Keeping Score: Feb 16, 2018

Second week of using my new writing score system. Managed to turn out 1,489 words for the new book, so I exceeded my goal (again)!

I rewarded myself last week by buying Bauhaus’ Burning From the Inside. I’d heard of Bauhaus for decades, but never bought one of their albums before, and this article from the AV Club got “She’s in Parties” playing an infinite loop in my brain. So I took the plunge (and the album’s great, btw).

This week I’m thinking of buying something more recent. Not sure what yet, though.

I’m writing over 300 words most days, so I’m thinking of upping my goal, to 6 pages a week, or 1,500 words. I’m about to do a lot of travel over the next few weeks, though — one week on a cruise for vacation, ten days in Northern California for work — so I think it’d be best to wait until after that’s over. 1,250 words a week is going to be hard enough to hit when I’m on the road.

 

If Doorknobs Were Software

If we designed doorknobs the way we design software, each one would come with a user manual.

They wouldn’t be guaranteed to work. You could spend hundreds of dollars on a new doorknob, only to find the handle doesn’t turn, and the manufacturer doesn’t offer a warranty.

Your doorknob would have options for direction of turn, speed of opening, and click sound, but not shape or color.

Most doorknobs would be sold without locks. You could get a knob with a lock, but it would be $10,000.

Each door in your house would need a different doorknob, depending on what year it was built. Doors from 1994 would need completely different knobs than 1993 doors. Sometimes you’d be able to put a 1995 knob in a 1993 door, but not always.

Modern doorknobs — made only for modern doors — would understand some voice commands, like “What time is it?” and “When did you last close?” But only from one person in the house, and the commands for opening and shutting would be different depending on which knob you bought and which door you installed it in. Most of these voice doorknobs wouldn’t have handles, at all.

Some people would lay awake at night, wondering if our doorknobs were getting too smart, and would one day rise up and kill everyone.

Keeping Score

After attending Sunday’s Writers Coffeehouse, I decided to adopt Scott Sigler’s suggestion of a scoring system. Thought it’d be a good way to push me to get back in the writing habit, after the fiasco that was the last few months.

I decided on the following:

  • A goal of 1,250 words a week. That’s five pages total, or one page a day if I write every weekday.
  • Words on the new novel count full. Words for professional or marketing writing (query letters, etc) count half. So a page of query letter writing equals half a page toward my goal.
  • I can’t check the news, or do chores, or pay bills, or anything I usually do in the morning, until after my word count for the day is met.
  • If I hit my weekly word count total, I get a reward: buying a new music album. I love getting new music, and albums are cheap enough now that I can buy one once a week and not break the bank.
  • If I don’t hit my weekly goal, I get a punishment: no beer or wine for a week. I’m a big craft beer guy, so this hurts: no more pairing a nice IPA with some fish tacos, or a tiramisu with a coffee stout.

One week in, I’m pretty happy with the system. The ban on morning news means I stay focused on my writing when I get up, and can plan out the day’s work.

As a result, I’m writing about 300 – 400 words a day, not 250, so I hit 1,554 words yesterday. If I sustain that pace, I’ll need to up my weekly goal.

So hooray for me! I’ll be getting some new music this week 🙂

Notes from Writers Coffeehouse, Feb 2018

Attended my first Writers Coffeehouse in a few months yesterday. I’m glad I did; I came away feeling more like a “real” writer, connected to a community of fellow writers, than I have in a long while.

Plus, our host, Scott Sigler, gave us a system for tracking our progress week by week that I think will help me with my current novel.

Many thanks to Scott Sigler for hosting, and to Mysterious Galaxy for letting us hold it in their (frankly awesome) store!

My notes from the Coffeehouse:

  • sports in stories: do enough research that you can color in the character; less detail is more: more detail is more chances to screw it up for people that know it; be specific, but drop it in and move on
  • vocal tick, physical mannerism, first name last name: stephen king’s technique; uses for secondary characters as a flag or anchor for readers; establishes it all in one paragraph, then uses throughout
  • the scorecard: set a weekly goal, meet it, challenging but doable, set consequences if you don’t make it (scott loses a bass from his collection for two months)
  • not sure what to do? write a short story. you’ll accomplish something, and if your brain is distracted by something, that’s what you should work on next
  • scott sigler: “how to write your first novel” on youtube: unorthodox writing advice
  • his scoring system is based on a page: 250 words.
  • when writing first draft, it’s pure words produced
  • second draft: each word counts for half, so double the word count goal and achieve that
  • third draft: each word only counts one third
  • calls with editor, agent, etc: counts for half (ex: 1,000 words an hour means a half hour phone call counts as one page)
  • what about research? doesn’t count. research doesn’t pay the bills
  • characters, relationships, conflict: all that matters. do just enough research to enable the writing. that’s it
  • research trick: find and read a kid’s book on it; they’ve distilled it all for you
  • outlines? depends on how much you use them. if you do: single-spaced, count each page of outline as a page, timebox the work (ex: 2 weeks to get the outline done)
  • another reason to put off your research: sometimes only when you get to the end do you know what you need to research (backspackling the grenade needed in chapter 30)
  • query letters? that’s business, so half-count; set a reasonable goal, like one query letter per week (that’s twelve queries in a quarter, not too shabby)
  • and track what you’ve done: on paper, or todo lists, or however, but record your daily work, and total it at the end of the week
  • when you make it: celebrate it!
  • beta-readers? prefers finding serious readers, not writers. why? TWILIGHT
  • best reader is you. take the book, let it sit for six months, come back and read it. you’ll see what you really wrote instead of what you thought you wrote
  • reedsy.com: site for finding freelance editors; sigler uses it (but do your research, interview them, etc)
  • POV shifts: helps show different aspects of the characters, by giving insights from one pov character about another
  • tension: a daily chore that if not done causes trouble (the shining: he has to release the pressure from the boiler every day; lost: they have to go down and push the button every day or else); good way to put a ticking clock in your story
  • prisonfall: have the characters in danger from the start, use dealing with that as a way to do your world-building
  • muse gone? go write a shitty short story; go write some fan fiction; do something else and come back to itp
  • recommends putting first book of a series out for free to start out, to get it in the hands of readers, so you can find your audience
  • save the cat: great screenplay writing book, woth chapters about elevator pitches
  • attendee recommends donald maas’ workshop; went last week in irvine, learned a lot
  • don’t be afraid to say no when you get a contract from a publisher; hold onto all the merchandising, film, etc rights you can

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius

Not what I expected. I’d always thought the Meditations was a set of philosophical aphorisms. Instead, it’s something between a diary and a daily “deep thought”, a recording of a conversation an Emperor of Rome was having with himself.

As such, it’s repetitive and very personal, and yet somehow still relevant, hundreds of years after it was written.

Three things I found useful:

  • Try to learn from everyone, even (especially) the ones you disagree with.
  • If you know someone’s a jerk, don’t expect them to treat you fairly. And definitely don’t get angry with them for it, since you knew who they were from the start.
  • Success and failure happen to everyone, over and over again. So there shouldn’t be pride in the former, or shame in the latter.

The Conquest of Gaul, by Julius Caesar

Not what I expected. Written in plain language, as if he wanted to sound trustworthy, so the reader wouldn’t notice the (non-glorious) things he skips over.

Fascinating to read now, after I know more about both what happened to Caesar afterwards and the Gauls he attacked.

Three things I learned:

  • Caesar’s mercy started during the Gaul campaign, when he’d often pardon former enemies that were willing to bend the knee.
  • Caesar justified his attacks on the rest of Gaul and Germany on a domino theory: if the Germans prospered in Gaul, he said, they’d eventually march on Rome itself.
  • The Pullo and Vorenus from HBO’s Rome were based on real people, that Caesar wrote about by name (!)

Augustus by Anthony Everitt

Illuminating. Everitt makes Augustus a sympathetic figure, but without hiding any of his flaws: his hypocritical championing of family values, his slaughtering of competing Roman families, his unforgiving behavior towards his own family and friends. And he shows how Augustus’ life was often a series of serious mistakes followed by lucky victories, not a steady calculated rise to power.

Three things I learned:

  • The idea of having two “co-emperors” of Rome goes back to Augustus. He often had at least one trusted friend or family member invested with equal power and sent to rule different regions of the empire.
  • Augustus’ first official post was religious: his great-uncle Caesar, got him appointed to the College of Pontiffs, who were in charge of performing public sacrifices
  • Augustus was called “Princeps”, not Emperor. He was careful to keep his powers legal, renewed periodically via legislation, and to act humble while in Rome

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas

Essential. Maas describes the elements of a “breakout” novel, showing how to make any plot or story more compelling. He pulls examples from recent (well, recent to the year 2000, which is when the book was written) novels to illustrate each of his points, and even has exercises in each chapter you can do for your own novel.

I’m already mixing in his approach as I prepare for NaNoWriMo. It’s given me another set of questions to ask about my characters, plot, and setting, to help me push them to a higher level.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • People have been talking about the death of the mid-list since the 1970s. Don’t let it phase you.
  • Escalating stakes doesn’t mean making the one danger greater. It means adding more, different, dangers for the protagonist.
  • Characters need to be larger-than-life. Find the extraordinary in ordinary people, and bring that to life.

 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Masterful. It’s a classic for a reason: a locked-room mystery on an entire train, that builds slowly through lie after lie until the truth comes rushing out all at once.

Damn, but Christie was good.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Skip over the dialog that doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s enough just to say “so-and-so made a suitable response.”
  • Even adventures that get stumbled into have to be driven by the protagonist’s choices. Poirot doesn’t ask for the mystery, but he deliberately pursues it to the end, because that’s who he is.
  • Put the description at the start of the scene, briefly. If the position of something isn’t important, leave it out. It’s enough to report that “there were pencils and paper,” we don’t always need to know exactly where everything is.