve been in a writing rut, it’s very hard to go from 0 to your daily word count goal in a single day. Over time, that goal becomes a ceiling instead of a floor. It’s all very psychological. Your writing time fills up with procrastination or busywork, to the point where it takes all your energy just to hit that daily goal.
All of that changes if instead you say “I’m going to write 500 / 200 / whatever words more than I did the day before.” Even from a rut, it’s not that difficult to go from 0 to 500 in a single day. And once you’ve hit 500, it’s not difficult to hit 1k. Compounded this way, you can soon break through that ceiling and still have energy to hit everything else.
It’s an interesting approach to daily writing goals, one that I’m trying out right now. But for it to really work, you do have to write every day, otherwise the compounding never happens.
When I first started this blog back in 2007, I used to write a lot about momentum. I was very much a novice writer, but even back then I could feel how much easier it was to write when I was on a streak than when I was starting from zero—and a streak can start with a day of just a few hundred words.
The things to avoid are busywork and useless guilt. If your writing goals have become a ceiling that you just can’t break through, perhaps it’s time to recalibrate. Work smarter AND harder.
And now, for no particular reason at all, here’s a Sabaton music video.
It’s done! Draft 2.0 of The Sword Keeper is finished. Still need to run it by some test readers, but it’s looking very good for a release this year.
In other news, the power cable for my laptop decided to die. I’ll replace it eventually, but in the meantime, I’m going to try turning my phone into a writing device. Just got a K480 bluetooth keyboard and I’m excited to try it out. My phone is a device I’ve always got with me, so adapting it for writing could be really great.
I’m also going to try a new writing technique that should hopefully lead to cleaner (perhaps even publishable) first drafts. If it works, this could significantly increase my writing output. It involves cycling through yesterday’s words before writing any new ones, getting into the flow and making any changes as necessary. This is actually very close to how I used to write back in high school, before all those college English classes. I also get the sense that this is how Dean Wesley Smith writes.
All sorts of experimental new things going on with my next WIP, which is Edenfall. Yes, it’s time to complete the trilogy. But before I jump into it, I’m going to take some time to do some serious prewriting, in the hopes (again) of writing a clean first draft. Which, if it works, means that the book will be published that much sooner.
In the meantime, Gunslinger to the Stars is almost ready for publication. My editor is working on it now, the cover art is just about finished, and besides that all that’s really left is crafting the book description and metadata. If all goes well, it should be up for pre-order on iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, and Nook before the end of the month.
Also, new short story!
Killing Mister Wilson
Every time traveler wants to kill Hitler. Only one actually stopped him.
Yes, I'm a time traveler. Why didn't I go back to kill Stalin? Because in my timeline, there was someone even worse. No, I didn't kill him either. Why? Because sometimes, history's true pivot points aren't where you think they are.
Every time traveler wants to kill Hitler. Only one actually stopped him.
Yes, I’m a time traveler. Why didn’t I go back to kill Stalin? Because in my timeline, there was someone even worse. No, I didn’t kill him either. Why? Because sometimes, history’s true pivot points aren’t where you think they are.
This book is rated T according to the AO3 content rating system.
Joe Vasicek fell in love with science fiction with Star Wars as a child and hasn't looked back since. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Genesis Earth, Bringing Stella Home, Heart of the Nebula, and the Star Wanderers and Sons of the Starfarers series. As a young man, he studied Arabic at Brigham Young University and traveled across the Middle East and the Caucasus. He currently lives in Utah, which he claims as his home.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the page above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. You will not receive any additional charge.
Over the weekend, I read a really interesting post on The Passive Voice blog. It was an excerpt from a post by Dean Wesley Smith, looking at the tools and opportunities we have today and asking why we, as writers, still think that it’s difficult to write like the old pulp writers:
Yesterday, in the last chapter of the book I did about writing a novel in five days while traveling, I made a comment near the end that I found the exercise fun to be able to (just for a few days) feel like I belonged in the world of the pulp writers.
And I made a comment that I was born too late.
A reader wrote me privately with a good comment. Basically the reader reminded me that I should feel lucky to have the modern things we writers use such as computers, control of our own work instead of selling it to gatekeepers and so on.
The reader made a very good point. We do have it so easy, so much easier than the pulp writers did. I know that, I study the pulp writers and their lives.
Yet even with things being easier, it is unusual for a writer in 2017 to write a novel in five days.
So why do writers in this modern world not just write novels every week, week-after-week?
That even “Why?” question…
I knew the answer. Writer’s belief systems. Modern writers don’t believe they can.
That belief has been trained out.
Writers of the modern world have been taught to think that writing at pulp speed is different, unusual, a fantastic feat, massive work, and on and on and on…
I then realized I had done it too. And until tonight I hadn’t caught myself on it.
Look back at the last chapter I wrote. I called the entire idea of a novel in five days, “Crazy.”
Why? Writing a 40 thousand word novel should take me between 35 and 40 hours.
Sitting alone in a room and making stuff up for 40 hours in five days. What is so crazy about that????
And more importantly, what is so difficult about that?????
It’s a fair question. And it got me thinking: what are the false writing beliefs that are crippling me right now?
I can think of a few:
First drafts are never publishable.
Prewriting is not as important as butt in chair, hands on keyboard.
You can’t have more than one active WIP at the same time.
You can’t write short stories while working on a WIP.
Writing a short story per week is hard.
Well, it’s time to break free from these crippling beliefs, starting with the last one.
I’ve had a bunch of short story ideas recently, and I’m going to start running with them. I’ve neglected my short story writing for the past six months, so my active submissions have dried up somewhat (at least to the pro markets). But a lot of magazines have been giving me personalized rejections, which tells me that I’m not too far from a breakthrough. Trouble is, I just haven’t had anything to send them lately.
If I could write a novel per week, that would be absolutely fantastic. I’d probably write in a crazy obscure genre like Sword & Planet, except it’s not that obscure because Princess of Mars influenced everyone from Clarke, Bradbury, and Heinlein to George Lucas and the US Space Program.
But I’ll start with the short stories. And from there, who knows?
I’m happy to report that the writing has been coming along very well! Ever since I started timing my sessions and keeping track of how much and how fast I write, it’s been as if someone turned on a switch inside my brain. The words are flowing, the story is coming along very well, and I’m a lot happier and more productive than I was only a month ago.
The main thing that does it is, ironically, forcing myself to stop every half hour or so. When I wake up in the morning and thing of how much I want to write that day, it can be a little daunting. By writing in short bursts, it helps to break the big goal down into parts. When you think too much about all the writing you want to achieve, it’s very easy to get caught up in the procrastination trap. But when you think of it as just a half-hour session of 400-600 words, it seems a lot more doable. And it is!
So things are coming along very well with Gunslinger to the Stars. My goal is to finish the first draft by February 6th and send it out to my first readers shortly thereafter. If things keep going the way they have been, I may actually finish it sooner.
As for reaching 10k words, I’m still a ways off but headed in the right direction. For now, I’m laying the foundation for it: building good habits and hitting a consistent stride. Once I’ve got that laid out, I’ll start to stretch myself, pushing the limits further and further until I’m ready to make the final approach to the summit. No sense in pushing too hard and burning out along the way.
In other news, I’ve sent Captives in Obscurity (Sons of the Starfarers: Book V) off to my editor, and should be getting it back in early February. The cover art should be ready around the same time. If all goes well, the book should be up for pre-order by the end of February, with a release date of May 15th.
I’m not sure when Patriots in Retreat (Book VI) will come out, since I’m still writing it, but as of right now I’m tentatively planning for a release sometime in August. After I’ve finished with Gunslinger to the Stars, I’ll move on to Patriots and see if I can’t knock that out before the end of February. If so, I might actually push the release date up to July.
As for other WIPs I intend to tackle, The Sword Keeper and Edenfall are on the top of the list. The free month for Genesis Earth went a lot better than I had expected, leading me to believe that there’s enough potential to make finishing the trilogy worthwhile. Besides, Edenfall is already plotted out, so if I can keep up the 10k pace it should be a cinch to write. Same with The Sword Keeper.
That just about does it for this post. I intended to write another Self-Sufficient Writer post responding to some of the craziness going on in the world right now, but that will have to hold off until next week. I’ve also got another trope post planned for Monday, so that should be interesting.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this video about how many twinkies it would take to power the Death Star. Take care!
Last week, George R.R. Martin surprised no one and disappointed everyone when he announced that The Winds of Winter would not come out before the next season of the Game of Thrones TV series that covers the events in that book. He apologized profusely to his fans, most of whom seemed to take it graciously, at least to his face. However, it spawned some heated discussions in the online communities that I frequent (most notably The Passive Voice) about the implicit contract between writers and reades.
This discussion is not new, even with regard to Mr. Martin. Way back in 2009, Neil Gaiman addressed this issue in a blog post where he stated quite memorably that “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch”:
People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.
You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.
No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.
So that’s one end of the spectrum: that writing is an art, that it can’t be forced, that trying to force it is wrong, and that writers have no obligation to their readers to force anything. Readers should not stalk their favorite writers or tell them what they should or should not be doing to produce the next book. As Mr. Martin said in his latest post:
Unfortunately, the writing did not go as fast or as well as I would have liked. You can blame my travels or my blog posts or the distractions of other projects and the Cocteau and whatever, but maybe all that had an impact… you can blame my age, and maybe that had an impact too…but if truth be told, sometimes the writing goes well and sometimes it doesn’t, and that was true for me even when I was in my 20s.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Larry Correia. Two days after Mr. Martin announced that The Winds of Winter would not be finished in time for the TV series, Mr. Correia announced his own plans for the year: which of his books are coming out, which books he plans to write, which project he’s going to collaborate on, and which conventions and events he will (or more notably, will not) be attending.
I don’t know whether he meant this as a dig at Mr. Martin specifically, but he included the following statement:
To all those sensitive artist types who whine about how they can’t rush art, and can’t get any writing done, oh, BS. Quit your crying, put your big girl panties on, and treat it like your job. Because it is a REAL JOB. And like all real jobs, if you don’t work then you shouldn’t GET PAID. So shut up, quit screwing around, and get back to work.
The part that really stood out to me, though, was his announcement that he would not be at DragonCon or GenCon this year:
I’m skipping DragonCon and GenCon this year, which pains me because I love those, but again, I’m trying to up the novel production, and all those cons in a row over the summer kick my butt.
I found it interesting because George R.R. Martin is well-known as a frequent convention attendee, to the point that by his own admission attending these conventions is his “way of life.” Larry Correia knows that his writing productivity takes a hit when he attends too many conventions, but George R.R. Martin either doesn’t know or has chosen to prioritize attending fannish events over his own writing.
This made me curious about Mr. Martin’s writing productivity, so I did a little digging and found the following figures, calculated by his fans:
Those numbers are rather stunning. He averaged only 200 words a day when writing A Dance with Dragons? Just for reference, this blog post is about seven hundred words so far, and I’m writing it while taking a break from my other writing (word count so far today: 1,100 words, and that’s a little low). Even if we allow for five drafts written at the same speed, five drafts still only comes to 1,000 words a day.
Now, I do think Mr. Gaiman makes a good point that it is neither healthy nor helpful to try and micromanage everything that a writer does. We can’t spend every waking hour working on the next book, and even if we did, it probably wouldn’t turn out as well, because refilling the creative well is an important part of the writing process. And I also have to admit that if you ran a similar calculation on my own books (especially the early ones), you would probably find some similarly embarrassing figures.
(Though to be fair to myself, I tend to have multiple irons in the fire at any given time, so a straight start date to publication date calculation doesn’t tell the whole story—and it probably doesn’t tell the whole story with George R.R. Martin as well. But still, even if those figures were twice as high, they would still be absurdly low for a working writer.)
When Mr. Gaiman and Mr. Martin say that the writing “comes when it comes” and there’s nothing they can do about it, I think they’re wrong. Dead wrong. Writing is an art, but it is also a craft. It can’t be forced, but it can be structured. Mr. Correia has evaluated how productively he writes and structured his convention-going plans accordingly. Has Mr. Martin?
I also think they’re dead wrong about the writer having no obligation to the reader. That’s total bunk. Reading is an act of collaboration between the writer and the reader: without readers, stories would never exist. They would just be markings on a page, or electrons on a drive, or at best ideas and daydreams in the writer’s head. If a tree falls in the forest, does it really make a sound? If a book is never opened, does it ever tell a story?
Part of this may be the difference in perspective between indie writers and traditionally published writers. In the traditional system, writers were paid an advance on royalties by their publishers. The contract also allowed for royalties, but those figures were set so low that most books never earned out their advance. Publishers made up for it by raising the advances for the writers they wanted to keep.
In contrast, indie writers live and die by their royalty checks. Had a good month? Congratulations, you can afford to eat. Had a bad month? Tsk, tsk. Better hurry up with that WIP of yours, because the longer it takes to publish it, the longer it takes for you to get paid.
But even for the fantastically successful writers who never have to worry about how they’ll pay their bills, I still believe that they have as much of an obligation to their readers as the rest of us. Without readers, we would not be able to do what we do. Without readers, it would be impossible to pursue writing as a career. We all want to live the dream, and the only way to do that is by treating our readers well.
So George R.R. Martin may not be your bitch, but I most certainly am. Writing is not something that happens only sometimes: it’s my job, and I do it every day. And as for accountability, I absolutely feel that I’m accountable to my readers. They are the whole reason I am able to do this in the first place. If that makes me their bitch, then so be it.