Writing Challenge Check-In, Part 1

Good morning! It’s Saturday, I’ve got a steaming hot espresso at my elbow, and I’m ten days into my fall writing challenge. This feels like a good moment to check in on how it’s been going.

First, the numbers:

Writing Challenge Wordcount

Day 1: 4003
Day 2: 5212
Day 3: 5449
Day 4: 4154
Day 5: 0 (day off)
Day 6: 3157
Day 7: 5195
Day 8: 4931
Day 9: 5398
Day 10: 0 (day off)

Total: 37499
Writing Days: 8
Writing Day Average: 4687

I’m a bit shy of my 5000/day target, but that’s fine. Over the spring and summer, I averaged about 2000 words per writing day, so this is a big upwards jump. Also, I’ve been taking one day off per week instead of two, not because I’m feeling hurried, but because I’ve been enjoying the writing so much. I’m feeling great about those numbers.

Fellow productivity nerds, you might be wondering: what allowed me to go faster? Here’s what seemed to help:

  • Getting started no later than 9am.
  • Having a rough outline before I start my work day.
  • Using a timer to do “sprints”.
  • Tracking my word count.
  • Getting mentally excited about each scene before I wrote it.

and, most importantly

  • NOT letting myself backtrack. This first draft is moving in one direction: forward!

A Few Observations

Editing As I Go vs Editing Later

It’s difficult for me to avoid going back and fixing up prior chapters. I get all sorts of ideas about what I should fix in yesterday’s work, and I want to go and do that. But here’s the thing. Whenever I’ve let myself cycle back and edit as I go, my edits aren’t as good.

I have a theory about this. When I complete a first draft, I end with a clearer sense of the story as a whole, who the characters are, what they’re struggling with, and so on. If I go back and edit chapter one when I’ve finished chapter five, there’s a lot of knowledge I’m missing. But if I wait, if I let the full story unfold in first-draft form, I can go back and edit chapter one with that knowledge in place. In short, until the first draft is done, I’m unprepared to edit a dang thing.

This isn’t the way it works for everyone. But after trying it out a zillion different ways, I’ll stick with this method. Draft all the way through, keep notes on any fixes that pop up in my brain, then do editing as a separate step.

The Power of Simple Tools

I’ve got two paper notebooks on my desk. In one, I track my wordcount. I jot down my starting wordcount, make note of the time, and then jot down my ending wordcount at the end of the session.

My other notebook is for my reverse outline. I jot down a sentence of two for each scene as i write, building an accurate, high-level outline as I go. This comes in handy because I can “read through” my outline each morning and get refreshed on the story.

I use the extra pages in that notebook as scratch paper to work out chapter details, as needed.

That’s it!

  1. Track wordcount.
  2. Build a simple outline as I go.
  3. As needed, use paper to work out scenes before I write them.

Oh, and I listen to upbeat, thumpy music as I write. That helps too. 🎧

Avoiding procrastination has been a big part of my initial success. I’ll happily spend my days listening to writing podcasts, reading another few books about writing, or developing a fancy word tracking spreadsheet. Those things feel like writing, and education is important, but at a certain point, they become a distraction from the real work.

Here’s what works: Butt in my chair by nine, coffee at my elbow, turn up the music, and party on the prose. Speaking of which…

I’m ready to get back to it! Thanks for following along, everyone, and enjoy your weekend. ☺️

Finding My Groove

Good morning! I’m getting a late start today, but I’ve got my thumpy music on and I’m easing into my groove with this blog post. I had an excellent writing day yesterday, and I even managed to squeeze in an Artist’s Date over the lunch hour.

A View to Die For stands at 30,153 words this morning, which puts me at about the halfway mark. I’ve got a dead body (of course), a pair of scrappy young police officers on the case, and an entire island full of new personalities.

Starting a new series can be challenging because everything is new, but in this case I’m working with a hero I’m already familiar with. Paul Gumbs has been Ellie Tappet’s ‘partner in crime’ for a long time, and it’s so much fun to put him at the center of a story. For me, this is the best part about writing “true” cozy mysteries; the main characters are such a delight to spend time with. I enjoy my more flawed characters too - they’re tons of fun - but cozies are just so dang…. cozy. Even for us authors writing them. ☺️

At my current “writing challenge pace” (fingers crossed, folks) I’ve got 6-7 full writing days left to finish the first draft of A View to Die For.

I’m currently following the advice in Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What you Love , and it’s been great. I’ve read her book before, a few times, but the thing is, good advice only matters to the extent that you follow it.

Well, my blog timer just beeped, and you know what that means.

Into the book I go!

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My Writing Challenge Begins

Good morning! The sun is shining today, and the city is cool and bright. It’s jacket weather, but a fleece will do if you hurry. We walked through the market and picked up our morning coffee. The vendors were setting up their tables, the brick arcade was mostly empty, and the season of fresh flowers is coming to an end. Half the bouquets are dried blossoms now. I’ve always found those ugly, but to each their own.

Yesterday I started my fall writing challenge, and I crossed the finish line at 5:17pm with 5200 words written. I’m not used to moving this quickly. My fingers aren’t moving any faster than usual, but the steady pace is what makes the difference. Can I keep chugging away all day long? If so, I’ll get where I’d like to go.

I was tired at the end of the day, but it was the kind of tired that comes after a long hike. Only this tiredness exists in the mind instead of the body. It was a good, hard, productive day.

Once I get going, I’m not motivated by word counts. I’m more jazzed about the next scene, and the one after that, and where the story is leading me. All the habits that helped me during my Cozy Experiment are helping me right now. I’m up at the same time every day, sitting down at the desk at around the same time. I take a few minutes to block out the scene before I begin, so I spend less time flailing. Then turn on my timer and write nonstop until it beeps. Stand. Stretch! Drink some water. Then flip the timer on and write again.

A View to Die For stands at 24,649 words today. Can I hit 30,000 before dinner? The only way to know is to get started. I’ve allowed myself just 20 minutes to write this blog post, and my timer is winding down.

Into the book I go!

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My 2021 Writing Challenge

Back in 2019, I wrote a series of blog posts for National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo takes place every November, and during that month thousands of writers from all over the world take up the challenge of writing a novel in a month. Via the “rules” of NaNoWriMo, you win the challenge if you write 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days.

October is sometimes called Preptober because many writers spend the month preparing a for NaNoWriMo. Writing those 1,667 words per day can be easier if you have a writing plan, including an outline. If you’re interested in doing Nano next month, check out my Nano Prep series:

Nano Prep #1: The Idea

Nano Prep #2: Structure

Nano Prep #3: Character, POV, and Setting

Nano Prep #4: Beat Sheets

Nano Prep #5: Mindset

Best of luck with your projects, Nano writers!

What I’ll Be Doing Instead

Because I’m in the middle of several writing projects, and because I want to keep those projects going, I’ve chosen on a different writing challenge for fall:

  • Writing 5000 words of fiction per day, 5 days per week.
  • Publishing one blog post per week (on average).

I chose 5000 words per day because that number falls into the “difficult but possible” category compared to my usual output. And the blog posts will keep me honest. I’m less likely to slack off when the going gets tough if I know I’ll be blogging on a regular basis. I’ll take a few extra days off for my birthday and Thanksgiving, but otherwise, I’ll have my eyes on the prize.

MOAR story. MOAR hustle! Less waiting. Preptober is here.

Let’s doooo it. 😎

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How the Kindle Won Me Over

I bought my first Kindle earlier this year, up until that point I was pretty sure that I didn’t want one. And I still prefer paper books to digital ones, all things being equal. Yet despite my stated preferences, I buy more ebooks than I do paper books. Here are the reasons why:

  • I travel a lot (when we’re not in a pandemic), and paper books are bulky.
  • Ebooks are often more affordable than physical books.
  • Library holds usually arrive faster when I order the digital version.
  • I live in a small space, and once my bookcase is full, it’s full.

But even as my ebook reading surged in recent years, I resisted the idea of buying a dedicated e-reader device. Why shell out money for one when I could read an ebook on my computer or my phone? Also, I was reluctant to lock myself into the Amazon Kindle ecosystem. Amazon sells ebooks as MOBI files, a proprietary format that can’t be read on non-Amazon devices. My preferred book format of choice is EPUB. When I buy an EPUB without DRM (digital rights management) locks on it, I can read my ebook on any device, forever. So I worried: Would buying a Kindle mean I had to always shop at Amazon?

Oh, and I had one other quibble. When I looked at e-readers, years ago, I noticed the screen flashed on nearly every page turn. It felt like being slapped in the eyeballs, and I didn’t like it one bit.

Still, I’d grown tired of reading ebooks on devices poorly sized for book reading. My phone was too small and my computer was too big and heavy. So I bought a Kindle Paperwhite, resolving to return it promptly if I hated it. Even as I brought it home and plugged it in, I was still skeptical that it would work well for me.

A Series of Pleasant Surprises

Happily, my concerns were quickly negated. The Kindle Paperwhite let me turn off “page refresh.” Instead of flashing the screen with every page turn, it will refresh only as necessary. And I hardly notice when it happens. I suspect the technology has gotten better over the years.

Even better, I have not been locked into the Amazon ecosystem. It’s been super easy to transfer my non-Amazon EPUBs to my Kindle. I use the free Calibre library software on my computer, and after I chose the Kindle as my e-reader, it painlessly synced my existing ebook library with my device.

I can continue to buy DRM-free EPUBs and store them on my computer. They transfer onto my Kindle in a blink. Easy peasy! Granted, I often buy books on Amazon too, for the convenience and good prices, but EPUBs are still my preference.

Most importantly, I love reading on my Kindle. The reading experience is way better than reading on my phone. The Kindle is small and light, but it’s big enough to get plenty of words on the page. The illumination is even, adjustable, and not too bright. If it’s late and my eyes are feeling tired after a long day of computer work, I can bump up the font in two taps.

And unlike the Kindle app on iOS, which refused to let me buy books directly (because Apple takes a cut), I can buy books directly from the Kindle Paperwhite if I want to. There are no distractions, notifications, or pop-ups. My phone is put away when I’m reading! It creates a better, distraction-free reading experience, very similar to reading on paper. I don’t even mind the ads on the Kindle. The “cover screen” images are no more annoying than seeing a print ad on the back of a magazine while it rests on your coffee table. And it’s not like I’m staring at the Kindle when I’m not using it.

A Tip for Mystery Readers

By the way, if you read mysteries, I suggest that you turn off the “show popular highlights” feature because there’s nothing more annoying than seeing underlined clues when you’re enjoying a mystery for the first time!

Digital vs Physical: Does it Matter?

Paper books have special qualities that ebooks can’t replicate. The last time I went to Emerald City Comicon one of my favorite fantasy authors was there, and she signed my books for me, turning them into precious keepsakes. I keep a small clothbound edition of Jane Eyre on my nightstand, my literary version of a security blanket, always at hand to provide some comfort. Pixels can’t quite do that for me.

Still, ebooks are inexpensive, convenient, and durable. And books are happiness devices, no matter what form they come in. And since I’m going to partake in pixelated flights of fancy, for all the reasons I listed above, I may as well do so in comfort, no?

All of this is to say, if you’re e-reader skeptical, I get it! Personally, the convenience and comfort of a Kindle eventually won me over. And if you like ebooks, and if you buy them from multiple stores, it’s worth checking out the Calibre ebook software . It takes a bit of effort to configure, but once you’ve got it set up, it’s handy for keeping your digital bookshelves tidy and accessible.

I have to admit, there’s something magical about buying a new mystery novel and seeing it pop up on your kindle just a few moments later. Instant gratification!

I see a fair number of argumentative posts about what is better, physical books or ebooks. And I suppose we humans love to argue, don’t we? In the end, whatever format works for you is what’s best for you. At least that’s how I see it.

And speaking of instant gratification, I just picked up a new mystery by an author I haven’t read yet… So I’ve got a date with a book!

Until next time,

  • C

Summer Writing Update

Wow! It’s the last day of August already. Summer is slipping through my fingers, and it’s time for my quarterly writing update. These posts help keep me focused, and for anyone who’s curious, they offer a sneak peek at what I’m working on and what’s coming next.

What I’m Writing

I’m currently hard at work on three writing projects, and I expect them to keep me busy well into fall.

  • Hostile Takeover (Emerald City Spies Part III)

  • A View to Die For (Butterfly Island Mysteries #1)

  • The Queen of Crows (A Bonus Story)

Keeping things Fresh and Interesting

I’m trying out a few new things! As always, experiments come with a bit of risk, but I really enjoy mixing things up.

Writing a Mystery Series with stories from more than one Sleuth : My upcoming cozy mystery series is set in a bustling island town in the Caribbean Sea. Butterfly Island is populated by all manner of interesting people: police officers and city council people, retirees and families and small business owners, organic farmers and tour boat operators, along with an endless stream of tourists. The first novel will be told from Paul Gumbs’s viewpoint, but instead of writing every book with Paul as the main character, I want to mix things up. I’ll write a mystery with Paul as the central figure, and then a second mystery featuring another character (with Paul still involved), and so on.

I’ll be curious to see what you all think!

Writing about a Character’s Past: Over the course of six Ellie Tappet mysteries we’ve heard rumors about Roberta Crowley’s past. Unanswered questions remain! How did Roberta come to own a cruise line? Did she really operate an underground casino in Las Vegas? Who was her first husband, and what happened to him?

Just for fun, I’m writing a short story (novella?) that answers these questions. It’s set in the nineteen sixties, and I’m calling it The Queen of Crows. Newsletter subscribers: you’ll get this one for free when it’s done. ☺️

What I’m Learning

On the word-nerd side, I’ve been spending quality time with Virginia Tufte’s book Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style as well as Brooks Landon’s Building Great Sentences. I’m learning about sentence structure, linguistic rhythm, and the beauty of concrete nouns.

Non-Writing Stuff

It’s been a mellow summer so far! Patrick and I take long walks almost every day, exploring the city on foot and enjoying all the beauty Seattle has to offer. Post-vaccine it’s been great to reconnect with people in the face-to-face sense, including visiting with family and friends, drinking coffee at our favorite cafes, and visiting bookstores.

Hobby wise, I’ve been tinkering with technology. I caught the electronics bug last fall when I bought myself an electronics kit for my birthday. Over the summer I assembled an e-Ink watch from a kit and used the Arduino programming language to customize watch faces for it. The watch screen is the same type of material as a Kindle!

An e-ink watch showing the time and a field of stars. The watch is a blocky plastic square, too big!

Speaking of technology, I was disappointed to learn that Apple will soon be mass-scanning photos on our iPhones in an attempt to catch criminals . Yikes! This kind of overreach really burns my cheese, so I shook my fist at the sky and resolved not to use my iPhone as a camera or store my data on Apple’s servers any longer.

But… life is full of silver linings and while I’m still irked with Apple I’ve found an upside to this mess. I dug my old DLSR out of storage, and it’s been a pleasure to use a real camera again.

Apple schmapple!

Just after sunrise, the Seattle waterfront is a dusky blue. A tall white ferris wheel is shown from the front edge. It rises up from the pier like a tall white stripe. Glass gondolas hang down, empty at the early hour.
The Great Wheel just after Sunrise. Seattle, WA

Fall is Coming

I can’t wait for fall to arrive and for our seasonal rains to return. Summer has been lovely, but I miss the way the rain feels tingly on my skin. I’m ready to feel the sudden rush of wind barreling through the city streets like an invisible wyrm. I miss the blue-tinted gloom that invites me to curl up beneath a blanket and read story after story until my heart and imagination overflow.

Our local Starbucks busted out the Pumpkin Spice lattes yesterday, and I found a single perfect autumn leaf on the ground. Signs of what’s to come? I suppose I should be enjoying the final weeks of summer instead of pining wistfully for fall.

I do enjoy a good pine though… 😂

Be well, friends and readers!

Until next time,