Why You Must Track Your Writing Sessions

Do you track your daily writing sessions? Do you just note it down on a calendar, or do you put it on a piece of scrap paper? Do you write down your daily word count? Or do you just mark that you did some writing today?

I am going to suggest that you cannot improve things about your writing life if you don’t write them down. If your big problem is that you don’t write every day, you need to put a mark somewhere that you did write today. If your problem is that  you only write a few words each day then you need to track your word count. If you write slowly, you need to determine your writing speed and see if this is improving.

Chris Fox suggests that you do your daily writing session in the form of writing sprints. He has a tool at chrisfoxwrites.com/5kwph, a spreadsheet,  that will help you calculate your writing speed in Words Per Hour. This is very helpful. You may do writing sprints of five minutes or 10 minutes or 30 minutes. In each case write it down in the spreadsheet.  It will calculate words per hour so that you can tell if your writing speed is improving.

I have used the Chris Fox spreadsheet in both Mac and PC computers. In both cases it works well enough. I would suggest if you are doing different kinds of writing this month, you track them on separate copies of the spreadsheet. For example, I am writing this current blog post using dictation. I don’t always use dictation to write however. I have two copies of the spreadsheet for September, one for dictation, and one for ordinary writing. In that way I don’t mix up the writing speeds for the two kinds of writing.

What do you do when you have a record of your writing speed? If you write faithfully every day, over time you will see your writing speed go up, just because you’re doing it everyday. It’s the same as if you made a tuna casserole every single day at noon. Before long you will be making it more quickly because you were doing it every single day.

Why writing sprints? There are two reasons. First, a writing sprint is a way of tricking yourself into acting more like a better writer would. A good writer writes every day. He devotes time to getting the writing done. And he keeps track of how much he gets done. In this way, a writing sprint encourages you to do things you should be doing anyway to make your writing dream come true.

Second, doing writing sprints encourages you to learn how to write in what is called a flow state. Writing in the flow state means that everything is going well. You are not sitting in front of your screen for a half hour and then taking one comma out. Something is happening in your story. It is flowing out of your brain on to the screen.

A writing sprint does not guarantee that you will be writing in a flow state. But if you write day after day in writing sprints, in which you are not allowed to break the flow of your writing by going back and making corrections, you will soon find that at least some of the time you are writing in a flow state. And as you continue doing your daily writing sprints, you’ll find this happening on a regular basis, before long a daily basis.

Writing in the flow state is something writers hope for. But many writers don’t know how to make that happen. This is how. It’s not my secret, I learned it from Chris Fox and other people who’ve written how-to-write books. You learn to write him a flow state by doing things that make the flow state more likely to happen. The rules of a writing sprint, which include not going back, not editing, not making corrections, are rules that help you get into the flow state by eliminating the distractions.

But the key thing to remember is that you must track your writing sprints and your writing sessions every single time. If you write these things down, you cannot have a week or a month in which you do not write. Taking one day off, when you do not track your writing, can lead to more days off and before you know it, you’re not a writer anymore. You are just someone who used to dream of being a writer.

Some of you may find it very hard to establish a daily writing habit. For others it is easy to write every day, but they don’t get much accomplished. Using writing sprints and tracking them is a way to bring your actual deeds in line with your writing goals.


Chris Fox: 5000 Words Per Hour  Click on the link to get the ebook for free, in exchange for signing up for the author’s mailing list.

Monica Leonelle: The 8-Minute Writing Habit

Rachel Aaron: 2000 to 10000

No One Cares about Your Unwritten Fiction but You

You have stories roaming around in your head. I have stories like that, too. But until we get those stories out of our heads and onto a computer screen, they don’t exist for anyone who lives outside our heads and so those other people can’t care.

Our schooling gives us the wrong impression. In schools they act like even one single child not living up to his potential will wreck their whole century. But in fact even they don’t really expect everyone to do well, and if loads of kids have to give up dreams of becoming writers or rock stars or NFL football players in order to become accountants or congressmen or garbage men, that’s just normal life. In some schools the teachers learn to expect nearly everyone to fail— they are just happy when Joe becomes a garbage man and not a hit man.

The fact is, if you never write another word and give up your writing dream forever— delete your Scrivener, donate all your how-to-write books to the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop, and burn your notebooks— no one will really care. If you have family members or loved ones, they may be sad if the giving-up process makes you visibly sad, but they don’t really care about the loss of your unwritten work, because those things aren’t real to them.

Now, once you start writing your stories down, even if the first ones are pretty bad, you can start getting better at those writing skills that don’t just involve making up stories in your head. If you try for years and can’t get an agent or a big traditional publisher interested, try small presses or indie publishing or putting your novels up on a blog or on Wattpad. In today’s writing world, anyone can get his writing out there where readers can see it. Which can be a bad thing, as when a 14-year-old girl writes the first draft of a Nanowrimo novel and thinks it’s good enough to be self-published, or at least to be on Wattpad. In ten or twenty years, that weak, unfinished novel she published will haunt her— though more and more writers will have their own skeletons in the online closet instead of in their trunk in the attic where juvenilia properly belong.

That work in your head might well be great. Or it could become great, with enough editing and revisions. It might not be the kind of great I would care for, but still, it could be great. But only if you can get it out of your head. So get to it!

Why aren’t you writing RIGHT NOW?

Real Writing and Your Feelings

Some people think writing is about expressing their feelings. They throw a bunch of their words at a page in ragged, poetry-type lines and say they are poets. They throw words at a page in prose-type lines and say they are a novelist. Because their feelings got expressed. And I say, bullsh-t.

Novels and poetry are a form of communication. They are supposed to be understood by other people. Expressing random feelings on paper may make you feel better, but those words don’t communicate well. You have to write with other people— your conversation partners— in mind.

The feelings-expressers are not at heart self-centered people. They have simply been mis-educated. They have been told to do finger paintings and later write prose and poems just to ‘express themselves.’ And no matter how bad their work is, they get the same level of praise as someone who is actually brilliant.

No wonder they are missing the point. Real writing is like a marathon. It’s hard to do, and there is likely only one winner. We can’t all be the best poet in the world or the best novelist in the world. And being the best matters, because being good matters.

Most writing, even the bad, self-indulgent stuff, has something of good in it somewhere. And that is a start. But as real writers we don’t just want one or two good bits in our work. We want lots of good bits, and we want to improve our writing day by day so we get even more good bits. We want to write books that are all the good stuff and none of the bad or pathetic stuff. We want to be the best, even if it’s not the best novelist ever but just the best contemporary Amish vampire fiction writer.

This doesn’t mean that there is no room for a fiction writer to express some feelings. But it has to be part of a good story or no one will see that expression of feelings. And when you are an emotionally mature writer, you can think on whether that desired feeling-expression helps or harms the story in general. (I recently started reading a Stephen King book which started out dull, and then he put in an anti-Trump rant. Since he clearly no longer cares about those readers who don’t share his politics or who mind dull story-beginnings, I quit reading at that point.)

We need to overcome that kindergarten-level view of creative work as something that wins everyone praise, and realize that we need to get good as writers. Maybe we only have the gifts to get a little good in some well-defined corner of the fiction world, but we want to be as good as we can be— and then get just a wee bit better.



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#AspieLife: Always Being Wrong

When you are born with Asperger’s Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) you ought to be given an hourly Miranda warning: If you give up your right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in the court of public opinion, and you will be presumed guilty of being wrong, wrong, wrong.

Even when neurotypical people say vile things to us in front of witnesses, those things tend to be ignored, unless we are foolish enough to complain about it. And then, we are called whiners. Still wrong.

I have grown to a mature age and I feel I have gained a lot of insight, but it seems that no matter what I am periodically slammed over the head that as seldom as I speak to other people, whatever I say is so wrong I’d be better off pretending to be mute. I have been hated for misinterpretations of things I’ve said when other people were eavesdropping on me. And this by people who ought to know that eavesdropping and then gossiping about the things overheard are considered morally questionable behaviors.

But we can’t go the fake-mute route. The problem is, if we faked being mute we would be assigned care-givers to make our decisions for us, and we are too intelligent to be happy suffering the effects of someone else’s wrong decisions. We’d rather decide for ourselves on things that are important to us.

Why do we always get the grief in interpersonal situations? There are a lot of people in the world that have poor social skills— poorer than ours, oftentimes. Yet it feels like we Aspies are getting harshness when other people with poor social skills are getting forgiveness and understanding.

I’ve come to believe that our problem is something that most of us can’t fix. We do things unconsciously that make other people think we are weird or odd in a way that is blameworthy. When we don’t make eye contact with others, or we try to make eye contact and are found guilty of ‘staring,’ people decide we are ‘shifty.’ Not quite honest and reputable people.

If we say the things we think, and other people feel we are being tactless, people think we are mean or crude or socially unacceptable. It won’t matter if you play the disability card and tell everyone you have Asperger Syndrome. People feel it is quite OK to ‘discriminate against’ someone who is mean or shifty, even if they also have Aspergers.

And so, in many situations, we just have to accept that we will be considered ‘wrong’ for reasons we can’t control or fix. We could try being very ready to apologize, but I used to get yelled at a lot for apologizing too much. I don’t have any ultimate answers, but I know that we can’t let these things give us low self esteem. We are doing the best that we can. If other people say we are ‘wrong’ but expect their own flaws to be ignored, we shouldn’t let that get us down. Just try to be kind to others on a regular basis— they already think you are weird, so what do you have to lose?

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#FixThatBlog – Bloggers Must Be Blog Readers

Imagine some guy going to Hollywood who had never once seen a movie. Looking for work, he decides to go to a movie studio head and ask for a job making movies. The studio head is inclined to give the guy a chance, and gives the fellow a list of movies to rent. The guy shakes his head. He doesn’t want to watch movies, he just wants to make movies. And get paid for it of course.

That’s not the way it works of course. Movie makers start out by watching lots of movies. Book writers start out as book readers, and short story writers start as short story readers. And if you want your blog to be worth reading in a world crowded with blogs, you must read blogs yourself.

Blog reading helps you to know the art form that is blogging. You need to read the great blogs, the sad-and-sorry blogs, and those in between. You need to read blogs in your own blog’s niche, and blogs on other topics.

The main thing you are looking for when reading blogs is the content. Some blogs have a nifty look, some are more plain, but that doesn’t really count. What matters to blog readers is the content. Blog readers are usually people who have done an internet search looking for specific information. They read blog posts (and other web sites) that seem to have the information they want. If a blog doesn’t look promising as a source of that information, they move on to another blog or website in seconds.

In time, many people become regular readers of a blog that seems to have a lot of good information. They keep coming back for more. The most popular blogs in each niche have discovered the secret of attracting regular readers. Sad-and-sorry blogs are more likely blogs that put off readers.

How do you become a blog reader? I mean, the mechanics of it? Search engines are a start. Try doing a search on [blogs} + [your niche] and you will come up with some possibilities. Among your search results you may find ‘The Ten Best Writing Blogs’ or ’25 Author Blogs You Must Read’ or ‘The 20 Best Low-Carb Recipe Blogs’— whatever your niche is. These can be a great resource in finding some of the best-known blogs in your niche.

Both Blogger and WordPress . com have a blog reading tool, but I don’t currently use either all that much. Currently I use Bloglovin’, which makes it easy to follow new blogs. Copy-and-paste the URL of a blog you have found that looks good into the search box at Bloglovin’. The blog in question will come up, and you can follow it. Then the posts in that blog will end up with others in your feed.

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Suggestion: avoid following the very high end professional blogs that have multiple writers and post many times a day or even more than once an hour. They will clog up your Bloglovin’ feed bigtime. You might try a second type of blog reader for blogs like that you just can’t miss.

Once you have a number of blogs to read, you will have stuff to look at in your daily blog-reading session. This may give you ideas on what to blog about. NOT that you will ever be copying someone else’s blog idea for the day, or even writing something very similar just now. You might write a reaction post with multiple links to the original post on Someone Else’s Blog, in which you give a different perspective. You could even slam every single bit of Someone Else’s blog post, but that would mean you are not really a nice person and I refuse to believe that of you. I believe you will take the high road and even when you strongly disagree with a post you are reacting to, you will be so polite and so positive that the Someone Else whose blog post you are reacting to will actually be flattered that you mentioned his blog post. You’re just that kind of blogger.

Good Writing/Author Blogs:

The Creative Penn https://www.thecreativepenn.com/

Joanna Penn also does writing-related podcasts.

Jeff Goins, Writer  https://goinswriter.com/blog/

Much aggressive marketing on this website. Popups galore.

Jane Friedman  https://www.janefriedman.com/blog/

A Pius Man: http://www.declanfinn.com/

Declan Finn is a friend, I’ve named a kitten after him. (Declanna.)

Dawn Witzke http://dawnwitzke.com/

Also a friend, but there are no kittens named after her yet.

Tyrean Martinson  https://tyreanswritingspot.blogspot.com/

Jon Del Arroz http://delarroz.com/

Another friend. My kitten Jon-with-Rice is named after him.

No, Virginia, there is no Mary Sue

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Real life can bring disappointment. Santa Claus is a Catholic bishop who punched heretics. And Mary Sue, that figure beloved by amateur writing lore, isn’t real. She and her stepbrother Gary Stu are just figments of the amateur writing wars.

Mary Sue, other than being a way of making fun of women with unfashionable names like Mary and Susan, has no objective meaning. One person says it’s a character that is too perfect. (Was Jesus Christ then the ultimate Mary Sue— or Gary Lou?) Another says it’s a character who is too ‘nice.’ Or a character that doesn’t have the right flaws— the ones that ‘count.’

Realistically, calling someone else’s character a Mary Sue is another arena to fight the opinion wars. John’s a hardcore angry atheist? Then every character in your Evangelical Christian romance is a Mary Sue because they all go to church weekly and refrain from stealing and using heroin. Does Mandy have a low opinion of the ‘politically correct?’  Then she will accuse your characters of being sensitive-snowflake Mary Sues who will worry if a murderer would think it’s ‘racist’ if he is asked not to do the murder thing any more. Any  character more morally straight than Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter Morgan can be seen as a Mary Sue by somebody.

If you get accuse of having written a Mary Sue, perhaps the best thing to do is ignore it, as you would do if someone accused your protagonist of being Santa Claus’s lead reindeer. If you really feel you have to respond, ask the person— what, specifically, is wrong with the character? If he responds ’she’s too nice,’ that’s not a specific response. In what scene, in what action, is that character being ‘too nice?’ Chances are, it’s going to come down to a matter of taste or opinion.

Sometimes the problem is genre. If you are writing Christian fiction or Amish romance, the guy who writes spy novels with high body counts may see all your best characters as Mary Sues. But the genre standards are different. If you write an Amish girl who can kill bad guys seven different ways with a pencil eraser, that won’t meet the standards of the Amish romance genre, which has a notoriously low body count.

When you despair, remember that the greatest writers in the world wrote characters who were nice as well as ones that were Lady Macbeth. Jane Austen wrote whole books full of people who never called anyone a motherf-ck-er, not once. Was she a writer of Mary Sue characters? No. And neither are you. Go forth, and write stuff!

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Character Groups: What George R. R. Martin Taught Me

I’ve been getting writing lessons from George R. R. Martin lately— OK, I’ve been binge-reading the Game of Thrones series. (I’ve never seen the TV show except for a few minutes when HBO had a free preview. Didn’t care for it at the time.)

The main thing I’ve learned so far is actually from an appendix of Book One (A Game of Thrones) in which it lists characters by which families they are associated with. There’s House Baratheon, House Stark, House Lannister, House Arryn, House Tully and more. Not only are the family members listed, but also their servants, knights, bannermen and the lesser houses connected to them.

In my own current WIP, I’ve come to realize I need to work on forming sets of characters like this myself— for two different kingdoms, Schwalenland, and a neighboring, poorer kingdom called Ruthenia where my protagonist goes into exile, hidden from the tyrannical king who kills her parents, her father’s dragon, and his own wives, whenever he wants a different one.

For Schwalenland, writing lists of the noble houses and other noble families is part of the worldbuilding. For Ruthenia, it’s important because my protagonist will be meeting different Ruthenian noble families, including, eventually, the Tsar-Autocrat of Ruthenia, who is also the Postmaster of a postal service which uses firebirds to get messages across the land (to the few Ruthenians who can read.)

Character groups are not only important in sweeping fantasy fiction series. Even in a contemporary mystery novel, your character may interact with a group of characters in a workplace, another group in the home environment, and other groups in places associated with solving the mystery.

I’ve realized that NOT thinking about the character groups I shall need, and creating them, slows down my progress on the WIP. I’m trying to take time to create a few of the character groups I shall need. For my Ruthenian characters, since Ruthenia was settled by small groups from the different Slavic-language-speaking countries, I have to research names typical of Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Russian, Polish, Czech and other Slavic groups, and find names for the noble estates as well. And work out the economic resources of the different estates. House Pavliuk has a copper mine, vicuna wool, and rare types of wood valued by woodworkers.

One creepy thing about the mass-market paperback edition of the books I am reading— among the endorsements by other fantasy writers they include one by MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY. Whose daughter Moira Greyland has interesting things to say about the abuses inflicted by MZB and her husband, Walter Breen, a convicted pedophile. MZB is no longer someone whose endorsement would be respected by anyone, I am afraid. (I used to be an obsessive Darkover fan, but now I can see too much of the real MZB in some of the stories.)

Comment: How do you create character groups for your fiction? Do you create them in advance or as you need them? Do you have any good tricks for doing it?

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